Songs From the Big Chair

Music can inspire nostalgia, assigning memories to songs we relish, or would prefer to forget. Elephant-minded JOSHUA ALLEN remembers each track from Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears and sifts the music for a little personal history.

Recollections based on the album Songs from the Big Chair by Tears For Fears:


I’m in a teenaged boy’s bedroom, hunched over a radio in Vannes, a village near France’s west coast, eating up the voice of Casey Kasem. It’s such a relief, listening to a sentence without having to translate it. To have the meaning lock in place effortlessly.

I’ve given up understanding what the family is saying to me and instead spend my energy deducing the type of response they’re expecting: yes/no, sure why not, I don’t know. The mother smokes a cigarillo after dinner. I do not learn that the little brother is actually a girl until much later in the trip, but I’m sure they assume I’m just mixing up my pronouns. Which happens all the time—milk is male, of course, duh.

The radio’s antenna is angled out into the French sky with its French clouds and French pigeons that go roucoule according to my textbook. When Casey announces the new number-one song I leap up from the cramped bed and cheer and pound my fists against the soccer posters, letting it all out. The song’s the lead-off track of a white cassette that I brought from the U.S., six and a half minutes of concentrated home. This is certainly my most visceral reaction ever to learning what was topping the Top 40.

The Working Hour

EW: You’re getting up.
JA: I’m getting up.
EW: And maybe you’re heading toward the kitchen?
JA: Or maybe the bathroom.
EW: But maybe the kitchen.
JA: Jury’s still out.
EW: And maybe the little mini-fridge of complimentary Odwallas that they provide for us?
JA: The word is Odwallae, please.
EW: There’s a new one out called the Future Shake. Like a whole meal that you drink, all sci-fi and shit. There’s a chocolate one that has caffeine in it, bitch.
JA: Nuh-uh.
EW: That’s right. It’s not even in stores yet. They’re doing sort of a test-run with companies that have the little mini-fridge thing, gauge the reaction.
JA: That’s the best news I’ve ever heard.
EW: Yeah. So go get me one and fix yourself up with something nice.
JA: You know what the man says.
EW: Which man?
JA: The Man from Bath.
EW: Which bath?
JA: Orzabal. We are paid by those who learn by our mistakes.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

I spend my time writing down the first letters of words, creating long acronyms from what the geometry teacher says or a proposition I’m mentally making to the captain of the girls’ junior varsity volleyball team. IRLYATYAHWYGSWMB? My girlfriend and I are draped over each other and I start writing out these codes on her back or thigh with my finger, WDYWMTS. What are you spelling out, she asks, and I quickly try to make my scribbling more random, just idle lines and circles, meaningless, what are you even talking about?

I’m in the shower, writing acronyms in the fogged-out glass and I’m doing I can’t stand this indecision / Married with a lack of vision / Everybody wants to rule the world. I’m startled by the word staring back at me within those jumbled letters: ICSTIMWALOVEWTRTW. Did they plan that? Were they sowing the seeds of love even then?

Mothers Talk

It’s the middle of the night and we’re awakened by thunder, then multicolored lightning. My grandparents are, typically, old, and take a while to put on slippers and robes. I’ve been out on the balcony of our hotel room for five minutes by the time they get there. Over the ocean, almost impossibly out to sea, fireworks are going off. I check my watch which isn’t there and anyway doesn’t tell you the date but my grandfather confirms that we are nowhere near the Fourth of July. The display is astoundingly huge and complex and blinding, doubled in a staccato reflection. The pops take several seconds to get to where we are. Then they throw everything they have left up in the air and it fades into the sea and it’s dark again and we have no idea who or what or why and in the morning we squint at each other: That really happened, right?

[ flip ]

I Believe

The first time I saw the word motif was on the back of an import record album. It contained the hit single, two remixes, and a b-side (one of the creepiest songs of all time, feat. samples from Sybil, “the big chair” being where she sits during therapy, the only place she feels safe). Piano motif, it said, a quotation by The Man from Bath, a complete interview translated into Japanese and back. Now the word has the song attached. “This article is intended to introduce you to the field of 3-D motif recognition in protein structures” or “The Interpretation of a Scythian Motif, by Sergei V. Rjabchikov”—both accompanied by late-night piano, drunken high hat, a clatter of applause.


The thing was she was suicidal anyway or maybe not suicidal but she did say, on one occasion, sometimes I just don’t want to live anymore, and it didn’t seem like a ploy for attention, it seemed like she didn’t even remember that I was there on the phone, that it was something she was murmuring to herself, maybe just to hear the words, to feel how they sounded in her mouth or maybe—I don’t know—maybe she was actually verbalizing a perfectly valid thought in her head. So, months later when we have our fight at the Jägermeister-fueled party and she smashes the host’s coffee mug against the back porch door and sits on the rail of the balcony (looking down upon shrill laughter rather than phantom fireworks), feet dangling, shuddering with rage and sadness, I can’t help but think: She’s going to leap off that thing. And I hug her from behind, just like she used to like it, and she jerks herself away and calls me asshole and fucking asshole and I’m just trying to drag her back off the railing and I swear, for just a second, I swear she lets go, she lets herself fall forward, so I get scared and forcibly pull her down and she storms off and I follow her and she gets in her car and I get in too and grab her keys and say I won’t let her drive and that’s when the physical assault begins, the punching and shoving and finally I let her go and she just about takes my leg off by peeling out before I’m completely out of the car and I’m convinced she’s going to drive off a cliff or into a telephone pole or something and I have to stay up all night, twelve hours straight, before learning that she just went home and would like me to return the special pendant that she gave me.

Head Over Heels

Another party, dark w/low ceilings, and someone figures out how to play the piano motif from this song and they play it. And they play it. And play it. I’m surprised when everyone starts singing along, the la-la’s at the end, louder and louder, everyone happy, singing, louder, the pianist’s fingers stumbling but not stopping—

(the son of the admissions director says, “Hey, Kate, how”s life,’ while slowly caressing his chest, and the thing about Kate is she has prematurely large breasts, that is what she’s known for [that and a huge orthodontic mouthpiece that gives her these little jowls and a thick voice], that is who she is as far as everyone is concerned, the girl with the tits, and there’s something so grim and scary about the director’s son’s gesture, something still unlabeled)

—and finally someone yells God shut up! and everyone laughs and I smile, relieved that it’s over, that these stupid jerks finally stopped singing my song, the song I knew about ages ago, the song that was even now being diluted and taken from me.


Always on a train, a European train, leaning against a window, sad to be leaving and desperate not to arrive, Mother Russia badly burned / Your children lick your wounds / Pilgrim father sailed away / Found a brave new world.


TMN Contributing Writer Joshua Allen is a complex and exciting young man. He is a hard worker and always gives 110 percent. He is a people-person unless that person is a crab and not pulling their weight for the team. If enthusiasm and get-up-and-go are drugs, then he’s a hardcore drug addict. He’s pretty obviously an only child. He lives in Fireland, USA. More by Joshua Allen