Feel Better

Love Is A Losing Game

Seventeen year old me was friends with a guy called Guy.

Guy Rogers was his name, and probably still is.

It’s hard to remember Guy at seventeen, as he seemed already to be maturing towards inscrutability, and by that I mean aloofly adult to another young person’s eyes: an almost-Man of few words, but maybe more a man-boy prone to beard-scratching deliberation and slightly aureate sermonics. Not in a grandstanding way – Guy’s word-draped thoughts were always searching for the gnomic, the epigrammatic, the sententious even, but weren’t so many of us doing some version of that then?

Guy, I surmised, saw himself as a deep thinker, and even then, wrote poetry, which got turned into song lyrics for his younger brother’s band (hello Keith!) which was called Fever 103° after a Sylvia Plath poem, which has in it the wonderfully enflamed line: “Does not my heat astound you! And my light! / All by myself I am a huge camellia / Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush…”

Many of Guy’s lofty lyrics I can still remember now, word-for-word, note-for-note 34 years later. For example: “The old man / kisses the baby  / and then he rapes the child / The child she runs, she runs away / Into the twilight, twilight child.“ I can remember and even sing those words to Keith’s tune, as I did whilst writing Guy’s lyrics from my head to the screen, 34 years later. Don’t worry I’ll spare you the ditty. But I could sing it if you really wanted me to, for I was the vocalist of Fever 103° for a while, as strange as that now seems to me. And it does.

Guy wasn’t a particularly tortured soul, although I think he wanted to be. His song Twilight Child was clearly a homage as well as a mash-up of the lyricists he was probably in thrall to at the time: Robert Smith perhaps, Ian Curtis, and definitely, without a shadow, Bono.

Everyone in Fever 103°, apart from me, were all massive U2 fans, fanatical about the group,  pietistic even, always referencing musical ideas from The Joshua Tree which had just come out to great acclaim in that year (1987), transporting four boys who’d met in Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf near Dublin into the preening, bombastic stadium-rock-god poseurs that still flit across our screens from time to time.

And for this reason, I could always hear as a foil to my voice, Bono’s grave and keening tones doing, as they would have done, much fuller justice to Guy’s tortured lyrics, than I could. Guy even admitted to me once, that when he and Keith had written Twilight Child, they had imagined Bono delivering the anthem, elevating their words and music to Empyrean Heights, as opposed to this bloke Steve who unfortunately for Guy and Keith, sang the Fever 103  oeuvre according to his own pop ideas and Dionysian ideals; my touchstones in 1987 being Prince (Sign O’ The Times), Terence Trent D’Arby’s glorious first album (Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby. – D’Arby at the Bournemouth Pavilion, 1988, epic), and Michael Jackson’s Bad, which also came out in that year.

Guy got together with Jackie, who in my memory also seems much older now: a clever, grounded, already-her-own-person person (unlike Guy who was no doubt doing what the rest of us were doing which was trying on certain identity kits or costumes to see if they suited us).

At a certain point the romance ended, and various sixth-formers, including myself, became Jackie’s counsellors, as she was at this point suffering to a suicidal degree all of the crazy-making feelings of abandonment and despair, the sort of pain and anguish which usually follows after one human animal puts his penis into another and then talks in the patois of romantic love until theyre boyfriend and girlfriend, holding hands on that coach trip into London for everyone studying A-Level English to go and see Shakespeare’s Macbeth at The Barbican. Until, until, for whatever reason this purportedly unconditional, eternally-fused connection, like all the other phenomena of the universe suddenly became subject to the Laws of Impermanence.

Jackie was also, like Guy, writing lots of poetry then, and showed me a whole sheaf of her A4 fountain-pen scrawlings. Hundreds of pages torn out of exercise books, some of them stained with blood, the bloodied pages no doubt written in the aftermath of the breakup when self-harm sometimes pokes its way into the Bouncy Castle of love and sex, further hastening its expiration.

I remember a conversation with Jackie, the two of us traversing the Ferndown Upper School parking lot: Jackie talking incessantly about Guy, eyes blotched by teary mascara, trying to persuade me to hold onto her dog-eared wedge of tortured outpourings that was clearly the entire, gory focus of her young life at that moment.

I’m not sure why I was supposed to take care of her poems. It was all part of that perverse logic: the psycho-logic (i.e. psycho-illogical logic) of Eros.

I don’t think I ever became a fully-signed up Max Brod to her Kafka though, because I can’t remember any of the content of the poems, not a single line. Although, between you and me, ou est le meaningful “content” of ze love poem, a category primarily constructed out of longing,, lust, loss, and a whole bunch of other L-words? Or maybe I had taken the poems away with me, as she’d wanted, and read a handful, and found them insufferably one-note and dull, as other people’s love affairs sometimes are to the friends or family or therapists who are privy to each blow-by-blow account.

All those misunderstood messages and mismatched expectations, the incongruities between the demands of the body and the stories or fantasies in our minds, the whole fucking shambolic fandangled relational mess of it all. That was Jackie and Guy. And every other shambolic love story since Romeo and Juliet, and all the other lovesick, wannabe pairings that preceded them.

At that point in my life, I had yet to experience sex, love, romance, to play the “game” of love as Jackie and Guy were playing it – though God forbid you might communicate that to romantics of any stripe, it being a game, this take-home being transmitted to me about romantic love, which I had no interest then in listening to. But if I had listened, I would have heard an older version  of myself going: “Yes, you’re right, it’s a lovely, sweet, delicious, but fundamentally silly and often stupid game, for the most part, driven by the energies of the libido. But Bono-sized histrionics and melodrama at its core.”

