by Will Hubbard
“The great lovers will always be unhappy, because for them love is great and so they ask of their beloved the same intensity of thought that they have for her – otherwise they feel betrayed.”
“It’s because I can’t buy her diamonds and I have a small dick.”
This morning, Cesare Pavese got me thinking of Kate and Pete. I had been turned onto Pavese’s short novel The House on the Hill by a teacher who said of Louise Gluck’s new poems: “They are more Pavese than Pavese.”
The novel begins with perhaps the greatest sentence ever written in Italian translated into English: “For a long time we had talked of the hill as we might have talked of the sea or the woods.”
“Repeater (How Does It Feel)” — Spacemen 3 (live, mp3)
“The war had made it legitimate to turn in on oneself and live from day to day without regretting lost opportunities. It was as if I had been waiting for the war a long time and had been counting on it, a war so vast and unprecedented that one could easily go home to the hills, crouch down, and let it rage in the skies above the cities. Things were happening now that justified a mere keeping alive without complaining. That species of dull rancor that hemmed in my youth found a refuge and a horizon in the war.”
By then Kate, five years his senior, was already familiar to us in her black Calvin Klein underwear. It is likely that he thought of her with some measure of “dull rancor,” a base and rather inarticulate reminder of several cultural commodities he had little of. And, as is so often the case, his early output was tainted by a barely legible guilt for feeling like the victim of a declining country.
But the war changed all that, and his own eggish head come into a focus as clear as Kate’s almost-nude CK “Obsession” adverts. It would not be a stretch to say that this same period of escalated violence in the Middle East saw a similar “turning-inwards” in the life of Kate Moss, initiating a more self-determined (and therefore self-hating) period of her career.
With aesthetic control comes the onus of perception-experiment, and so the new couple retreated into their house on the hill to merely keep alive without complaining.
Then the voice of Pavese returns, a poet, like Pete Doherty, known less for his poetry than for work in another medium–one wants to call this a tragedy, but in the case of Doherty it is most probably a relief.
This voice, the middle-aged Pavese, speaks from the living crevices of Peter and Kate’s London home, the poem “Frasi all-innamorata (Words for a Girlfriend)”:
I walk without saying a word with a girl
I picked up on the street. It’s evening,
the boulevard’s lined with trees and with lights.
It’s the third time we’ve met.
The girl makes the awkward decision more difficult:
cafes are ruled out since we can’t stand the crowds,
the cinema, too, because of the first time
we went there… we shouldn’t do that again,
if only because we aren’t in love.
So let us keep walking
all the way to the Po, to the bridge, we’ll look at the palaces
of light that the streetlamps make in the water.
The deadness of the third date.
I know of her all that can be know by a stranger
who had kissed and embraced her in a dark room
where other dark couples embraced,
where the orchestra—a single piano—played Aida.
We walk down the avenue, with everyone else.
Here too is an orchestra, screeching and singing,
a metallic commotion like the jolting of trams.
I pull her to me and look in her eyes:
she looks at me silent and smiling.
I know of her what I’ve always known about all girls:
that she works, that she’s sad, and that, if I asked her,
“Do you want to die tonight?” she’d say yes.
“Lord Can You Hear Me?” — Spacemen 3 (mp3)
And that, as it had seemed always, is how is ended, the perpetual “deadness of the third date.” It is not difficult to imagine the genuine vital originality of Pete and Kate’s first two dates.
After that it was all credit cards and trite questions of true self fighting an epic but finally meaningless battle. The mirror functioned in all its traditional symbolism but also in a purely utilitarian sense.
A game of oneupmanship began in which the darling lovers publicly parodied one another. Kate, the Beauty, awkwardly sullied her aspect with drugs and anguish; Pete, the Abyss, dolled himself up and pranced around fashion shows.
And so, Pete and Kate will tell the same story, over and over, with different intonations, for as long as they both shall live. They will tell it to each other, though never in person, like the verse of a favorite poem, and the other will not be listening because he/she (they are sexless, too) will be reading the same verse. Pavese wrote that verse.
Oh beautiful girl, tonight I am not that boy,
audacious, who won you with a kiss on the street
in front of and old man who watched with astonishment.
This evening I walk with the saddest of thoughts,
like you when you say that you wish you could die.
Not that I wish I could die. Those days have passed,
and besides, “we aren’t in love.” The crowd passes by,
pressing and crushing, and you too are the crowd,
like everyone else, you’re walking beside me.
Not that I hate you—could your ever believe that?—
but I am alone, and I’ll be alone always.
“May the Circle Be Unbroken” — Spacemen 3 (mp3)
N.B. Pavese’s suicide note is totally glib: “I forgive everyone and hope everyone will forgive me. OK? Don’t gossip too much!”
Will Hubbard is the contributor-at-large of This Recording. There is virtually no irony with which he is unacquainted.
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