Roger Wells, songwriter
Pigdon St, Carlton, April 1979
Missing, alienation and yearning seem to be at the heart of most of my songs, which is unfortunate, because it got a bit tedious for everyone else. Of course now, with the ability to look back and connect all the dots of my life, I understand – but back then, with various bands rolling their eyes as I reeled out yet another melancholy lament, I kind of wished I could write something different.
One Perfect Day came to me one night in 1979. I was still getting over the death some months before, of a girlfriend, Christine, who I’d been very much in love with. And not having been present when she died, or seen her buried, her loss left a nagging feeling that I just couldn’t throw, that she was still alive somewhere – so I was having trouble moving on.
That particular night I was sitting on a couch watching the late night news on a little black and white TV – coverage of the British elections, and it seemed as if Thatcher might lose.
I’d received a letter that day from an old friend, Kerry, who was living in London working as a nurse, and I had been writing a reply, which was lying on the table.
On the couch beside me was a book I’d been reading, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, a science-fiction novel about a false utopia.
So I’m sitting there noodling on my guitar, gazing blankly at the British election on the little black and white screen, thinking of Kerry, having just finished reading this book, and I began singing, and as often happens, the song just happened – very quickly.
The two short verses and chorus drew together all the elements I’ve mentioned and wrapped them around the core of Christine’s death . And I had yet another song of missing and yearning.
I recorded the song on an old cassette, then played it back. It seemed oddly complete, though there wasn’t much to it. I thought maybe it needed more, because after all, two verses and a chorus isn’t much. But still, there was a strange symmetry to it that seemed to work.
I woke my girlfriend Carol and played the song to her.
“It’s a hit,” she said and went back to sleep.
And that’s the only song I ever wrote that she said that about.
From then on the song seemed blessed – Carol’s pronouncement was echoed by everyone who heard it – the band, the producer, Peter Dawkins, the head of EMI, who we were signed to. In rehearsals and then the recording of it, everything came easily, as if the song was using all of us to realise itself – it was the strangest thing. It had a momentum all of its own.
And when it went out, everybody picked it up and ran with it, from audiences to radio.
Problem is, I, the writer, just cannot hear the magic of the song. For sure, I can hear a nice song – but I can’t hear the magic.
Over a couple of wines a friend of mine even tried to point it out one night, saying “… it’s when your voice goes up, and the bass does this, and the chords change, and … f–k mate, it’s amazing … and the outro …”
And I thought I could see it, but then I couldn’t. So it is a magical song … I just wish I could hear that magic.
But it’s been like an angel to me, in the life I’ve lead. Each time I’ve been broke, or stuck somewhere, it leans down from the sky and scatters a little money to help me out … and my life stumbles on. The strong Aussie accent on Sara Storer’s version took the song into her world and she made it her own. I loved it.
Text © Roger Wells. Roger is the author of the novels Levin’s God and the upcoming Sweet Emptiness. He lives in Thailand.