While preparing our 5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for December 2017 post we spent a not inconsiderate amount of time contemplating the exhibition Cupboard Love at the Gewerbemuseum Winterthur, in particular the fact the while it promises to explore cupboards in their metaphoric manifestations as expressed in film, literature and art, they appear to have overlooked the use of cupboards, closets and other storage units in music.
We just had to rectify that…….
Arguably because it is such a universal and ubiquitous object the cupboard/wardrobe/sideboard allows for a very easy metaphor; principally, and somewhat logically, involving storage, but not exclusively.
Indeed the cupboard not holding things, the bare cupboard, is perhaps the most potent symbol of poverty, desperation and a general lack of resources/ideas, “I’m tired of walking these streets, To a room with its cupboards bare”, sing The Smiths, before continuing to declare that, “I’m not sure what happiness means / But I look in your eyes / And I know that it isn’t there” No-one, but no-one does hopeless existential despair quite like Morrissey.
The cupboard not holding things, or perhaps better put, not being full is also the basis of the German idiom “nicht alle Tassen im Schrank haben” the equivalent of the English “to have a screw lose”, the French “avoir une case en moins” or the Italian “non avere tutte le rotelle al loro posto” ” Or as Rio Reiser complains in his song Aschermittwoch, “ich bin krank, ich bin krank / Ich hab nicht alle Tassen im Schrank”
Cupboards can also be gateways, in the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the later being the door to Narnia, the Lion and the Witch, a door to a world of adventure and life-affirming experiences, and something alluded to by the line “Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls” in The Clash’s London Calling, while the “And so I hid inside her wardrobe” in Pulp’s Babies offers a gateway to life-affirming experiences of a slightly more illicit and salacious nature. But the principle inference with cupboards as a gateway is in context of “coming out”, whereby one can only “come out” thanks to the cupboards main metaphoric role as a place of storage, and generally for that which is secret, certainly not for public show. But not always. “I got my beer in the sideboard here” sing Chas & Dave cheerfully. Hallelujah reply we.
Cupboards, sideboards, wardrobes and closets are, as one sees, regularly encountered in song lyrics, reason enough we thought for a Cupboards, closets, wardrobes playlist, introduced through five songs that, for us, nicely explain the variety of metaphors that can be created……
There are sufficient proposed interpretations of the line “he got Ono sideboard” to keep even the most ardent of Beatles conspiracy theorists busy for a long, long time.
We guess only John Lennon knows/knew, and given that the song was written in 1969 its arguable how consciously aware he was of that knowledge. Subconsciously sure. But consciously…..
We like to think it is a fond reference to Yoko Ono, it may not be, may be very, very unpleasant; but let’s all assume that John is saying he is as attached to Yoko as to that favoured sideboard, that sideboard which not only says home to him, and within which one finds his deepest secrets, desires and pains, but which he intends to care for and with whom he hopes to grow old.
Based on the true story of a man called “Paul”, who, more or less, lived in the former Hype nightclub in Hagen, Germany, and who, more or less, fell in love with the big rubbish bin/container in the backyard, Container Love is an extreme case of developing an emotional association with a storage object. Yet somehow, not beyond the bounds of imagination…..
The skeleton in the closet is arguably the central idiom involving cupboards: we all have them, all pretend we don’t and all live in constant fear of them being discovered. And so heaven forbid that they should start dancing and drawing attention to themselves!!!
That said, we don’t believe for a minute there is anything even vaguely metaphoric at play here, it’s just a song about a skeleton dancing in a closet at a party….. that said…..
With forty years hindsight, there is so, so much wrong with this song; but still one can’t ignore the positive pro-transgender message.
The fact that in 1978 transgender wasn’t a thing, it was just cross-dressing, is of course what leads to the song being so very, very wrong today. Society has moved on, language has moved on, the lyrics have remained firmly in the late 1970’s, yet remain relevant. Which in many respects is a message in itself about a truth existing independently of context.
A classic example of the wardrobe as a place where one hides ones darkest secrets, however, “Now it’s farewell to the past / The secret’s out at last / He’s out of the wardrobe and now he’s got no regrets”
Although long established as arguably the international LGBT anthem, that is far, far too narrow a perspective, every chord, every refrain is an imploration to not only follow your own way of life, but much more to respect the right of everyone else to follow their own way of life, free from your petty prejudices. So come, open up your closets!!!
Yes, with time the song has been somewhat dulled by a light patina of pastiche, but its message still shines through… and indeed when Kurt Cobain told us all to “Come as you are“, it was just I am what I am for the slackers.
Full details on the exhibition Cupboard Love at the Gewerbemuseum Winterthur can be found at www.gewerbemuseum.ch