I must have heard “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk when it came out in the early 1980s, but for most of the intervening 30 years or so I’m ashamed to say I haven’t given it much thought. I do, however, distinctly remember the No Doubt cover in the early 2000s as my eldest daughter had a bit of a No Doubt obsession and their songs were seldom off her playlist.
That is, until I set out on a long drive last week and the Talk Talk original came on the radio. Then I remembered it.
In a shot I was back in the 1980s, sitting in my London flat (not as glamorous as that might sound) with my old flatmate. The New Romantics were in full bloom…it wasn’t unusual to see a bloke in a frock coat and thigh-length pirate-style boots walking along Oxford Street.
Electronic music was just starting to be worth listening to. Although electronic sounds had been around for a while before then, listening to it was the musical equivalent of driving whatever came before the Model T Ford. Although there were some songs of note, mostly the electronic music of the day grated a little.
I was brought up believing good music was only made with guitars and drums, with an occasional piano. You’ll be glad to know that since the 1980s, either electronic music has got a lot better or my tastes have become more finely nuanced. I’ll let you judge…
But when Talk Talk’s version of “It’s My Life” came on the car radio last week, I remembered just what a great tune it was.
I’m not enough of a musician to be able to tell you what the chords are, but “It’s My Life” has one of the most attractive chord progressions in popular music…to my ears at least. You can hear it behind the chorus. There’s something both very melodic and very plaintive about it.
And those chords, whatever they are, happen to be perfect for a song by someone who is clearly not sure about how his relationship is going.
Funny how I found myself in love with you
If I could buy my reasoning I’d pay to lose
One half won’t do
I’ve asked myself
How much do you commit yourself?
Although other interpretations are possible, I’ve always thought this was a guy who had found himself in love with someone who didn’t love him back.
That’s never easy. What do you do…stay and make the best of it? Leave and torture yourself with what might have been if only you’d given in and let her have her own way…even she didn’t think you were worth committing to fully?
In that situation, it’s easy to blame yourself. It’s easy to think that just putting up with whatever life throws at you is the best option. I’m not so sure…
Funny how I blind myself
I never knew if I was sometimes played upon
Afraid to lose, I’d tell myself what good you do
You see, when you’re afraid to lose that person. ..when you think that no-one else will ever care for you…when you put keeping them happy in front of your own happiness…that’s when you’ve sold yourself down the river.
Don’t blame the other party. They’re just being the selfish, self-absorbed person who refuses to commit to you 100%. It’s your decision whether that’s good enough.
They’re just being the person they are. You have to decide the person you want to be.
It’s my life
Don’t you forget
It’s my life
It never ends
Although addressed to the errant partner, you’re largely wasting your breath having that conversation more than a handful of times. The person who needs to remember that your life matters is you.
So many people forget and convince themselves that it’s ok to give yourself completely to someone who cares a lot less about you. It’s the best they can hope for, they rationalise. They’d rather be in an uncaring relationship than run the risk of not being in a relationship at all.
The chorus for “It’s My Life” doesn’t sound to me like someone who has decided to walk out for good. It sounds much more like the sort of thing people end up saying every few weeks, perhaps every few months, when their patience snaps and they vent to the feelings of unhappiness and resentment which are kept bottled up most of the time.
What they don’t realise is their partner knows that’s exactly what’s going on.
Every few weeks…every month or two…they just let you raise your voice to shout “it’s my life…and don’t you forget”. They know you’re going to slam the kitchen door behind you and head upstairs to sit by yourself for a while.
Meanwhile, they just get on with their life exactly as before. They’ll give you space to calm down, but they know you’ll never leave. They’ve got you where they want you. The price of keeping things exactly as they are by letting you raise your voice for a few seconds every couple of months is a vanishingly small price to pay for the advantages they get out of the relationship.
The only person who doesn’t realise is the person who just stomped upstairs to spend a couple of hours in the bedroom by themselves.
And that’s why “It’s My Life” is such a melancholy and plaintive song. It’s not a song about a heartbreak and a moving on. That’s unpleasant enough, however maturely everyone involved behaves.
It’s several orders of magnitude more sad when the closest you get to freedom is being allowed to tell people how you feel for 30 seconds every couple of months.
If that’s you…whether you’re a guy or a girl…know that you deserve better.
By all means say “it’s my life…and don’t you forget” as loud as you like. But when you slam the kitchen door, don’t stomp up the stairs for the umpteenth time. They know you don’t mean it.
Slam that door, walk right of the house and never come back.
It’s fine to say “it’s my life…and don’t you forget”.
Just make sure you don’t forget either. It’s your life. Live it on your terms.
If you’d like to remember No Doubt’s pretty decent version of “It’s My Life”, you can find that here… https://youtu.be/ubvV498pyIM It was back when Gwen Stefani was living out her idea that she was the reincarnation of Bette Davis, or some such madness, as you’ll see in the video.
Ironically it’s a much more guitar-heavy version than Talk Talk’s original, but nowadays I much prefer the 1980s electronic version.
Written by Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene, with one of the most hypnotically beautiful chord progressions I can think of, here’s Talk Talk with “It’s My Life”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here)to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).