The Smiths, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”

thereisalight.jpgTake me out, tonight.
Where there’s music and there’s people
And they’re young and alive.
Driving in your car,
I never never want to go home…



When I think back on my life in high school, and the friends that were there, it’s hard to overstate the immenseness of Chris‘ importance to me. We were, of course, members of the ill-fated band. But before that, we were often to be found driving across the landscape in Chris’ venerable (1)Ford tempo. Most nights, we didn’t really have a destination. We’d make loops of our suburban town, wander up to Nashua, and then eventually head home. Yet, despite the relative simpleness of these outings, and their rather generic nature, I can think of few things in my life that I treasure more. And the reason for that, of course, was a shared love for loud music, and a mutual lack of concern for the passing of time.

Being a touch assertive (2) about the selection of music, it’s fair to say that I brought the majority of the mix tapes. Early on, I would almost always bring the Econo Mix. Later, I’d make collections of Smashing Pumpkins, Beatles, Soul Asylum, etc. and bring these along. I preferred sitting with my legs crossed in the passenger’s seat and singing with my eyes closed. Yet, every now and again, I would lean my face against the glass, look upward, and watch the dark silhouettes of branches flicker as the world slid by. It’s hard to really put into words just how much I needed these rides, but it’s fair to say that they were essential.

It’s not really a secret that I didn’t get on well with my mother, and so I was eager, during the time that I lived with her (which is pretty much all the time), to escape my house. Honestly, it was primarily that we didn’t speak the same language, and that a house with my mother was never a house with music in it. I would beg, plead, and bully Chris to let me out if he were disinclined (3). And I would make mixes that would set me free from all of the stress and sadness that my little life left me with. And, naturally, I would turn these all the way up.

One night, early in our adventures (1994?), we visited Rocket Records (4) in Nashua, and I bought a used copy of “The Smiths – Best II.” When I got home, I listened straight through. As with most disaffected teenagers who loved British pop, I had fallen for Morrissey’s melancholic songs, and found them endlessly familiar. Indeed, even now, I’m struck by the profound sense that Morrissey understands me on a personal level. Not that we’ve met, or hung out, or anything like that. But I find such familiarity in some songs that I’m convinced we simply must understand each other. I suspect, on second glance, that this is the very same familiarity that many people feel with Shakespeare, Jane Austen, etc. As I’ve often thought, and it seems more-and-more true to me with each passing day, our internal languages are created initially by our interactions with family, and then remade by all those we encounter. (5) And what do we encounter more often than our music (those of us who are avid fans, anyway)? Perhaps it’s not Morrissey who understood me, but I that understood he – whichever way ’round, the connection has been made.

I hadn’t heard “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” before that night. By the time I finally went to bed, I’d heard it at least two dozen times. (6)It’s rare that you’ll find a piece of art that makes you think “Hey! That’s me!” This one seemed like it had been plucked from my subconscious. I will confess from the start that this is probably the most romantic song I know. This, I’m sure, has the effect of making me seem both excessively melodramatic and surpassingly strange. But frankly, I’m all right with that. (7)Listening to the song, now, I’m overcome by the absolute beauty of the sentiment. Thinking back on a time when mix tapes meant everything, and you had to be very particular about what you placed on them, I am certain this was one of the more rare additions to tapes I made. Even though it’s one of the top five songs in my life, I didn’t want to give it to anyone but my closest friends. Chris never really knew this, but playing it was an admission of his importance. And if I’ve played it for you, then now you know. Some habits never fade away (8)

Obviously, I never got to see The Smiths. I have, however, been to see Morrissey on four occasions. It wasn’t until the third time that my despair at never having heard “There is a Light…” was finally pacified. Lucy and I had gone to London to see him during the “You are the Quarry” tour, and I prayed, as ever, that this would “finally be time.” And it was. And I remember standing in the balcony, singing along with everyone else, crying along, and really, truly, meaning every last word. There, with one of my closest friends, listening to one of my heroes singing his greatest song (9), I felt like I’d finally made it home. I couldn’t help but think back on those early days spent driving with Chris, and of the intense longing I felt for something, and I realized that I’d finally reached a point of true contentedness.

When I was younger, I focused on that darkened underpass. (10) When you’re miserable, and you don’t have a lot of friends, that kind of (half-serious?) longing is something you instantly recognize. Yet, standing in that balcony, I knew it only as a faint memory. Instead, my heart filled entirely with that sheepish sensation I felt when I gave the song out on mixes – on the heart that dared say it was whole. On, indeed, the light that never goes out…

And now, I give you the original and a live version. You’ll forgive me for putting two of the same song on your mix, won’t you?

  1. Read: decrepit (but lovably so). And I suppose we were, on occasion, not so much driving as watching others drive from the sidelines. Bless that little car… [Back]
  2. It’s not my fault I’m the only one with taste… :p [Back]
  3. Or sick, or in another state, or whatever… [Back]
  4. Or, was that Rockit Records? [Back]
  5. Semantics/Semiotics 101 – right? What I’m setting aside, though, is this: Those encounters with music (or sculpture, or painting, or whatever) change your inner dialect. They make it harder for you to speak to those you grew up with in a shared language of metaphor and aesthetic. In my own case, I found, over time, that once I’d started buying my own music, my communication with my father was more difficult. As I’ve said elsewhere, I really did know his moods (and he mine) based on musical selection. And, indeed, we compressed quite a bit of information in there over time. Once our interests began to diverge, our relationship began to slip a little. I think, in a way, that this phenomenon accounts for a considerable amount of the isolation that teenagers feel at home, and the solace they find in groups of like-minded music fans. [Back]
  6. It remains one of two songs that I will put on repeat. The other is “2 Late” by The Cure. [Back]
  7. Actually, I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this. Charles gave me a “Welcome Back to England” mix when I arrived in Cambridge, and track three is “Caffeine Row” by The Dawn Parade (a now-defunct English band who renamed themselves The Visions). It’s an amazingly catchy tune, and the bridge contains this lyric: “I dream of a car on the overpass / on a starless night, going much too fast / Leaving the road, little darling / and dying in your arms…” If you can get a copy, do. It’s worth it, if for no other reason than you’ll get to meet the up-tempo cousin of “There is a Light…” [Back]
  8. See how I resisted the comment about “some lights never going out?” It was tough, I tell you. [Back]
  9. Yeah, I’ll fight you on this one. Honestly, pistols at dawn. [Back]
  10. And in a darkened underpass / I thought “Oh God, my chance has come at last” / But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask… [Back]

3 thoughts on “The Smiths, “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”

  1. Man, I’d give you a hug right now if I was in England. I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear that song this morning, and to read this wonderful entry.

    You know, it wasn’t until recently (the last year or two), that I really heard the lyrics of this song, and that I really understood what it meant. Before that, it was just a great song that came on a lot when we were driving. That’s how dim I can be sometimes. It took me 10+ years to get it.

    Anyway, I love what you wrote.

    Oh, and I think it might actually have been Rockit Records. I miss that place.

  2. I’d be very happy to give you a hug back – I really wish I could have sat down and said all of this before I wrote it… but, well, England… Anyway, I’m really glad that you enjoyed the entry! And don’t fret – there are lots of songs that are just waiting for their moment to be born, as it were. I think that’s the really beautiful thing about all of this – it grows along with you, you know? Anyway, I’m glad, at least, that you are straight on my feelings. 🙂

    Dianna said exactly the same thing about Rockit. For some reason, I have a mental image of a hyphen being involved… but, honestly, I can’t say why. Hmph. I really miss it, too. We sure did get some awesome bootlegs there…

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