Hefner – Painting and Kissing
tylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.
What I keep coming back to, I guess, is that it's five and a half minutes without a chorus. Not even a refrain, unless you want to count the way Darren Hayman spells out his ex girlfriend's complaint twice in a row near the end, shock and anger and denial fighting to come out first. Out of all the Hefner songs to wake up obsessed with, one day back in 2004 or so, why this one? I took the lyrics and spaced them out properly while listening to it for this Seconds, and they're consistently weird and asymetrical in a way I don't think I've ever seen outside of Coil or something. “Painting and Kissing” doesn't even have normal verses. I think the first time I heard We Love the City it didn't strike me as much but pleasent filler between the “everytime you cry, you give me little heart attacks” of “Good Fruit” and “Hold Me Closer”'s “I want a single bed, I want a simpler life / But I want you by my side,” two more immediately striking tracks.
But then one day, probably on the heels of a bad date or an unsatisfying night at the bar or god knows what, I woke up and found that four-note keyboard riff that cascades through the center of the song replacing my alarm. I found myself muttering “I'm in love with Linda / I think she understands me” on the bus to school, despite not knowing a Linda (still don't). The lines “She sure couldn't paint / But she could kiss, oh yes” and Hayman's unleering salaciousness now seemed redolent of all the of the promise of all those girls I knew of whom I wanted to be able to say “But I could tell she was intrigued.” The full emotional impact of the song wouldn't fully resonate with me until years later, although I'm sure when I'm 30 I'll look back and decide that I didn't really get it in 2007 either. It's a song about the desperate chasm between fucking up and realising you fucked up, between wanting somebody back and admitting they might not feel the same way. And that they might have a point. It's not so much the sound of regret as the even more wince-inducing sound of someone who's still too frantically clawing for something to realise that what they feel is regret.
I guess partly it speaks to some fears; I'm sure there are people who can hear Linda telling our narrator “You love to be in love, but you're never really in love” (and hear his heedless, unconscious disavowal of that claim) without giving a guilty start, but not me. Maybe “Painting and Kissing” only makes guys who aren't as fatally unaware as Darren Hayman's character is feel a little queasy, just like the only students who come to my office hours worried about my marks are the ones who are doing fine in the first place. But maybe that's what Hayman thinks, and we know he's wrong. And even though he wants her back so, so badly, you can tell things were never that good; I think we've all wrestled with the stress caused by the kind of situation where “She was my girlfriend / But I couldn't call her my girlfriend” for one reason or another.
That fantastically rollicking, sinuous groove/stomp that powers through the five and a half minutes without stopping helps, of course. Hayman's trademark dry, almost acoustic sounding electric guitar marks time at the beginning, but as soon as John Morrison's bass doubles up with it and Hayman starts singing it's a quick ride to crashing cymbals, paired rhythm guitar and bass three-note surge and that incessant, deadpan/compelling keyboard vamp. Four interlocking parts, none terribly complex, but the track fucking moves. It's a minor miracle I wind up reeling from during the course of any given listen. Especially during the middle eight and prolonged fade out when Hayman and Morrison jointly shift their focus, seemingly probing the keyboard for weak spots, it's more than enough to make up for the lack of a chorus.
Because I don't think one would help; Hayman's singing as a guy so intent on his desire (as avoidance mechanism as much as anything) that fitting into some sort of meter would be a waste of energy, and so he just ditches one. But it all fits. The track just keeps galloping under him and he doesn't ride it so much as ignore it. The thematic match is obvious. It's why I can't get away from “Painting and Kissing,” too; if events in my life bring the lyrics to mind then I get them stuck for hours, and if that doesn't happen than the organ or bass lodges there instead. Like everyone with a big record collection I don't manage to listen to large swathes of it on very much of a regular basis; We Love the City is a solid album, but this is always the song that gets me to pull it out again. I can honestly say that I don't think a week has passed since 2004 without my hearing this song in my head for at least thirty seconds.
And if it's only thirty seconds, it's probably the end of the song; Hayman can only respond to her accusation with an “Oh oh oh! / Oh my lord!” at first, but the eventual result leaves things powerfully unspoken and unresolved: “Every single day / I get down and pray she'll change her mind / She'll change her mind.” He's not really listening, he's not really changing, but he's really in love. He thinks. Maybe it's in giving us her side of the story that he's trying to admit that he's worried she might be right, something he needs to at least consider if this is going to go anywhere. But I don't think so; earlier on, just before she walks out, he sings with desperate force “And as her kissing got worse / Oh her paintings improved, but what does that prove? / It proves nothing.” He doesn't sound very convinced, but you try and get him to admit it.