Message to My Girl

I get my morning fix of music from numerous sources, and lately, my go-to has been Apple Music, as it’s been helping me find more pieces that match what I like to hear. But as I said in a recent conversation with one of my lads, I wish it would suggest more songs that are quite the opposite to my tastes. I think this would help me expand my musical horizons and deepen my appreciation.

Anyway, a few times in the past few weeks, Apple has continued to serve up stuff I (mostly) like, including on several occasions a song I hadn’t heard in decades, “Message to My Girl” by the New Zealand new wave/art-rock band Split Enz.

While formed in 1973, Split Enz only broke through commercially in 1980 with their fifth album, True Colours. I remember them for the distinctive clothing and hairstyles they sported then. True Colours was a very popular record and was the first instance I’d seen of a laser-cut vinyl disc that reflects the shapes and colour themes of the album cover art. By the time they released True Colours, Split Enz had moved to Australia to expand their fan base and made a few personnel changes, including the recruitment of co-founder Tim Finn’s brother Neil, who proved to be an outstanding songwriter and singer. The band’s greatest successes were in their home country, plus their adopted home of Australia, and my country, Canada.

Split Enz disbanded in 1984 (though they had five reunions dating up to 2009), and the following year, Neil Finn went on to form Crowded House (whose lineup currently includes his sons Liam and Elroy). He also has had a successful solo career and, more recently, was hired to replace Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac.

Starting in the March 2020 lockdown, Finn broadcast live internet-based shows from his home studio on Fangradio.com, which I discovered while surfing the American radio station KEXP Seattle’s website. These events continued daily until May then ran every few days, ending with a Christmas 2020 special. Thinking back to listening to those early shows, I’m struck by how strange the world seemed then… many of us hunkered down in our homes, venturing out only for groceries and other essential items as the economy quickly shifted to online ordering and “contactless” delivery under stay-at-home orders that most governments issued. Nearly two years later, the world is still in a disrupted state and more prone to political and social division than any time I can remember.

Against that backdrop, “Message to My Girl” is a bright spot. It follows one of those fairly common song themes of hesitancy or reluctance to fall in love. However, as such songs typically do, the singer ends up in that hopeful place of choosing to be open to the magic feeling of going beyond oneself in a blissful love partnership. Various online sources mention that Finn dedicated the piece to his wife Sharon during a 2006 performance. The song, video, clothing and hair are all somewhat dated, as is the title’s use of the term “girl,” which in the 1980s was still a common way to refer to an adult woman. In the song, I feel its usage straddles the historical meaning and is intended as a term of endearment. But in today’s world of continued efforts toward gender equity, it’s a term of diminishment we’re much better off without.

The official music video for “Message to My Girl” opens with a cityscape that turns out to be a blown-up photo that men move against a wall in an art-house/warehouse/theatre backstage. The video seems to tell a story that images we portray to the world are not always our true selves. In the song, Finn rejects those facades, realizing he’s better off with his head out of the sand and being vulnerable to love.

“I don’t want to say, ‘I love you’
That would give away too much
It’s hip to be detached and precious
The only thing you feel is vicious

I don’t want to say, ‘I want you’
Even though I want you so much
It’s wrapped up in conversation
It’s whispered in a hush

Though I’m frightened by the words
Think it’s time that it was heard

No more empty self-possession
Visions swept under the mat
It’s no New Year’s resolution
It’s more than that

Now, I wake up happy
Warm in a lover’s embrace
No one else can touch us
While we’re in this place

So I’ll sing it to the world
This simple message to my girl

No more empty self-possession
Visions swept under the mat
It’s no New Year’s resolution
It’s more than that

Though I’m frightened by the words
Think it’s time I made it heard
So I’ll sing it to the world
A simple message to my girl

No more empty self-possession
Visions swept under the mat
It’s no New Year’s resolution
It’s more than that

Oh, there’s nothing quite as real
As the touch of your sweet hand
I can’t spend the rest of my life
Buried in the sand”

“Message to My Girl,” by Neil Finn.
Unofficial lyrics partially transcribed from the song/adapted from AZLyrics.com.

As with many songs in my memory and library, I hear them remembering, anticipating and savouring certain sounds like, in this case, the occasional and unexpected variations in the time signature followed by the player of the electric piano and the beautiful little fills on the snare drum heading into the chorus. It’s pretty amazing to think what memories a specific sound or other sensation can evoke, as well as invoking feelings of gratitude for love and life together in the present with my sweety.

“Message to My Girl” comes from Split Enz’s eighth studio album, Conflicting Emotions (1983). The song was also released as a single in early 1984.

Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the official music video from Neil Finn’s YouTube channel:

With my best wishes,

Steve

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