The pull of the Undertow. Genesis, Supertramp and a response to Him Up North

Inspired by Him Up North of The Blog up North I have returned to my occasional foray into the world of popular music. In a post entitled ‘They taught me how to be logical. Bastards he discusses how one song can inspire and challenge you. In the case of his post he had listened to The Logical Song by Supertramp which for him has resonances with the current education system even after the thirty years since it was released. Pop over there and see what he has to say. I am sure some of the words will strike home for many of us who have been put through the sausage machine of state education over the past few decades.

At the end of the post he asks if there is a song that has a similar effect on us as a reader. I found my response interesting. I am sure many of us would say that if asked one day (as I have always hoped to be) to be a castaway on Desert Island Discs we would have trouble choosing just eight tracks to take. However, when challenged by Him up North one track sprang straight to mind, and it isn’t one I would take with me to any tropical paradise.

What makes certain songs define periods of our lives so perfectly? How can some songs we loved in our teens echo across the years and take on new meaning for us later in life so that the choking feeling comes to the throat, tears prick the back of the eyes and the desire to shout to the writer ‘How did you know?’ becomes difficult to repress?

So the song that came to mind for me is one by a band I loved for about one year of my teens. They were already a bit unfashionable to be honest and on a day when Phil Collins announced to the world that he was giving up recording (presumably expecting flags to be waved and fireworks to go off in celebration) I feel almost sheepish admitting that it is by Genesis.

Undertow in unashamedly romantic for the ageing prog rockers and the whole album it was taken from – And then there were three – was generally more accessible to a mass market, including as it did tracks such as the rather lovely ‘Many too Many’ and ‘Follow You Follow Me’. I will readily admit that I rather liked the idea of a man feeling this passionate about a relationship with me, naive teenager that I was. But thirty years later it has come to mean so much more. It is not only about finding safety in the arms of someone you love. It is about taking on the challenges the world throws at us and choosing how to respond. Take a few minutes to listen:

These are the lyrics:

Undertow (Tony Banks)

The curtains are drawn
Now the fire warms the room.
Meanwhile outside
Wind from the north-east chills the air,
It will soon be snowing out there.

And some there are
Cold, they prepare for a sleepless night.
Maybe this will be their last fight.

But we’re safe in each other’s embrace,
All fears go out as I look on your face -

Better think awhile
Or I may never think again.
If this were the last day of your life, my friend,
Tell me, what do you think you would do then?

Stand up to the blow that fate has struck upon you,
Make the most of all you still have coming to you, [or]
Lay down on the ground and let the tears run from you,
Crying to the grass and trees and heaven finally on your knees

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting.
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter.
Let me feel once more the arms of love surround me,
Telling me the danger’s past, I need not fear the icy blast again.

Laughter, music and perfume linger here
And there, and there,
Wine flows from flask to glass and mouth,
As it soothes, confusing our doubts.

And soon we feel,
Why do a single thing to-day,
There’s tomorrow sure as I’m here.

So the days they turn into years
And still no tomorrow appears.

Better think awhile
Or I may never think again.
If this were the last day of your life, my friend,
Tell me, what do you think you would do then?

Stand up to the blow that fate has struck upon you,
Make the most of all you still have coming to you, [or]
Lay down on the ground and let the tears run from you,
Crying to the grass and trees and heaven finally on your knees

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting.
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter.
Let me feel once more the arms of love surround me,
Telling me the danger’s past, I need not fear the icy blast again.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the fact that although the song offers two different ways to respond to the world in which we find ourselves, it does not judge. Either response seems to me equally valid and that truly is the way to be emotionally healthy. I have taken both options at various points in  my life and have always felt weaker when I have ‘fallen to the ground’ so to speak.  Yet I am learning that is not the case. There are just times when we need more or less, or different support from those around us and the fact that this song acknowledges that is why it is so life-affirming in my view.

What do you think? I am as always happy to be challenged. As I said, I am not even sure if it would make my desert island eight (I think I would rather lie on a beach listening to Renaissance music, Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks or Supermassive Black Hole by Muse.) But sometimes the call of Mr Collins’ voice is too strong, and you just can’t help yourself…

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9 Responses to The pull of the Undertow. Genesis, Supertramp and a response to Him Up North

  1. Oh I must read your blog more regularly….whenever I do, I love it so much. What a wonderful post.
    I loved Supertramp when I was in my teens…earlier stuff though, Sister Moonshine and Lady in particular….
    And I loved Genesis, though Peter Gabriel rather than Phil really… but I had forgotten this song, and how very lovely it is… Yes, I agree – sometimes you stand and fight; sometimes you need to submit and fall prostrate to the ground…the wisdom lies in knowing when each is appropriate. Or sometimes you just allow…you let it all flow through you. wu wei…
    xx

    • keatsbabe says:

      Thank you! We have a mutual love of each others blogs then :-) I too am Peter Gabriel rathe r than Phil Collins especially the solo stuff but this is a wonderful song that makes the most of Mr Cs voice.

  2. That is one of my all-time favourite songs from perhaps my all-time favourite album… It has to be on my desert island, despite the call of Palestrina, Mozart, Beethoven and Elgar. Are we twins, and were we separated at birth?

    • keatsbabe says:

      I think it is the emotional pull of this track that appeals and makes it a classic. Snowbound is also a great track from that album.

      Don’t know about twins but we would be OK on a desert island together :-)

  3. Jane Earthy says:

    me thinks that’s a couple more songs to add to my new MP3! Forgotten them totally, but on reflection Undertow is fab and ‘Many too Many’ is lovely.

  4. Him Up North says:

    Hey there. Sorry for taking so long to respond to this. Can I say for starters I love Genesis and love the ATTWT album (along with its predecessor Wind and Wuthering). That said, I’d never really taken much notice of the lyrics to Undertow until I read this post.

    Wine flows from flask to glass and mouth,
    As it soothes, confusing our doubts…

    That is a great line!

    I’m glad you were inspired by my post. Thanks for rising to the challenge.

  5. James Digriz says:

    I’ve loved that song for decades. I swear parts of it still send some strange, poetic thrill through me…like the rush of a drug.

  6. Marc Stephens says:

    Agreed. An absolutely superb song which I only recently heard for the first time. Thanks for the words on it.

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