And what a serious game we often turn it into, with every adult in every film we ever watch playing the game, as if it were the only game in town. And maybe for the human animal, as well as all our non-human animal pals, once fed and watered, and given a way to continue surviving, what else is there in this world for us to do but “hunt” for love, the giving and receiving of. Which for some is children: the quick or sometimes delayed offspring of these so-called love-pairings. Is this not fundamentally our “lot” as animal humans: to “love”? Which is to say: to be done by or with, maybe to even be “used” in regard to sex and romance, and all those other forms of animal-human attachment not described herein. And after a bit of that, well: presumably some combo of sickness, old-age, and death.  Surely it’s better to be used by love than the terrible triumvirate we all received a personal visit from eventually?

Seventeen year-old me, Jackie and Guy’s friend, their “third”, their confidante, was still wandering around the moats of Eros then, eyeing up the turrets and the parapets, the drawbridge with its heavy chains, the impossible amount of time it took for that fucking drawbridge to be lowered, if it ever was. It never was.

But at that moment, surely I say to my younger self, it must have been evident to your yet-to-be-blinded eyes that love, in the words of Amy Winehouse, is my friend, a losing game? A bit like roulette or any of those other addictive, resource-draining flutters, where we all know that The House, the Gambling Den is the only real winner. Similarly perhaps, in romantic love, the Life Force, embodied in sex and it’s  purported “reason” for sexual congress, is mainly what drives the Eros Charabanc. Often over a cliff. Though sometimes not. Fingers crossed etc.

Would this stop me from playing this game for the next thirty years as if I too were on a Bono-like mission (we’re all Bono’s in love,  I’d say, bonobos also). Is that not what love offers us, cheesy as it sounds, karaoke-cheesy even: to stand on a stage in leather trousers and sunglasses, ecstatically self-involved like some of kind of love-seeking missile, the one-pointed focus and frenzy of Eros and its love bombs, as the crowds (real ones for Bono, fake ones for us) go wild in support and affiliation of this ineffably important union?

Falling in love seems to dislocate our sense of what is significant. Aberrant behaviour ensues. Rules of decorum go by the wayside. Almost as if we were being used by Eros, as if we had no choice in the matter, which I believe now to be the case.

I find a picture of Amy Whitehouse online, who in 1987 was a striking looking infant of 4 years old: porcelain skin, brunette curls. She’s staring quizzically at the last mouthful of a banana, still enclosed in it’s skin – the least satisfying part as we all know . Most satisfying, the first bite: least satisfying the last, right?

Sappho invented a word for this, both the eating of bananas and being consumed by them: glukupikron is the word, which translates from the Ancient Greek as sweet (gluku) + bitter (pikron), although in English we often swap those two terms around, agreeing as we get wiser that much of love, and everything else, has a more paradoxical, bittersweet character to it, even the best of our relationships. But sweet-bitterness is how I now like to think of Eros, or romantic love. That first mouthful, so intoxicating and pleasurable, then the main bananarama (highs, lows, lows, lows, highs, lows, lows etc.), and then the drop, the splatter, the kerplunk.

“Pleasure and pain,” writes Anne Carson, “at once register upon the lover, inasmuch as the desirability of the love object derives, in part, from its lack. To whom is it lacking? To the lover.”

“If we follow the trajectory of eros,” she goes onto explain, “we consistently find it tracing out this same route: it moves out from the lover toward the beloved, then ricochets back to the lover himself and the hole in him, unnoticed before. Who is the real subject of most love poems? Not the beloved. It is that hole. When I desire you a part of me is gone: my want of you partakes of me.”

When I desire you a part of me is gone: my want of you partakes of me.

The antithesis of this is that dutiful and responsible love, the love between some parents and their children, between some couples, especially couples with human or non-human animal children perhaps, once the fizz and the sparkle has, for the most part, waned or even fizzed itself out.

That’s the kind of bond I’m thinking of when I use the L-word these days. I love Max, with all my heart. I would do almost anything for him: clean his shit off the floor or the sheets when he has explosive diarrhoea, go out in the freezing cold and rain so that he can exercise. That’s what I now choose to think of as love, that’s the bond, the joy, the devotional sacrafice if you want, that deserves the word love to be used as a descriptor for it. But a human animal in a strop about what was said or not said at some point in a series of WhatsApp text messages? That’s not love for this iteration of myself, that’s Eros folks.

Again, from Anne Carson: “Eros is expropriation. He robs the body of limbs, substance, integrity and leaves the lover, essentially, less. This attitude toward love is grounded for the Greeks in oldest mythical tradition: Hesiod describes in his Theogony how castration gave birth to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, born from the foam around Ouranos’s severed genitals. Love does not happen without loss of vital self. The lover is the loser.”

So the next time we swipe right on Bumble, or Tinder, or Hinge and it’s all wey-hey for a while, this is us enjoying some of the blood-flecked foam from that magnificent Sky God (Ouranos, husband to Gaia) who got his dick lopped off with a adamantine sickle, equipped with jagged teeth, and wielded in this case by his own son (Cronos) the dick-chopping sickle gifted to the boy by Ouranos’s beloved wife, Gaia.

But let’s give the last word to Jackie and Amy:

Over futile odds,
And laughed at by the gods,
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game.