Episode 5: A Short History of Paranoia

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.

Tracklist

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

Paranoid, Hellsongs