Straight Through The Haze: Sam Morgan in a Daze. A Review of his new Single: "Red Car"
By Theressa Malone
Like me, Wellington artist Sam Morgan hails from the mighty Manawatū. His music is habitually impacted (but not disturbed) by the built environment around him-- a telltale sign of those who migrate into complicated cities from the tiny towns that dot the Ruahine Ranges-- farm villages with blunt English names that will never roll off the tongue (Ashhurst, Bunnythorpe, Foxton, Fielding). His new single skirts the problem of a red car and a bus that tracks new, lower latitudinal locations from Karori to Kelburn to Newtown to Miramar, and it tracks those who ride it, and those who look at those who ride it.
Cars versus buses:
In the Manawatū, cars are essential to get from one ville to the next, to transport one's self to a designated tramp in the bush, a rubbish dump, somewhere to buy bread and milk. We are forced into acquiring these private 'bubbles', affordable or not, so that we may migrate from point A to B. In Wellington, you might walk to point B instead. And public transport is plentiful: one of a great many buses can connect you to a place and a face, and you can step swiftly onto a moving platform of people, heaving directly towards something specific, like a track has been carved out that unquestionably moves you toward a destination, among a crowd of others, strangers. The intensity of switching between public-private-public-private-public becomes a necessary performance: technically, everyone on the bus is witnessing you prepare yourself in the minutes before you meet your crush or your mother or your boss. The ritual sensation of the bus that has transported you to, say, your girlfriend's flat after work every night, ingrains itself in your real-time relationship. If you break up with her, you have to break up with the vehicle too, and the entire cast of characters on it. The emptiness of the break up is broadened and expanded for all of the other losses that come with it on the bus. Anyway, Sam made a song about this or something like it.
"Red Car" was written on a Wellington bed in a Wellington flat in the middle of a pandemic. Around the same time much of Aotearoa was coming to terms with varying levels of emptiness. We were living in government termed isolation-- to save one another we had to leave each other alone. I heard "Red Car" and its dazed, sweet sounding lyricism: so sweet it echoed exactly what was going through my own head many kilometres away in Palmy (naturally). How do you deal with emptiness when you are being told to increase it? How do you accelerate this type of stasis-- a terrible, depressed slump.
"Red Car" is incredibly private-- I don't even know if I'm allowed to be hearing it, it's secretive. I thought, Sam is talking to some images here-- after which he explained about the bus. "Red Car" is an ode to the bus that took him out of lockdown and into love, to all of the fucked up feelings of a short and sweet romance which each take their turn to structure his song. The lyrics are sung in earnest, firmly: "Tell me honestly /Were you wanting me? /Or just someone to hold". Is The Lover about to respond or is it Bakhtin-- an utterance, a sound left unanswered and toiling into the night.
The moment you start questioning the authenticity of your partner is now an impeccably Wellington experience, entwined with the 18E bus route, with a certain red car, with the street, and with everyone on it. (This doesn't happen in Palmy because you drive yourself anywhere, you drive yourself to, say, the Gorge Walk, to process the trajectory of your life all alone). Sam moved to Wellington a long time ago, and I don't even know if he drives. Last time we talked about it he said 'Fuck Driving'. But there remains an open question in this song that has nothing to do with his location: Who's Empty? Can you pretend your way out of Emptyness? He told me "it's not the sort of thing you put on in the car when you're travelling up north. It's like drunk at 3AM feeling shit and reflective, trying to make something out of the beer-y haze'. And reflective it is, in the way that makes you rub your eyes and look in the mirror, look at your own eyes as they inspect themselves. Sam confides in me, "I find it hard to get out of the bed that I laid down in" (to write such a song!) "and to get back in it again later. Rinse and repeat". His daily movements, our movements, reduced to COVID-19 sanitation laws in 2020.
"Find yourself in the oldn days /Be sure to look straight through the haze"
The song is hungover, and dozing, it switches the image of your own face back at you so you might recognise that you are still real. It's a sweet, melodic, hazy, thing that harkens back to a sad night (and confirms my Palmerston North suspicions that Wellingtonians experience only artful states of pain and alcoholic nausea-- when they do it's with violets and elderberries, as opposed to the frozen cokes of the North.) The song builds, starting with the acoustic and directing itself to a sharp drum kit near the end. It hurts indeed.
What More Than The Honey Will Last The Year?
I asked Sam about the start of the song, which has a marked ideological shift from the rest of it? "Ran outta money /Ran outta tears /Tellin' ya honey wouldn't last the year" and we talked about another phenomenon the alluring blurring of the capacity for human love against the capacity for human consumption. There are many reasons to imagine that, along with the bullshit of lockdown love affairs, our spending habits, our material consumption, and our own lives might not make it through to December. As we furiously 'check' off bucket-list impulses in the New Zealand's darling post-Covid landscape, we can't help but to catastrophise and push our fears into the future, even if we can barely perceive one. Sam's song is a worry, or more aptly, a recreation of the worries that were built out of this particularly shit and eventful moment in our kiwi kid lives. The track looks forward, back, forward, back, and forward. Have a listen and see if it pierces you in the heart.
This feature marks the release of Sam Morgan's new single "Red Car". Listen rn on Spotify, here!
Theressa Malone is the founder and editor of Milly, but also a writer who studied comparative literature and german language at UC Berkeley. You can read some of her work in Poetry New Zealand, the Daily Californian, and Picture this Post, where she is the Bay Area Editor.