Paranoia may not seem like the most obvious starting point for a relaxing hour of tunes, and it isn’t. Most of these songs are unnerving, in one way or another, but that doesn’t stop them being essential listening. There is a thread here, of paranoid characters having trouble with that most basic of functions: looking at other humans.
Paranoid Man Number One
You oughta know not to stand by the window; somebody see you up there
The revolutionary in Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime is hiding out in a cemetery, surviving on peanut butter, with “two passports, a couple of visas.” He doesn’t even know his real name. The character was not so much a comic caricature (like Woody Harrelson in 2012), more an acerbic comment at the end of the decade that had thrown up Watergate and Baader Meinhof (like Gene Hackman in The Conversation).
Paranoid Man Number Two
I was lookin' back to see if you were lookin' back at me to see me lookin' back at you
It’s a bad idea in in English cities to look at people for too long on the street. Or on public transport. Or late at night. It’s a function of too many people in too small a space. Massive Attack’s Safe From Harm is partly about this.
Paranoid Man Number Three
Puts his head down when girls pass in the street; shakes in the chemist
Mark E Smith of The Fall is by some margin the most paranoid man in rock’n’roll and on Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room (1993) he completed a psychotic trilogy. In Flat of Angles (1979) we get to inhabit the world of the man who’s killed his wife and is hiding up: trapped in flat of angles … soap operas all day .. rooms of dirty laundry …the streets are full of mercenary eyes. His father-in-law is holding up a picture of his dead wife in the papers. Then, a year later: A prickly line of sweat covers enthusiast's forehead as the realization hits him that the same government him and his now dead neighbor voted for and backed and talked of on cream porches have tricked him into their war against the people who enthusiast and dead hunter would have wished torture on, he sang on New Face in Hell (1980). That, right there, is the voice of paranoia.
Paranoid Man Number Four
I can’t make eye contact with anyone I see; this place has taken all my self esteem
Yep, high school can be a drag. On Self Esteem, Andrew Jackson brings it all back.
Life During Wartime, Talking Heads
A Song from under the Floorboards, Magazine
Passover, Joy Division
Yashar, Cabaret Voltaire
Kundalini, 23 Skidoo
Schizophrenia, Sonic Youth
Where is my mind?, Pixies
Safe from Harm, Massive Attack
Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room, The Fall
Paper Thin Walls, Modest Mouse
Afraid of Everyone, The National
Self Esteem, Andrew Jackson Jihad