The title You Have Fallen Way Short Of Our Expectations is very much directed at myself. The lyrics were written at a time in my life when, without going into detail, I wasn’t behaving very well, largely because I wasn’t very happy.
It’s no accident that the two people I asked to sing the chorus line were Hamish and Laura. ‘You have fallen way short of our expectations’ is not something either of them ever actually said to me at the time; they were more supportive than that. It’s more that I care a lot about what both of them think of me, and so put in their voices something that I was already saying to myself.
I’m not going to say any more about the content of this song (because 1. it’s not really your business and 2. everything I want to say about it is there in the lyrics) except that listening to it sometimes makes me wonder what sort of person I would have become if I’d been as successful a musician as I thought I wanted to be.
Coincidentally, I’ve got to this song just as a series of accusations against Ryan Adams has prompted a welcome discussion about the behaviour of men in an industry where, as the writer Laura Snapes put it last week, “the concept of male genius insulates against all manner of sin”. (If you haven’t read it, I also recommend Scottish music blogger Lisa-Marie Ferla’s brave and brilliant piece on this subject, written from the perspective of a long-time Adams fan).
One problem with stories like this – about men accused of abuse by multiple women – is that they often allow other men to think they’re basically doing alright because they haven’t done anything as grotesque as, say, Harvey Weinstein or Louis CK. As the MeToo movement keeps demonstrating though, the problem is not individual, monstrous men but a complex web of male privilege, inequality, abuse of power, and institutional sexism, all across society, from which the rest of us men benefit often without noticing, and which doesn’t exactly encourage respectful behaviour from any of us. And I’ve been repeatedly shocked by how much of this I was blithely unaware of, despite the fact that most of my best friends are women, and most of those women are outspoken feminists. Was I not listening properly all those years? Did they not tell me because they assumed I wouldn’t get it? Or is it impossible to understand fully if you haven’t experienced the sharp end of it yourself? All of the above, probably.
Anyway, as a result I have a suspicion that, had I become the famous songwriter I wanted to be when I was in my twenties, I might have become a worse person, purely because I’d be a man working within the system Laura Snapes eloquently describes, and benefitting from it. I’m not suggesting I would have behaved anywhere near as badly as Ryan Adams (who was born one year after me and – according to his recently sabotaged Wikipedia page – died on February 13 2019), but the fact is that I would have been working in a business where men’s worst behaviour towards women has long been excused, underplayed, or sometimes even celebrated.
As things stand, I wrote a song that has been heard by a few people. It got something off my chest that I wanted to get off my chest, but if I’ve become a better man in the years since, then that’s because I did a year of therapy immediately afterwards, because I’ve been in a happy and faithful relationship for ten years now, with someone who calls me out when I’m being sexist or disrespectful (which, yes, all men do from time to time – how can we not when we’ve lived our entire lives in a culture that gives us preferential treatment?) and because I have just grown up a lot for various other reasons. I am, for the most part, more self-aware and more honest than I was back in early 2007 when I wrote this song. I’m far from perfect, but I’m trying.
What, though, if the song had somehow been a big hit? What if it had been hailed by critics across the world as raw and painful and honest and brilliant? Would it have made me want to continue reflecting on my behaviour? Or would it have flattered me into thinking the job was basically done, that I was a genius for saying what I had said so movingly and honestly, and that I was doing not just ok as a human being and a man, but actually spectacularly well? Maybe I’d start thinking the way I was behaving wasn’t so bad if I could also write beautiful songs about it? Well, I can only speculate, but it’s another reason why I’m often quite grateful it didn’t happen.
Again I’ve mostly just written about the words here, because that was my contribution. Hamish wrote pretty much all the music for this song except the final section (‘But this isn’t how it happens at all…”), which we worked on together. The song took a long time to finish; it nearly went on Swimmer One’s first album, with a much more electronic arrangement and different words, but we both decided it was too similar to But My Heart is Broken and put it aside for a while. The final version – rarely for us – is almost entirely synthesiser free. It has live drums, bass, and guitar, and an organ part. It actually sounds like a different band from us – a band in the traditional sense of a gang who play instruments together rather than huddling around a laptop moving things across a screen, as we mostly did.
Listening back to it now, it feels fitting that it sounds like that. It suggests the person singing this song is surrounded by people who are supporting him – literally, by playing live instruments, but emotionally as well. I had that support too, come to think of it. So perhaps famous me might not have been so bad after all, as long as he didn’t break up the band.