The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
I’ve never been into The Smiths. Theoretically I should appreciate them, since I love that mopey ’80s English rock sound, but I only particularly like two of their songs: “How Soon Is Now?” – a tour de force not representative of their body of work – and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” It’s hard to ascertain quite what I find so memorable about this latter track. It’s a melancholy gem with an arresting flute melody, but it doesn’t really stand out from the rest of their catalogue. Maybe it’s the words. The lyrics of what Robert Smith called the “raincoat bands” presumably resonate with adolescents because their melodramatic portrayals of yearning and infatuation capture the sense of cosmic significance teenagers often attach, however foolishly, to their own romantic lives. But portions of “There Is a Light” actually describe my late teens in a very literal way. Allow me to explain.
In 1995, I resided in the abode of a certain gentleman who had married what is commonly, if not entirely accurately, referred to as a “mail-order bride.” The marriage not only didn’t last, it exacted a staggering emotional and even physical toll – and not merely from the bride and groom. As their domestic situation deteriorated, my girlfriend and I were scapegoated; she was virtually banned from the house. We took to my car instead, heading for the city or cruising along the local waterfront. We didn’t always know where we wanted to go, but we certainly knew where we didn’t want to go. So the lines, “Take me out tonight / Because I want to see people and I want to see life / Driving in your car / Oh, please don’t drop me home / Because it’s not my home, it’s their home, and I’m welcome no more,” perfectly reflect not just the feelings but the facts of my evenings and weekends, age 18.
In my mind, I envision myself listening to the song while actively in the midst of that situation. But I wasn’t familiar with it at that time any more than my then-girlfriend and I were our generation’s Abelard and Heloise. When I finally heard it years later, the correspondence between the verses and my former circumstances must have proved so compelling that I retrojected myself into my old life. I have a much happier home now, and little from that era makes me wistful today. But I still find myself singing the title on occasion, never quite knowing what Morrissey meant by it.