“Long time jerk
Ohhh my heart
With that long time jerk.”
“I felt my heart, and now my heart will burst…” The Clash sing in this song (the B side on the EP “Rock the Casbah,” 1982) that I’d never heard until this Thanksgiving, while I was away in Riverside, NY. Staying with friends of friends in a little beach house that hangs over the ocean, which I could hear while I slept. I could probably live here, I thought. Write here. By myself. Write all the time, with no interruptions. Maybe not come back for a while.
I could do it because my heart is bursting, and also when it isn’t. And when it isn’t, I almost wonder if something is wrong.
We watched The Wizard of Oz, which all the adults loved and knew better than the kids. One woman knew all the lines. When the Tin Man’s solo—“If I Only Had a Heart”—came on, I was bursting like I’ve always wanted to burst when I hear him croon the words:
“When a man’s an empty kettle
He should be on his mettle
And yet I’m torn apart.”
It’s the Tin Man’s buttery voice and old show-biz accent, how smooth and free of rust it is. It’s the obvious fact, of course, that all four of them want what they already have so much of. It’s also the way the Tin Man tells Dorothy: “Now I know I’ve got a heart, ‘cause it’s breaking” when she says goodbye to everyone and goes back to Kansas. It’s the way they all say goodbye. The way they thank each other for things. For everything.
I danced to “Long Time Jerk” in these people’s living room. Guests took turns changing the 10 EPs on the record player. One song per album. Or two, if we played both sides. But often B sides are better than A sides. B is A’s well-kept secret. That’s what “Long Time Jerk” is. It’s the jerk that’s always been there, the B to the A. The jerk in someone sweet and someone sweet in the jerk. The jerk that makes your heart combust. That jerks you around. That plays you like a broken record. Like a nightmare you’ve grown used to and that’s grown comic. And then the song itself is also out there and clownie (the word jerk even has roots in American carnival slang). It sounds like some kind of reggae, country, punk-polka.
Playing records for two days, after I had just written about listening to vinyl in my radio monologue for Performa. The way a record crackles and trips—imperfect—alongside a song.
Joe Strummer’s voice is like the Tin Man’s. Even when Strummer was shouting in punk songs, his tough, flippant voice always sounded so vulnerable and impassioned, like it could crack at any moment. The jerk in his voice was so sweet. Then Strummer’s voice stretched wide open in The Mescaleros.
Although I couldn’t see the ocean out my window in bed at night (no moon), I could hear it playing in the dark.
I think I slept well and came back more tired.
I saw this as we drove back into Manhattan and then walked home by foot.