Nightmare Time

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Nightmare Time


Who, What, When, Where, Why, by Rupert Holmes, performed by the Manhattan Transfer (1978), encountered 1983

Buy it here | See it here | Lyrics here

It’s Not the Spotlight, by Gerry Goffin and Barry Greenberg, performed by the Manhattan Transfer (1978), encountered 1983

Buy it here | See it here | Lyrics here

I wrote last time about the wonderful dream we all have in which we find we can fly. There’s another dream we all have, though, the one where you confidently go somewhere to do something but then realize you haven’t done it and can’t find your way back to where you started. I may have dreamt that first dream, but it never came true for me. The second one did.


My affairs hadn’t brought nirvana, but they (and other things not to be discussed here) had brought our marriage to a state of mutual anger. I had more than a passing disposition to anger anyway, at that age. But one thing I hadn’t realized, a thing that came as a shock to me, was that you couldn’t take anger off like a suit that you wanted to change. The bargain I’d made with myself at the beginning of all my running around was that anytime I wanted to I could always turn around and rejoin my life’s earlier course. But when I decided I wanted to, I found anger was blocking that path back.

My mind literally could not cope with this. Looking today at notes I’d written to myself at that stage, I see the starkest evidence of disordered thinking, of my thoughts running in endless circles that cannot be stopped, cannot reach resolution.

I was bewildered. I had come to an impasse I was – we were – clueless how to handle.

And while I was stewing, I was listening to the Manhattan Transfer’s album Pastiche (1978). (After the Transfer’s 1979 album Extensions had made such a hit in the household, we gradually acquired the other, earlier albums and about this time were getting to know them.)[1] There were two songs right next to each other that nailed where I was.

Looking for the Roots

One was a cover of Rupert Holmes’ Who, What, When, Where, Why, from his 1976 album Singles.[2] The singer of this song of sexual jealousy looks obsessively for what brought him to this pass, to the roots of the situation.

You won’t be my love
You won’t be my friend
But won’t you at least help me comprehend
What’s happening to me
‘Cause after you go
My one consolation will be to know
The places and names, the reason and rhymes
The facts of the matter and points in time
I tried for your love
But you won’t allow
This guy to do nothin’ but ask you how –
And – who (who)
What when where why (why)
Who is the guy
What made you need someone new
Tell me
Who what when where why
When did it die
When’d we go wrong
Don’t you lie, tell me why —

It’s not that this interrogation was precisely applicable to our situation, but it was precisely applicable to my mood. I knew how things were supposed to go, and if they weren’t doing that, there had to be an explanation, and I was going nuts trying to find it.


The other song, It’s Not the Spotlight (by Gerry Goffin and Barry Greenberg), captured my sense that, while we might be on paths away from each other, something might make it possible for us to reconverge at some point:

If I ever feel the light again shinin’ down on me
I don’t have to tell you how welcome it will be
I felt the light before but I let it slip away
I still keep on believin’ it’ll come back someday
It’s not the spotlight, it ain’t the candlelight
And it ain’t the streetlight of some old street of dreams
It ain’t the moonlight or not even the sunlight
But I’ve seen it shinin’ in your eyes and you know what I mean

Of course, this is a breakup song, and all the talk about shining lights is a big metaphor for the possibility of reuniting. But it also suggests that the reunion would be at the cost of subsequent relationships:

If I ever feel the light again, you know things will have to change
Names and faces, homes and places will have to be re-arranged
And you can help me come about, if you’re ever so inclined
Ain’t no rhyme or reason why a woman can’t change her mind.

And we hadn’t broken up, not yet, so what this reminded me of, with awful vividness, was the cost of a breakup. And of course that terrible notion was beginning, just beginning, to insinuate itself into my mind.

It was a nightmare time.

[1]. The record was bought as part of a common enthusiasm. It is entirely typical of this phase in a breakup that we were still pursuing joint tastes, and perhaps clinging to these shared pursuits if for no other purpose than to convince ourselves that we were still functioning as a couple.

[2]. This extremely rare album is out of my price range as I write this in 2013, but I have heard a clip of Holmes’ rendition of this song, and it seems the Transfer have it about right.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn, except for album art

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