Sam Arrowsmith praises this seminal work by The BeatlesWritten by Sam Arrowsmith on 24th April 2017
A Killer Week
Thom Dent listens to nothing but Mr Brightside for a week and slowly goes insane
Everybody loves ‘Mr Brightside’. You can deny it all you want, spew drivel about the lazy lyrics, the cheap singalong choruses, the fact that it is invariably played at least once every single time you go to Propaganda… and yet, and yet. It doesn’t matter who you are, when somebody plays ‘Mr Brightside’ you love it. There might be a couple of moans as the first guitar riff begins, but nothing is going to stop you singing along to every single word. This is the vague thesis I constructed in my head before starting this – not everyone likes ‘Mr Brightside’, but you are always, always guaranteed to be completely ready to hear ‘Mr Brightside’ in whatever scenario. My aim is to take this to its most extreme, to open up my eager ears completely and exclusively to Brandon Flowers’ sweet croons. I would spend one entire week listening to nothing but ‘Mr Brightside’, one week wrestling with the world’s most famous affair, to see if that perpetual gleam could ever be removed. It has a special place in everyone’s heart, a place occupied by no other song – could one week of complete Killers-immersion fix this, turn ‘Mr Brightside’ back into a regular dated indie song? Could I, in essence, move on?
‘Coming out of my cage,’ sings Flowers as I wake up on day one. A cruel taunt, when today is the day I enter my own cage. I’m feeling pretty daunted. Listened to the song on repeat while I was getting ready, and was faced fully with the enormity of my task. God, I really am an idiot. That being said, hearing the song in a non-sesh scenario for the first time in nine months really gives it a remarkable freshness. I’m able to listen properly to what everyone is doing, able to notice Dave Keuning’s guitar inflections and the impeccably crisp hi-hats of Ronnie Venucci Jr. (who, based on his name, is in the wrong job. Surely he’s destined to be a daredevil stunt cyclist). I can actually hear Brandon’s voice too, unpolluted by the rowdy karaoke of five-hundred drunk students at FAB. All in all, while the thought of a whole week of this is something that brings me out in a bit of a cold sweat, I am quite enjoying listening to ‘Mr Brightside’.
“‘Coming out of my cage,’ sings Flowers as I wake up on day one. A cruel taunt, when today is the day I enter my own cage
Already the confusion is starting to kick in. The constant stream of seminal-indie in my ears is, with startling efficiency, beginning to numb my brain. Proof? Today I, very briefly, forgot where I live, nearly wandering into my neighbour’s flat. A fairly minor altercation, you might say, but nonetheless an altercation that, until today, I had managed to avoid entirely. I also attempt to wash my clothes today, forgetting first my laundry card, then my detergent, then my clothes (that last one isn’t strictly true but it really helps illustrate my point). My choice of song for this week is distinctly poor, as ‘Mr Brightside’, while one of the better indie songs ever, is also one of the most repetitive. Both verses being practically identical, having it in my ears on a constant loop means that for the majority of my experience I genuinely have no idea what part of the song I’m listening to. My only reference-points are the ‘I neeeeevveeeerrrrr’ outro, plus that one note Flowers sings different in the ‘just fine’ line. He actually said once that the band were literally just too lazy to write another verse… well, I hope you’re happy now, Brandon. I hope that worked out well for you, Brandon.
I told myself at the start of the week that if I were to do this properly, I wouldn’t be allowed to just avoid music when I normally wouldn’t. So, today, on the lonely walk to my 10am lecture, I listen to ‘Mr Brightside’ four times. A tough start to the day in anyone’s book, but what’s infinitely worse is the five-hour gap between my Monday lectures that I usually fill with a healthy mix of work and (naturally) killer tunes. Today however my ears are subject to just one Killers tune, which bores incessantly into my skull as I absent-mindedly type ‘jealousy, turning saints into the sea’ into my seminar prep. Now, normally in the evening I like to unwind after a hard day’s work by doing what any male student would do… that’s right, have a good old strum on my Fender guitar. Unfortunately, my intense discipline means that today the only way I can do this is by learning to play ‘Mr Brightside’. As you might imagine, I have not successfully unwound. But, it’s just the price I pay.
