Spandau Ballet's “True” renders borrowed memories and family car rides
Emotional Resonance is a safe place where we can go deep on what a single song means to us. Happy times and sad, good news and bad, we explore the soundtrack to our lives.
My first encounter with pop music was through my dad. When I was growing up in the 90s, my dad always played his favourite songs when we were in the car. He was on the wheel, my mum by his side, my younger brother and I in the backseat. This was an everyday occurrence, as my dad drove us to school or out for dinner on the weekends. The music would always be playing.
My family car could play up to eight CDs and my dad held hostage of each, my mum had no say in this. I think she could not have cared less. My dad will burn his music into CD-ROMs and meticulously label each of them. He displayed a proclivity for all kinds of bad, weird, barely tolerable music. He played trashy pop by Ace of Base, Toybox and Aqua, dance anthems from ABBA, Village People and The Bee Gees, listened to alternative bands like Barenaked Ladies, Smash Mouth, blink-182, and occasionally belted to songs by Billy Joel, Meat Loaf and Elton John. From Paul Simon to No Doubt, The Corrs to Mike and the Mechanics, my dad's love for his music was all encompassing and thoroughly sincere.
The one song that my dad was especially fond of, played frequently during our car rides, was Spandau Ballet's “True”. He would repeatedly tell my brother and I his most vivid memory to this song. This was before he met my mum, my dad's at a school dance and he's watching his crush dance with another boy to “True”. Yes, my dad's Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (though perhaps with slightly worse hair). This memory itself is filled with teenage angst, longing and pain — the classic hallmarks to turn “True” into the quintessential 80s pop song on love and rejection for me. Somehow along the years, this borrowed memory would become incredibly murky, and I would envision my dad's dance scene to be similar to the music video for “True”: hazy shadows on a purple-lit dancefloor.
From its hushed piano tinkling, a glistening bass line, and a slick saxophone solo about midway through, “True” itself could be seen as anti-rock, soul-embracing song of the 80s. Written by 22-year-old guitarist Gary Kemp, the idea of love woven in “True” is sticky sweet. You can find this in its instantly recognisable opening: the gentle synths, the tender guitar licks, the “huh huh huh hu-uh huh”. For a ballad that stretches over five minutes, “True” never ventures far from its sugary depiction of romance, but its lyrics tell a slightly different story of unreciprocated affection.
The opening couplet “So true funny how it seems / Always in time, but never in line for dreams” hints of a tragic tale of love. “This is the sound of my soul”, lead singer Tony Hadley croons, in a mushy, sorrowful manner. The refrain itself, “I know this much is true”, is filled with a quiet resignation, yet hope springs in once the hook kicks in, the sighs indistinguishable from a hushed utterance of love. The inability to say what you mean is demonstrated constantly throughout “True”: “Oh why do I find it hard to write the next line? / I want the truth to be said.” The difficulty in being honest is a universal feeling, and “True” captures this earnestly sappy heartache.
I would cringe whenever “True” came on in the car. I found “True” to be terribly corny, and I still do today, but it also encompasses something else. As Hadley points out, “With 'True', you have to create the imagery for yourself.” “True” has been sampled by Nelly, played numerously in movies and at weddings, and in particular, in the closing scene of The Wedding Singer sang by Steve Buscemi. My version of “True”, however, is bittersweet, tinged with my dad's memory of unrequited love and my own childhood memory of family car rides. “True”’s 80s cheese is from a bygone era that I was never part of. Most importantly, “True” gives me a glimpse into what my dad's life was like before he had me. Additionally, the feelings that he had experienced with “True” would gradually become more familiar to me as I had gotten older.
My dad left my mum for the girl that danced to “True” and married her shortly thereafter. They live in Singapore with their two kids and a dog. These days, he lets his wife play her music when in the car. Once, during a family car ride, “True” came on the radio, he looked longingly at her and held her hand. It was as sickeningly sweet and incessantly cheesy as “True” itself.