Monthly Archives: January 2011

Self-Retrospect #2: ‘Never Knew Your Last Name’

And now for the second installment of Self-Retrospect, where I look back at my silly younger self, the often silly songs I wrote and the inspiration behind them.

The first edition of this series dealt with ‘Breaking’, the earliest song I chose to include on the Projects compilation. That song was special to me as it was the first time I’d put real, honest emotion into a song. The second earliest track I put on Projects was ‘Never Knew Your Last Name’, a simple three-chord song written and recored in August 2001. This was, I think, my first ever attempt at a narrative song, recounting a holiday non-romance from that summer.

The story itself was also quite simple. Again, this was the case of me liking a girl, but then not getting anywhere (I wonder what proportion of all songs have been written on this theme…). Unlike the tortured yearning-from-afar that underpinned ‘Breaking’, though, this was a far more lighthearted, fleeting affair. The whole story took place over the course of a few hours.

Never Knew Your Last Name - Chords

That summer, I was invited by my friend Andrew and his family to join them on their annual trip to France. The invite-a-friend strategy was Andrew’s parents’ attempt to get him, now 17 and having pretty much outgrown the family holiday, to come. Andrew himself was quite surprised (disappointed?!) when I accepted the invitation. The bulk of the vacation was spent at a resort in the south, where we spent most of our days at the pool and evenings drinking. Fairly standard, but enjoyable, holiday fun.

We had travelled by car, so the distance was definitely too much for a one-day journey. We stopped off for one night at a place near Paris on the way down and on the return trip, we stayed at the same place for two nights. The first of those nights, we got to know these two Dutch girls. They were both quite attractive, but somewhat aloof. There certainly weren’t any sparks flying for me anyway, so I didn’t pursue anything.

It was the second night at this place – the last night of the whole holiday – that the events depicted in the song unfolded. Andrew and I were in the bar, playing pool, something we did a considerable amount of on the trip (and in general, during that period of our lives). There was a Scottish family, who had just arrived, sitting at a table nearby. I noticed that the daughter of the family was about our age and was very cute. She also appeared to be a bit bored. I obviously needed to intervene. So, I headed over to the table and asked her if she wanted to play pool. I think I also spoke to her parents, explaining that she’d be in safe hands, etc.

In retrospect, this was a fairly ballsy move on my 17-year-old self’s part. I must have been at least tipsy at this point. Regardless, we weren’t seen as a threat (more likely seen as idiots) and she joined us for a game. She and I flirted a bit, although she did mention that she had a boyfriend back home. I’m not sure if the Dutch girls were around at this point. They may have been. There were definitely, however, two Danish guys who showed up and joined our little party. This kind of threw a spanner in the works, as they began to compete for her attention.

Never Knew Your Last Name - verse two

Did they have an edge? I’m not sure. I think the fact that I’d had a head start of an hour or so gave me a slight advantage. There was the hand-holding action to prove it! In the song I say “I stumbled just to hold [her] hand”, which sounds a bit too ridiculous to be true. Did I actually stumble? Stumble might be a bit of an exaggeration, but, yes, I did actually engineer some kind of slight tripping incident, which resulted in me grasping her hand for support. I know it was silly, but I was young – give me a break! I’m sure it was not at all as subtle or as smooth as I thought it was going to be and, ok, it was somewhat manipulative. But the important thing is that, in spite of the fake fall lasting a split-second, in spite of the Danish presence, even though I gave her every opportunity to relinquish the bond, she continued to hold my hand. And to slightly drunk 17-year-old me, that meant everything.

Ultimately, though, that one bit of physical contact did not lead to anything further. Our night was cut short when Andrew’s mother came to tell us we needed to get to bed soon as we had an early start the next morning. I may have placed the blame on this interruption at the time, but deep down I knew it was a lost cause. What went wrong? Well, the Danes were starting to gain more ground as the night went on. But, naturally enough, it was the boyfriend at home that was always there, standing in the way. In fairness to her, she did notify me of his existence early on in the evening – and shame on me for trying to get in there anyway. Still, I can’t say I wasn’t hopeful that something might happen.

Regarding the last name: no she didn’t tell me what it was. But I never asked, so that wasn’t a big deal. The song just needed some kind of lyrical hook! We didn’t exchange any details at all. I left her with the Danes and was gone early the next morning. That was that. I’ll I had was a lingering memory of holding her hand. And a first name, of course.

AND a photograph. The line in the song, “I took a picture of us both” – that happened. Well, I didn’t take the picture myself. Andrew probably did. It must be somewhere in my room in my mum’s house in Bray. I haven’t seen it in years. I should have looked for it for further research purposes when I was digging up the handwritten notes in these pictures. If I remember correctly, it’s the two of us sitting on a wall or fence, smiling. I think I might have had my arm around her shoulder (so there was more physical contact!).

Never Knew Your Last Name - end

As for the music… Well, let’s have a listen:

As I said, it’s just three chords. Pretty simple stuff, although they were three 7th chords (ooh, fancy) and I used a capo on the guitar – the first song on which I used it, I believe. I don’t think anything more complex than that would have suited the song and probably would have ruined it.

There were a few other firsts on this song, too. It was the first song on which I used my (then brand new) ukulele. My friend Steven, whom I talked about in my post on Fugazi’s The Argument, got me into the whole uke scene. The uke definitely fitted in with/added to the playfulness in the song. This was one of the first songs I’d arranged where the bass part wasn’t just the root notes of the guitar chords. It was mostly improvised, too, including the little solo about a minute in, after the not-at-all-improvised guitar solo. I was quite pleased with how it turned out. Finally, it was the first song in which I’d attempted any kind of harmony vocals. I’ll admit the vocals were still pretty terrible, but at least I was trying to embellish them a bit!

I still quite like this song, even if it also acts as a reminder of how pathetic I was back then. It’s pretty cheesy, but it knows it’s cheesy and doesn’t shy away from it. It has a bounce to it. It’s fun. It has a ukulele in it! What’s not to like?!