Carly Simon – Share the End
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been listening to an awful lot of apocalyptic pop lately – and if there’s one good thing about everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, it’s that we’re highly likely to get a whole lot more of it in the next year or two. Dark times call for dark pop, and dark pop is a jolly effective way of both scaring and comforting yourself simultaneously, which is a thing I learned back in the early 1980s when I was convinced the whole family was going to have to go and live in the cupboard under the stairs at any given moment and found that Two Tribes calmed me down.
I assumed at the time that apocalypse pop was a new thing, but of course it wasn’t – it’s been around for ages. Today’s example comes from 1971 (the year before I came into the world) and I didn’t even learn of its existence until the mid 1990s. But it is now my go-to tune for those times when I start wishing I’d kept that Protect and Survive leaflet. It is by Carly Simon and it is called Share the End and it is terrifying, oddly hilarious and yet somehow manages to leave you with a bit of a warm glow.
Pop has always been good at staring straight into the darkness and picking out something to make you feel better, hasn’t it? That’s probably why we sing to ourselves at times of high stress – like Ripley humming You Are My Lucky Star at the end of Alien or me breezing through This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us by Sparks before job interviews, it makes us just that bit more bullish and brave and able to keep going.
This is what Share the End does particularly well – it positions the alarming prospect of the end of the world as a) an experience that will bring us together and b) a form of entertainment, which is of course what it undoubtedly will be: “Here come the kings / let’s dispense with their apologizing / just bring on the acrobats and clowns“. Off we’ll go, marching towards obliteration in a calm and orderly fashion, at least for as long as the wi-fi holds: “Hang on for universal dying / please ignore the baying of the hounds”.
Carly – seventeen at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and therefore, I imagine, subject to similar fears as experienced by my generation in the early 80s, wrote Share the End (along with frequent writing partner Jacob Brackman) at the tail end of the Vietnam war, when America wasn’t feeling very good about itself. Yet here it is, forty five years later, sounding very 2016, particularly on the line “Here come the madmen, they’re too excited for atoning / “Burn the mosque, ” they’re shouting, “Burn it down!”” You could, I suppose, bemoan the fact that nothing much seems to have changed, but I find it noteworthy that we’ve been down this particular road before and managed not to blow ourselves to bits – and with a bit of luck we’ll live through this period of shouty idiots too.
For a record which goes about its business in a rather stately way – sedate pace, well behaved and polite choir – it’s marvellous how unhinged it all becomes in its death throes, with a quite astonishingly anguished howl from Carly – which sounds an awful lot like laughter too, come to think of it – before the strings come back to usher in a creepy silence. Then again, that’s entirely appropriate: as I learned from a peculiar fascination with the Black Death in my youth, order always breaks down at end, hedonism rules and we’re all self-flagellating like there’s no tomorrow, which of course there isn’t.
Pop like this doesn’t really scream “hit single” – this was, after all, the year of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep – but gosh, I’m glad it exists. It’s a side of Carly Simon that doesn’t often get an airing – she seems to be constrained by her better known songs in a way that her contemporaries aren’t. Put it this way – there are two things are practically guaranteed to happen in your first few weeks at university – first, you will attend a poster sale and buy several items that you will later come to regret, and second, someone will offer you a joint that has been rolled on a vinyl copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and they will tell you at great length how this album changed their life, even though they are only 18 and barely know a thing about it. I’d quite like if just once, someone did that with Anticipation (home to Share the End) or, say, Boys in the Trees – both deserve it.
Still, if the apocalypse ever does happen, this is the song I’m going down with, and that in itself is really quite good to know ahead of time. God knows I won’t want to be cycling through random tracks trying to find the perfect one and wind up getting vapourised to the strains of Kelly Marie’s Feels Like I’m in Love. Though now I mention it, that probably wouldn’t be so bad.
Entered chart: was not released
Who could sing this today and have a hit? I have a vision of Carly herself storming the stage to perform this at the inauguration in January.