Friday, 15 December 2017
Oliver!: Po! - Look For The Holes (4 April 1992)
When putting together their Grains of Sand EP, Rutland’s second best known cultural ambassadors clearly recognised that Look For The Holes was the ace of the record, and accordingly gave it a side to itself.
On the surface, the song is a post-breakup farewell; that moment in any emotional parting where it is made clear that lives will now travel in opposite directions and that any future meetings will be in the company of others and most likely on neutral ground. It belongs to that pantheon of amicable break-up songs. While there are hints that the relationship and its aftermath may have been traumatic:
“I’m brave/I’m not your slave...”
We really get the sense that all sound and fury has been spent. There are no more fights to be had, just acceptance to be shared. Ruth Miller is still trying to cajole her ex to reflect on their shared history positively and without casting her, needlessly, as the villain:
“Think of the good times we had/You could never ever hate me.
Be sad/Please don’t get mad.”
However, the line which sticks out for me is:
“Some people cling to the past/Like a very hungry little puppy.
I know/I won’t be the last.”
Although it’s of a piece with the break-up theme, suggesting the bravery of leaving a relationship that’s gone bad rather than clinging on due to the memory of when it was good - I find that the clinging to the past metaphor strikes me and my generation very close to home. In my case, it’s my own individual concern at spending too much time looking back to lost eras, halcyon days and memories. Those days of warmth and safety that the snore-like guitar strikes on the verses are trying to take the listener back to. I’ve tried, for my own good this year, to embrace more of the times that I live in now, even though they’ve gone through more substantial changes in the last 2 years than we could expect in the quarter of a century (yes, really!) since Peel first played this track. Speaking more generally, I feel that my own generation, those who came of age in the 1990s, has cast itself as nostaglialists as severely as the most charactured Brexit pensioner. It’s in the clothes we wear, it’s in the music we listen to, it’s in our cultural totems against which today’s are compared and found wanting. And the root cause for this perpetual retreat to 25/30 years ago? Fear. Nothing more or less than that. Fear of change, perhaps, but more likely fear of expanding horizons and looking beyond that which we know we enjoy. Because to find pleasure in today risks losing the comfort blanket of the past. Thank God for John Peel though. Because even listening to him retrospectively, one is still being led somehow both into the present and the future. But many of his audience would be coated by Ruth Miller’s clear-sighted lyric. Maybe those holes are just what we’re looking to fill our lives with?
As an example of feyly incisive indie folk, Po! put me in mind of the Sarah Records act, The Field Mice, another band who peddled emotionally taut songs under the cover of deceptively gentle arrangements. I see Look For The Holes as a female centred counterpoint to The Field Mice’s Think of These Things. One can almost imagine that the narrator in Think of These Things managed to break through the outer ring of people who knew the object of his love longer than him, and yeah, times were pretty good for a while, but eventually his jealousy and possessiveness forces the girl to break away. In keeping with the aesthetic of the scene though, there’s no triumphalism here. She has to go, and nothing he can do will bring her back. Listen carefully, and the sense is not of a new start after a turbulent time, but mere peace of mind - “I’ve grown/Oh, how I’ve grown”.
Achieving a sense of grace through its mature reflectivity, this is a stunningly perceptive piece of emotional songwriting.
Video courtesy of my lifesaver and benefactor, Webbie, who provided the clip directly from Peel’s 4/4/92 show.
All lyrics quoted in this post are copyright of Ruth Miller.