Boredom may not be exclusively the province of the young, but it’s young people who complain about it. As soon as we become old enough to give an assessment of life, we see it as disappointing. It should be more exciting. Why can’t I be James Bond or Spongebob? This town/village/capital city is a drag. Nothing to do.
This is reflected in pop songs, where although the acts we see associated with the boredom songs may be middle aged, elderly or dead by now, the songs they brought us came early in their career.
The Lovin’ Spoonful, making a long-overdue debut in this blog, sang mainly about young love and optimism. John Sebastian was that kind of guy, and he was mature for his years too. But when touring became a chore he told us all about it in a song called Boredom.
Boredom: hanging by myself
In a bleak motel
Overnight in a small town
What happened to the groupies and marijuana, that’s what I want to know. Surely he wasn’t bored with them too.
Around the same time, the late 60s, The Statler Brothers had a minor one-off hit with Flowers on the Wall, in which a rejected boyfriend tells his cruel lover what it’s like being without her.
That sort of whingeing gets you nowhere, but try telling that to a lovesick fool – and we’ve all been that person.
In the 70s The Clash brought us I’m So Bored With The USA, which was a punked-up version of the idle rich’s idea of boredom. They weren’t bored with the USA at all, just resentful of the country’s attitudes.
Morrissey, a far more suitable candidate to express this sort of thing, wrote and recorded one of his fascinating little slices of life in 1991 on the Kill Uncle album, the splendid first lines of which are
Your boyfriend he went down on one knee
Well could it be he’s only got one knee?
He then goes on to tell us about the obnoxious girl, including this:
I tried to surprise you, I crept up behind you
With a homeless Chihuahua
You cooed for an hour
Then handed him back and said “You’ll never guess,
I’m bored now”
You will note that these are not hugely commercial songs. Boredom is not a money-spinner.
American indie band The Eels droned spookily in the 1990s with Novocaine for the Soul, a typical tale of young disillusionment:
Guess whose living here
With the great undead
This paint-by-numbers life
Is f***ing with my head
All together, parents: Get out of that bedroom and wash my car!
The Pet Shop Boys, an act with dilettante tendencies, brought us Being Boring, a response to criticism by someone in Japan who didn’t think they were exciting enough for a band.
“Spokesman for a generation” Pete Townshend of The Who tackled the subject on their 1974 concept album Quadrophenia, which amounts to one long tale of woe for a young man let down by life. On the hit single 5:15, for instance,
On a quiet street corner
In our minds and our toes
Treatment in this case was administered in the form of drugs: amphetamines and barbiturates, as required.
The master of the yawning-in-his-silk-dressing-gown approach was a much earlier songwriting genius, Cole Porter, who summed up the dinner-and-cocktails lifestyle of his 1930s contemporaries in I Get a Kick Out of You.
I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
Some versions (and there have been many, from Frank Sinatra in 1954 to the 1970s’ Gary Shearston) include cocaine on the list of things that fail to get the singer going. Ho hum, what is to be done with these people?
A more circumspect view came from Jethro Tull on their second album, 1969’s Stand Up, and the song Back to the Family, where songwriter Ian Anderson sings about a character not unlike himself, under pressure with work in London and retreating to the his home in the country, where he immediately misses the buzz of the city.
Rod Stewart had a good idea when he was bored in 1972: write to an old flame, a few years your senior, and try to rekindle some action. You Wear It Well may have been a thinly-veiled retread of Maggie May, but it lolloped along with a sort of lonely swagger.
The Rolling Stones in the late 60s had taken the drug-treatment line on Mother’s Little Helper, the bored housewife resorting to some chemical assistance from “a little yellow pill”.
The problem was still also in the 80s, as Tears for Fears with Mad World, a simmering stew of disappointment, tedium and desperation. And as for the 21st century, well… yawn… I don’t know if I can be bothered. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz