Slowly but surely the temperatures across Europe begin to fall, along with the leaves and the hours of daylight.
And by way of an accompaniment to the imminent long sleep, a Radio smow beds playlist.
Back at the 2018 KABK Den Haag graduation festival the project Windows Without a View by Rudi van Delden investigated how you can “reclaim the missing third of your life”, i.e. when your in bed, and for all explored “the bedroom as the new office cubicle”. A deliberately provocative, Swift-esque, position reflective of the contemporary all-pervasiveness of work, digital technology and for all work in an age of digital technology, but also disturbingly realistic. For example, in context of the 2014 exhibition series/programme/event The Century of the Bed, the curator and architecture historian Beatriz Colomina noted that “The Wall Street Journal reported in 2012 that 80 percent of young New York professionals work regularly from bed.”1 Something we’re not only glad office planners haven’t cottoned onto yet, but an undeniable indicator of not only evolving society, but of how the function/role/relationship of/to the bed continually evolves, and that parallel with society.
However, the (hi)story of the development of the bed not only runs parallel to social developments but also exists as a chronicler of social contrast, of class contrast; throughout history all have had a bed, but very different beds and beds which reveal a lot about both the times their occupants lived in and their position in society, be that in terms of the nature of the bed and its component materials, the physical position of the bed in a house, the number of people who shared a particular bed and their relationships, while the development of the mattress is a subject for itself.
One of the oldest pieces of furniture the bed is also one of the very few furniture objects we share with other animals, we may call what they use nests, but that in/on which chimps, birds, rodents et al sleep is a bed. And our bed a nest. A fact which neatly underscores the inherent, innate desire for a safe, comfortable place to sleep. Something we humans have, in that way we do, developed from a basic instinct to a tangible object with its own culture, history, identity, analogies and metaphors.
Logically it therefore follows that the bed allows for all manner of reflections on the human condition, both direct and more figurative.
By his own admission Pulp singer Jarvis Cocker only really started enjoying lyric writing, and began to properly develop as a lyricist, when he realised that it was OK to write about everyday things; you didn’t have to be profound, the mundane was equally, often more, interesting.
Since when beds have featured regularly in Pulp narratives. Not always directly in the lyrics, but never that far away. Because amongst those inanimate objects with which we share our world, beds are much better, more reliable, chroniclers of the mundane reality of life than say a sofa, kitchen table, vacuum cleaner or bath. You can’t keep secrets from beds the way you can from other objects.
In Live Bed Show the bed itself is nothing particular, has in itself no value, “it only cost ten pounds. From a shop just down the road”, we’re informed, “mind you”, the tale continues, and you sense not in a positive direction, “that was seven years ago, and things were very different then.”
As the bed knows only too well. And seven years during which it has acquired a metaphoric value that far outstrips its mercantile value, its entire thereness being the sum of developments that have occurred over that seven years, the (hi)story of that seven years, the very personal, though equally universal, tragedy that has unfolded, having been recorded, physically and figuratively, in that bed: and so although exactly the same object, the consequence of the past seven years mean that the bed has “changed from something comfortable. To something else instead.” As has the protagonist’s life.
If a bed is something on which we lie, it follows that it should be comfortable; in their 1992 epic Bon Jovi play with the contrast between the bed of roses* the narrator seeks and the bed of nails he has, and for all the narrator’s longing to swap the latter for the former. Whereby the only thing standing in his way is him himself.
The full self-inflicted tragedy of his situation revealing itself in both the narrator’s hatred of his situation, his utter, and abhorrent, contempt for those he spends his nights with, his failure to recognise that the cause of all the misery and suffering is himself, and his stagnation, beating time on the spot rather beating it through action. He’s never going to get to that bed of roses. Too narcissistic, too egoistic, too preconditioned by childhood experience, too macho, too weak, too cowardly, too drunk, all of the above….?
“I’ve got nothing to prove. For it’s you that I’d die to defend” Then you do have something to prove. And its not exactly of Abrahamic proportions. Yet something you continually and actively fail to, one feels so that you can continue claiming you have nothing to prove.
You know it’s Jon Bon Jovi. But you also know it could have been Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Jonson or any of the Elizabethan bards. They just wouldn’t have added the power riffs.
And remember kids, never “French kiss the morning”, even if you know how to.
Although written and recorded long before the popular rise of digital media, the all too obvious tension between the narrator’s self-projected public image and the stress of trying to live up to that, is made for our contemporary, superficial, image based society.
The consequences for Courtney Love’s narrator, as with so many today who struggle to keep pace with that idealised image of themselves they continually update on social media, being anorexia and thoughts of escape through suicide.
“I’ve made my bed, I’ll lie in it” she repeatedly insists, whereby one senses “lie” is much less as in “recline, repose, prone” and much more “deceive, falsify, invent”: this isn’t someone accepting responsibility for their actions, but someone willfully, consciously, wantonly, denying reality. With all the inevitable consequences that will have further down the line.
But, an image must be maintained……..
It will probably come as no surprise to learn that we’re no big fans of having breakfast in bed, being as it is an inconvenient, messy and impractical solution that can only end in disaster. And jam on your pillow. But in popular culture, and for all in that parallel universe occupied by marketeers, breakfast in bed is not only the ultimate in decadence and luxury, but also the universal metaphor of domestic happiness and harmony.
And admittedly there is an easy to comprehend attraction to the notion…..
Dusty Springfield clearly thought so, and while her proposed menu doesn’t appear to include jam, or indeed the toast, orange juice and boiled eggs one would normally expect to find, it is however, nonetheless, an inconvenient, messy, and impractical solution. And can only end in disaster.
An instrumental, but the title of the Danish three piece’s 2010 track brings us to one of the more unpleasant beds in Greek mythology; not that we can imagine the beds of Greek antiquity were particularly comfortable to begin with, but that belonging to the Attican smith Procrustes stands as an especially uncomfortable representative of the genre, for, as we learn from Diodorus of Sicily, Procrustes “compelled the travellers who passed by to lie down upon a bed, and if any were too long for the bed he cut off the parts of their body which protruded, while in the case of such as were too short for it he stretched their legs”2
Which not only wouldn’t get him that many ★★★★★ reviews, but means the Procrustean Bed exists as the perfect analogy for structures which deform, contort and simplify a policy or objective to make it fit; for imposing uniformity upon complex systems; for processes where the means are misused to ensure a preconceived end is reached; of what Keith M. Murphy refers to as a “teleological ordering of raw materials into some resultant thing”3, rather than a process naturally and organically approaching an unknown, best-fit, optimal, solution.
Which got us thinking about the contemporary furniture industry……..
The Radio smow beds playlist, and all Radio smow playlists can be found on the smowoline spotify page.