Stephen Duffy Reads "What the Fuck Was I Thinking"
Don Share: This is the Poetry magazine podcast for the week of January 21st, 2019. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.
Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. On the Poetry magazine podcast, we listen to a poem or two in the current issue.
Don Share: Stephen Duffy is a singer-songwriter and a founding member of the eighties English band Duran Duran. He’s also recorded as a solo performer, and with his own group, The Lilac Time.
Lindsay Garbutt: The Lilac Time’s song “The Simple Things” is being released online as part of the magazine’s January issue. Duffy also wrote a prose piece for the magazine about poetry and its influence on his creative practice, which began early on.
Stephen Duffy: I went to a very … it wasn’t an experimental school, but it was the sixties. They took the doors off of my primary school, you know, when I was … how old … seven, eight, nine? Then they realized how noisy it was and they put them back on very quickly, but it was kind of experimental. And we’d do these things like crawling around under the desks, trying to imagine what it was like to be a miner, and then they’d say, write a poem about your experiences of crawling around under the desk and what it’s like to be a miner. I wrote a poem and they said, “this is really good, read this out in assembly.” I left the poem at home and they said, “What are you gonna do,” and I wrote another one within ten minutes before we had to do it. That is when I realized: I can do this. So it was poetry and performing it, that was the first thing I ever did, I suppose, as a ten-year-old.
Lindsay Garbutt: As a teenager, Duffy still dreamed of being a writer.
Stephen Duffy: I got a typewriter when I was a kid, because I got into that Jack Kerouac thing about the roll of paper, and ... I actually set it up. My father got me a roll of paper, he worked for the GPO, which was the phone company, and I had this big roll of paper and I sat down and I was fifteen and I just ... you know, it flattened me. Maybe if I would have put a tiny piece of paper in I might have written something. But I just couldn’t think of what to say. And then ... I was writing songs already, and I wrote all of these millions of songs. And I could never put the songwriting and the poetry and the prose writing together.
Don Share: Duffy did eventually write poetry, but he also became a prolific songwriter, and by the 1980s he was an established musician.
Stephen Duffy: Yes, I wanted to be a poet. I wanted to be the great ... but what would it have been then? The great electronic poet, the great synth poet of early eighties Britain. I had this ambition. And then I became successful, and kind of lost focus.
Lindsay Garbutt: Around this time, Duffy’s band managers submitted his poems to none other than The Who’s Pete Townshend, who worked as an acquisitions editor at Faber & Faber in London. Duffy receives a letter back from the publishing house, but he never responded.
Stephen Duffy: I could have actually started to publish poetry, which would have been, you know, such a different path. And I can’t believe that I didn’t. I don’t know what happened. I can’t remember anything about it. I’m sure they are not weeping, but ... You know, it’s one of those “it could have been a completely different life, folks.” One with less money.
Don Share: This is Stephen Duffy’s big hit, “Kiss Me,” which he released under the name Tin Tin.
Lindsay Garbutt: By 1986, Duffy turned away from electronic music and returned to the political folk music of his youth. That’s when he formed The Lilac Time.
Stephen Duffy: And, of course, I was dropped by my record label so quickly in 1986 or whenever it was, for daring to do this sort of folky thing, but that gave me the.. I just thought, this is where my heart is.
Lindsay Garbutt: The Lilac Time is about to release their tenth album, 33 years after their first. Here is Duffy reading from the lyrics of one of the songs on that album, “The Simple Things.”
We sat on the threshold and listened to the silence
Where has all the music gone
Nostalgic for the future, they fast-tracked to a dead end
When shit happens, life goes on
So what is this all about then?
Singing these sort of naive songs of protest
And I suppose this is the same sort of thing.
Don Share: Now here is Stephen Duffy reading from “What The Fuck Was I Thinking,” his piece in the January issue.
In 1986, I was walking home one lunchtime along Ken High Street. In those pre-internet search engine times, some uncertainty prompted me to drop into a bookshop and buy a Pan Introduction to Fifty Modern British Poets. It was £2.95 and so modern it included Hardy, Houseman, and Kipling. I walked up Campden Hill Road and looked at the derelict houses in Observatory Gardens. I had The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse in my duffle bag and I was wandering home to write a song like “[Your body is stars]” by Stephen Spender.
Your body is stars whose million glitter here:
I am lost amongst the branches of this sky
Here near the breast, here in my nostrils, here
Where our vast arms like streams of fire lie.
I wanted to finish the first Lilac Time album and needed three more songs. No longer with Virgin Records, free to make my way acoustically and independently, I carried on walking up Ladbroke Grove to Harvist Road Queens Park. And on the top floor of 139, overlooking the brickyard and the railway lines and down past Trellick Tower and beyond Observatory Gardens and the late night that had preceded it all, I wrote, “you came to me in ecstasy, happy, on the road to happiness.” And thinking back to days before I wrote “the night spent crawling like a snail on black velvet” about Birmingham and youthful, drunken coquetterie. Then, thinking ahead I wrote, “if you get married you’ll find out that it’s true, love becomes a savage.” But what did I know, apart from the sparks that came from poems?
Don Share: You can read “What The Fuck Was I Thinking” by Stephen Duffy in the January 2019 issue of Poetry magazine, or online at poetrymagazine.org. You can also listen to The Lilac Time’s song “The Simple Things” before it’s publicly released by visiting poetrymagazine.org/lilactime.
Lindsay Garbutt: We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get all January episodes all at once in the full-length podcast on Soundcloud.
Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought of this program. Email us at [email protected], and please link to the podcast on social media.
Don Share: The Poetry magazine podcast is recorded by Ed Herrmann and this episode was produced by Curtis Fox and Rachel James.
Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this program comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.
Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.
Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.