Had the strangest dream about my girlfriend last night. I’ve never worried about her before, but for some strange reason I can’t quite put my finger on I dreamt about her and another man. It started out pretty innocent, with a kiss, but it was only a kiss. Then, as I fell further asleep I saw her calling a cab and going to share a cigarette with the same stranger. Suddenly though, she was touching his chest, he was taking off her dress, they were going to bed, it was all a jealous rush of hedonism, me swimming through sick lullabies. Suddenly all the alibis make sense, I could almost choke on them – then, just three minutes and forty-two seconds later, I jolted awake. And it was all in my head I know but my stomach is still sick, I just couldn’t look, it’s killing me… you know what, it’s probably nothing. Whatever.
Wake up. ‘Mr Brightside’. Lovely weather today. ‘Mr Brightside’. Couldn’t go outside. People playing actual music. ‘Mr Brightside’. Shivering. ‘Mr Brightside’. Sweating. ‘Mr Brightside’. Suffering. ‘Mr Brightside’. What else? ‘Mr Brightside’. Redbrick meeting today. Discussing the week’s new music. ‘Mr Brightside’. Nothing. I cannot listen to any of it. ‘Mr Brightside’. New Lorde song. Can’t listen. ‘Mr Brightside’. New alt-J song. Can’t listen. ‘Mr Brightside’. Music playing in the Guild. Can’t listen. ‘Mr Brightside’. Sadness. ‘Mr Brightside’. People calling me crazy, calling me sad, calling me scum. Is this what it’s like? Is this how actual Killers fans live??
I am trapped in perpetual ‘Mr Brightside’ purgatory, chained to a Las Vegas mountaintop while every day Brandon Flowers pecks my guts out. Desperate for help. Need a way out. Decide to find an actual Killers fan and gain therapy. Luckily I live with one. I talk to him about what life is like when you literally only listen to the Killers. Ask him how he lives with himself, how he copes with the self-loathing, the crippling anxiety, the perpetual scum-ridden feeling of total inadequacy.
“I am trapped in perpetual ‘Mr Brightside’ purgatory, chained to a Las Vegas mountaintop while every day Brandon Flowers pecks my guts out
‘The first step is acceptance’, Chris tells me, ‘everybody hates you. You will never receive even a glimmer of respect from anyone you meet, which is tough at first. The only way past that is, you have to admit to yourself that you are completely, utterly worthless. I, Chris, mean nothing. Also it helps if you listen to some of the other Killers songs as well, you go mad slower that way.’ Then Chris starts making puns about things other than ‘Mr Brightside’, so I don’t understand them. I walk away, broken and confused.
When I first started this week I thought I already knew what the conclusion would be. I thought that by today, the final day, I would be a mess, utterly hating ‘Mr Brightside’ and longing to listen to something, anything else. But it’s weird – that hasn’t happened. I wake up this morning, turn on ‘Mr Brightside’, and feel no pain. I don’t even scream at myself in the mirror like I did the first few mornings. I don’t miss music at all, really. The term ‘music’ to me has now become synonymous with ‘Mr Brightside’ – all songs are this song, this song is the only song ever written. I have genuinely forgotten what freedom feels like, I have accepted my lot in life. Or maybe I’ve just turned insane. When midnight comes, and I come out of my cage, I have no idea what will happen. All sense of existence is lost.
As my final test I make the rash decision to attempt a night out. I buy myself a ticket for FAB Fridays at the Guild, with the intention of only listening to ‘Mr Brightside’ until, Faustus-like, the clock strikes 12. Pres at my flat – I drink with my flatmates, headphones in, ‘Mr Brightside’ drowning out the sound of their heathen-music. A lot of alcohol is consumed. A shot for every time I hear ‘turning saints into the sea’. We head to FAB. Ah, Thom, now hast thou but one bare hour to listen. Time slows until, finally, midnight comes. It’s over. With a shaking hand I delicately remove my headphones, allowing the wash of FAB to engulf me. They’ve just finished playing a song. The next comes on. And, with a certain sense of inevitability, I hear the opening bars of ‘Mr Brightside’. The crowd roars. With tears in my eyes, I roar. The crowd sings. With tears in my eyes, I sing. The scene fades to black.