The boat was mediocre in its means but the skyline was gorgeous and friend sat and made me laugh. But you weren't there. And the smiles and laughter made me think of you even more.

And I sat laughing and eating with an emptiness in my heart, waiting for you to sit beside me. But you weren't there. Passing under the bridge, and beyond a purple sky, I think of you once again.

A quiet stillness out in the bay, dancing with a friend, rollerblading home again, and still you aren't there.

Last night I woke to find a sleeping dog beside me. And, for a second, my heart flared in hopes that it was you. But still, you weren't there.

Media. The means. Something is facilitated. In a shrinking world the airwaves buzz and contrails criss-cross the sky where our ancestors saw only the flight of the eagle, the condor and the swallow. The world, we say before exhausting our daily allowance of platitudes, is shrinking fast.

Well, you say it's such a small, small world
flying Club Class back from the far-east
curled up safe and warm in the big chair
you were drifting through the skies of anywhere

Comfortable and warm, soft classical music soothing your savage corporate-discorporate soul while the plane's jets shriek against the wind and the jet stream rides above the earth like some horseman of the Apocalypse, the lifeblood of the information society bouncing up and down all around you delivering bits of data to satellites high above and back down to the eager ears of the world.

Get the courtesy car to the Sheraton
there's live on-the-spot reports on the CNN between the ad-breaks

Toss your travel bag on the immaculately made bed and half unzip it. Switch on the light in the bathroom and, as an afterthought, reach for the remote on the bedside table and flip through the channels. Return to retrieve your hairdryer and glance at Morgan Stanley, or whatever concatenation of names they go by this week, advertising their financial services.

Watch the CNN logo flash across the screen and blur into the serious-looking reporter holding a microphone in front of a pile of rubble. You glance at his name and the place in the bottom of the screen and make an absent-minded note of it but aren't really paying attention. For all you know it could have said Alice in Wonderland. Your thoughts turn to tomorrow's meeting. The company depends on you. The noises fade and the pacifying voices of commerce take over the television set again before the next programme comes on.

The bombs never land on Elsa Klensch and her impeccable sense of style.

so you think you know what's going on - but you don't

Of course you know. You've made your superficial acquaintance with the facts. Neatly filed away for later retrieval. You turn off the light and leave the TV on.

because you weren't in Belfast, no you weren't there

Nobody came to my house to throw a bomb through the window.

and no you weren't in Waco, no you weren't there

I didn't set the fire. I didn't hear the screams in the flames. I didn't try to put them out.

and you weren't in Kosovo, you weren't there

I saw no one come to take away my father with a Kalashnikov pointed at his head.

and you weren't in my head so you don't know how it felt

I wasn't panicking, sitting in a shack in Jenin waiting for an army bulldozer to bring it down on my children's heads or for soldiers to burst in through the cracked door. I read about it on the world wide web. I don't even know that it happened.

walking arm in arm with crowds to the square
and the banners waving and the sun glinting

Did you make your stand outside Yeltsin's White House? Did you stand in Wenceslas Square along with a million others, keys in hand for a better, freer life? Did you run from the tanks in Tiananmen Square? Were you there? Were you ever anywhere?

Was I?

All this information swims round and round
like a shoal of fish in a tank going nowhere
Up and down between the glass walls

The trickle of data becomes a stream, a flood, a cataclysm. Information is the new measure of wealth. I know, therefore I am. I'm defined by the data others possess about me. I cunningly collect information and hoard it in my digital haystack.

You're so safe in the knowledge they're impenetrable

You think it can't get out of the screen and hurt you. History is made elsewhere. It never affects your daily life, you say. Sleep tight, my precious, there is no world outside your door.

and you look out at the world and see nothing at all
so go back to sleep and you'll be woken when the time comes
and you'll never know just what hit you or where it came from

Until it does. Like a ton of bloody bricks. Like a wall jumping out in front of you at 130 miles per hour.

because you weren't in Bradford, no you weren't there
and you weren't on the hill, no you weren't there

No, I wasn't in Bradford in 1995, feeling angry and venting with a crowbar in my hand. I've never been to Bradford in my life. I've never been to Rwanda or East Timor.

and you weren't with us so you never saw
just what happened when the television crews came knocking on the door
how the people told them all to go to Hell,
smashed the cameras and sent them away

They don't give a rat's ass about our precious public and what it wants to know. "Fuck you, nosey bastard, and fuck those who sent you."

I hear you, my distraught faraway brother. My hunger sent them. The Ones Who Know Better whet my appetite with one hand and quench my thirst with the other. You don't want to be part of my personal little circus. I understand. Just like the junkie who mugged you to pay his dealer understands. I don't have the power to break free and set you free too. I must know every intimate detail of your desperation. I will pounce on the crumbs of your misery that they throw my way.

There were sirens going off and policemen coming in
and all that you love was being swept away

You'll never be able to walk down that street again and look at it in the same way. That corner over there is no longer the place where you and Emma groped each other in the shadows when you were fourteen. It's the place where you cowered in fear, caught between two warring sides.

in the rush of a black tide all done in your name
and you'll never know just what happened there
or how it feels - just how it feels...

I want to know. I need to know! Show me the truth. Protect me from the evils of this world. Shield me from the madmen, from the monsters you created. Let me hide and keep feeding me the illusion that I'm part of something bigger. Like I belong. I numbly and greedily absorb the facts, opinions and commentaries. Come to me, mother bird media, and regurgitate your prey to feed your hungry chick.

I wasn't in Baghdad when the bombs rained down. I just watched the tracer rounds light up 26 diagonal inches of green sky behind Bernard Shaw's earnest face.
I took no chip off the Berlin Wall. I sat in front of a television set in Athens, mesmerised by the miracle that was happening and the miracle that let me watch it as I did.
I wasn't caught up in the adrenalin rush as my unit rampaged through some nameless Chechen village.
I wasn't sweltering on board a ship in the tropics, waiting for the country of my dreams to send me to a barren island.
I wasn't standing behind Subcomandante Marcos, holding my old M-1 at the ready, demanding a better future for my children.

All these things have happened in my lifetime and I'm a witness to them. I'm the peeping tom spying through the freshly cleaned window of history. I'm the cosmic gossip with an ear to every wall.

Such a clever little monkey, absorbing all these second-hand facts as knowledge and discoursing on them as if I were there, like some omnipresent deity. Self-absorbed, self-righteous and arrogant. One day the revelation of my ignorance will overcome me in a blinding blast, like the bombs of truth and justice raining down on a small Afghan village. On CNN.

And then I'll know what it feels like to be there.


Italicised text: You Weren't There by New Model Army from the album Eight (Zomba Records, 2000)
Written by Justin Sullivan
℗ Attack Attack Music/Warner Chappell Music Ltd.

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