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November 26, 2019 Jukebox Happy Hour

Owed to an Ex

Mark Koepke

Owed to an Ex photo

The Waterboys
Fisherman’s Blues
October 1988
Ensign/Chrysalis Records

The CD was plucked from the sale bin of a London music store. It might have been during our first trip to Europe in autumn 2000, or maybe our second the following spring. We both loved to travel, but we didn’t travel well together. My idea of a good time: budget solo backpacker, game to chisel West African barbers down on $1 haircuts. Hers: art museums, Parisian cafés, stylish cape and beret. As a couple, we stuck to the “civilized” destinations, overlooked how every trip seemed to precipitate a homecoming relationship crisis. 

The disc was definitely her purchase, not mine. Let’s be clear about that. I was Classic Rock. She was more New Wave/Post-Punk—and whatever The Waterboys represented. Our musical intersection could have been early Talking Heads, but I don’t remember ever listening to them together. It figures.

I’m not sure what sparked my interest in this foreign object labeled Fisherman’s Blues. Maybe I glimpsed “Sweet Thing” on the back and couldn’t resist the possibility of an unheard Van Morrison cover. I may have caught the infectious urgent fiddle of the opening number—the title track—and followed it down, into the deeper cuts. Whatever the hook, by the end of “And a Bang on the Ear,” I’d been reeled in, emotionally clobbered.

In this epic seven-and-half-minute song, the narrator—presumably Mike Scott, the songwriter and lead singer—names five women from his past, one by one, the stepping stones to the current “woman of the hearth-fire / harbor of my soul.” He deftly, poignantly, summarizes each relationship in about 35 words, then offers the refrain “I send her my love / And a bang on the ear.” (Is it necessary to clarify that a “bang” is a peck, not a punch?)

The idea that relationships are verses in the song of a life, or that grace notes can be found in ruined loves, struck a chord of latent sentimentality. The song began a lesson I didn’t realize I’d ever need. 

For weeks, I played this tune with a one-track mind. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I’m not sure I ever told her how much I loved it.

Somehow—I don’t think it was intentional—Fisherman’s Blues joined me on my final departure from the house. Her house. I accomplished our asset division in less than a day, while she was at work. That should tell you something. It seemed like a job I could do on my own. That should tell you just about everything else. 

Jill told me, “We’re too different.” I thought, “Also, too the same.” Either way, I failed to see how no one was to blame. Across many years of distance, now it finally seems so clear /.... 

Even so, I’m keeping the CD.

Drink: A middling French wine, served in a baby bottle with a snipped silicone nipple. For non-drinkers: “Un Fanta, s’il vous plait.” 

image: ID 144203508 © Kovalenkov Petr | Dreamstime.com