The B-52's, memories of Topaz

Sam Wormleighton By Sam Wormleighton, 19th Jan 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/44rmi3x1/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Music>Listening To Music

4 minutes and something like 20 seconds of escapism and harmony. An overlooked classic, "We're gazing out to sea, Blue dolphins are singing"

Music evokes the place

I don't know when I first heard Topaz, but I do know the first memory I have of it. I was walking down Front Street in Key West. I'm fairly sure I was around about here, where it crosses Duval Street. The year was 1989, and it was unseasonably cool even for Christmas.

Duval Street is famous, all kinds of people will have evocative memories of happening on Duval Street. I wasn't interested because I had business to attend to. Burger King for a Cola or two.

The mornings were spent by the pool. Afternoons were all about Colas at Burger King. The evening was spent back at the pool, sitting in the hot tub and listening to the hotel reggae covers band.

Coming from suburban England I hadn't had exposure to self-service soda fountains. It was too much to comprehend. My brother and I were drawn to it insatiably. We would amble down Front Street and I would listen to my new toy, an no-brand walkman I'd got for Christmas a couple of days before. I only had one tape, which I'd been given at the same time. The tape was Cosmic Thing, by the B-52's, and I listened to it as relentlessly as I drank Cola.

Effortless dreamscape

I have no idea what the song is about. There is a significant chance that the whole thing is a massive "you had to be there" drug episode. I think I like the just-beyond-reach essence of that explanation best, but it's hard to have a favorite explanation when you're not sure you even care.

The lyrics have a timeless futurism that appeals to me. There is a sense of a utopia, distant in time and space. And yet the utopia seems to be a description of here and now, only a cleaner and ever-so-slightly improved version of here-and-now.

It sounds a little like the vision you have from the corner of your eye looks. Everything is a little fuzzy so you fill the details, and because you're not as imaginative as you think you are the grubbiness and inevitable sense of disappointment get left out until you actually find time to look for real.

There is a sense of harmonics which stretches beyond the literal of the female vocals and into an abstraction within the lyrics themselves. The male vocals are almost spoken and the melody sounds like the rolling hills which the song assures us are never seen.

The song has a dream-like quality, almost no element demands attention. The obvious exception to this is the sharp bell ring at the start of the song and again after the second line of vocals. It's clean to the point of shrillness. I think this single note, repeated only twice at approx 2 and 11 seconds in to the song, is my favorite part.

But if you don't pay attention you miss the complexity. Any song which alludes to the metric expansion of space has more going on that you can hope to understand on a first listen. I allowed the song to wash over me for perhaps a week, and I still haven't fully decided what my "Cities by the sea" are.

Never go back

I returned to Key West some 4 or 5 years later. This time I noticed the street hustlers a little more and listened to Topaz a little less. I bought a T-Shirt from a shop I'd seen on the previous visit, and had my hat airbrushed in an absurd manner.

Neither choice proved as satisfying as discovering self-serve cola. It was also too hot, and the hotel didn't have a house band.

I don't have my original tape now. Some years ago I found it in a wicker basket and I remember thinking that I should take care of it, It's the only tape-format album I've ever owned. The basket is in my garden shed, it's the same basket I used to play ships in as a baby. The tape isn't in it anymore. I probably put it somewhere safe.

On the second trip there was a brown mock-leather briefcase. Inside was a plastic liner, molded to hold about 30 tapes. Each arranged so their spines pointed upwards or easy reference. My bother and I used to share it, filled with copies of obscure electronica and eccentric singles from The Sultans Of Ping. Having more than one tape was probably a mistake.

Thankfully, when I listen to Topaz I think as I remember thinking the first time. Every other trip and every other listening has folded back into that event. It has become a superposition of occurrences, to which I hope to never stop adding.

Video & Lyrics

I don't think a video was ever made to promote Topaz. The only version on Youtube is a frankly bizarre homemade affair which presents the lyrics in spinning luridness while you listen to the song. I think I hate it, but there is a very real chance that it is a work of genius.

Certainly it was pretty clever of the creator to also include the whole of the following track from the album, the excellent instrumental "Follow Your Bliss".

Lyrics


New cities by the sea
Skyscrapers are winking
Some hills are never seen
Universe expanding

We're gazing out to sea
Blue dolphins are singing
Minds swim in ecstasy
Clear planet ever free

Topaz
(our hearts are traveling faster)
Topaz
(faster than the speed of love)
Topaz
(straight through a tear in the clouds)
Topaz
(up to the heavens above)

Bright ships will sail the seas
Starfishes are spinning
Some hills are never seen
Our universe is expanding

Moon rise upon the sea
Starships are blinking
We'll walk in ecstasy
Clear planet blue and green

Topaz
(our thoughts are traveling faster)
Topaz
(moving beyond the heavens above)

Planets pulsating constellations creating
Voices are guiding me to the cities by the sea
(cities by the sea)
Yes I see cities by the sea

Deep forests by the sea
Skyscrapers are winking
Some hills are never seen
The universe is expanding

Topaz
(our hearts are traveling faster)
Topaz
(faster than the speed of love)
Topaz
(straight through a tear in the clouds)
Topaz
(up to the heavens above)

Topaz
(our hearts are traveling faster)
Topaz
(faster than the speed of love)
Topaz
(straight through a tear in the clouds)
Topaz
(up to the heavens above)

Topaz
(our hearts are traveling faster)
Topaz
(faster than the speed of love)
Topaz
(straight through a tear in the clouds)

Topaz
Topaz

Tags

Key West, Music, Vacation

Meet the author

author avatar Sam Wormleighton
I am Wikinut's top technical author and advisor, which makes me a pretty big nut when you think about it!

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Comments

author avatar stewisnice
21st Jun 2012 (#)

sam,
No man is an island.
~Stew

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author avatar Charles
23rd Apr 2014 (#)

Sam, there is a 1989 interview with B-52s on YouTube in which they say Topaz is their vision of the future. Awesome. Deeply environmentalist. On Youtube find "B-52's interview 1989" posted by Marty Getz.

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