old tune tuesday: love is all around
Twenty four years ago yesterday Wet Wet Wet’s stonking hit Love Is All Around started its mammoth fifteen week run at number one. But was love *really* ALL around?
Ok, I know that this column is usually Old Music Monday, but when you think about it, what is time but another constrict in which we live our lives?
On that note: It’s 1994. You are 13. The drudgery of the 80s has passed and here we are: Kurt Cobain is dead, Brit-Pop is kicking into life, pop worlds collided when Michael Jackson married Lisa-Marie Presley, Madonna said some rude things on the telly and then released an even ruder album. But there is one song to rule them all, one song that, if you were cognisant in June, 1994, you would have heard every other second on the radio. Here it is, the end song from 1994’s biggest film:
1994’s big film smash was Richard Curtis’ precursor to all things rom-com, Four Weddings And A Funeral (he must have really fucking loved this song seeing as he recycled it nine years later for Love Actually). This is a film about four weddings and one funeral. A group of white, upper middle class West Londoners try and adhere to societal expectations and get married. One of them dies. It ticked a lot of boxes at the time because:
1. Andie McDowell stands in the rain and is American.
2. Hugh Grant, who plays an affable man that says swear words, took Liz Hurley to the premiere and she wore that dress and then shortly after, he got arrested for getting down with a lady of the night.
3. It features that sad W. H. Auden poem.
4. And someone is referred to as “Duckface”, which is quite funny.
5. It also features two openly gay characters which was kind of a big deal at the time!
Hugh Grant, and his friends of the getting married variety, all share one thing: they are straight -- and obsessed with getting married, natch. But his two gay friends, Gareth (played by Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) don’t follow this obsession. They can’t, because in 1994, same-sex marriage is still illegal. In fact, in the summer of 1994 Britain’s first prime-time, same-sex kiss (Beth Jordache and Margaret Clements from Brookside), has not even taken place. Being gay is basically invisible in popular culture; it is still nudge nudge wink wink campery and not much else.
If you have seen Four Weddings, you’ll know what happens, and if you haven’t, well hold onto your hat because I am going to spoil it for you: After toasting their friendship group, (“True love, whatever shape or form it may come, may we all be proud in our dotage to say, I was adored once too”), the corpulent and jolly Gareth keels over and dies.
Cut to his funeral: the vicar invites his “friend” Matthew to say a few words. He receipts W.H Auden’s profoundly sad Funeral Blues: “The stars are not wanted now; put out every one. Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun. Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good”. Even the coldest of dead hearts will cry a little tear. After the funeral, Hugh’s character turns to his friend Tom, and says, “After all of these years of being single and proud of it, we never realised that two of us were for all intents and purposes married."
It’s two tiny moments that mean the world, but if you aren’t looking for them you would miss them. Although all sorts of sexual flavours are now celebrated on screen, at that point they weren’t. You had to search out people who represented your ideology and identity on screen. Four Weddings was the most successful film of 1994 -- it was everywhere. And this is the message it sent out about being gay. That it was a relationship so underground and shameful that not even the closest of friends were aware of it. It was something to be reduced by authority, it had no value in the terms of ‘real love’... was love really all around? Or was it just for those who were allowed it?
The song stuck in the top 75 for 38 weeks, nothing seemed to stymie it -- unlike, thankfully, societal change.