#471: Richard and Linda Thompson, "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" (1974)

The last time I saw Tiff, a few nights ago, we got fucking gone on some mid-grade weed she bought from her manager at Little Caesar’s and watched Looper. I don’t mean we got buzzed, or goofy, or anything like that—we were capital-s Stoned, slack-jawed and drooling. I don’t know why we were watching Looper. I’d seen it a few times already and Tiff generally doesn’t go in for that kind of sci-fi bullshit, especially if it involves time travel—because “Time travel isn’t goddamn possible,” she says. “And none of these movies ever get it right, anyway,” which, come to think of it, are fairly mutually exclusive ideas, what with the question of how a movie could get something right that isn’t goddamn possible to begin with and all—but that’s beside the point. Probably because the disc happened to already be in the Blu-ray player and we were so fucked on not-bad-but-not-great weed that we couldn’t really do anything else, not even change the disc, we watched Looper.

Honestly, I don’t remember watching the beginning of the movie, the parts with all those bodies appearing out of thin air only to be blown open with a shotgun, or the part where a guy’s younger self gets cut up and his future self’s fingers and nose disappear. I think the reason I don’t remember watching that stuff is because I wasn’t really watching it. It was on, but instead of watching the movie, I was watching Tiff watch the movie. I was looking for some flicker of something on her face or in her eyes because Tiff has been having a rough year. She failed out of school and her stepdad kicked her out of the house after her mom hit the road without even saying goodbye. That last part happened just about three months ago and, ever since, Tiff’s been bouncing between sleeping on friends’ couches, and staying in my bed. She’s also been stoned twenty-four-seven for most of that time. At first, she wouldn’t smoke before or at work, but when she found out her manager, Dorothy, some bi-sexual mom who moved here six months ago from Boulder, was stoned at work every day, and was willing to sell some of her stash from time to time, well, Tiff decided to roll with the workplace culture.

  Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

Illustration by Annie Mountcastle

And that’s fine, or whatever, but for a while now, I can’t even remember the last time Tiff and I said more than a dozen words to each other, and I can remember the last time we had sex, but it was a while ago, and I missed those things, and maybe those are the things I was thinking about while I was watching Tiff watch Looper. And, of course, watching Tiff watch Looper was kind of a drag until we got to the scene in the movie that begins with that prostitute, who is in a relationship with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character, sitting topless in front of a mirror, and that Richard and Linda Thompson song starts playing. When that song started playing, Tiff jumped up off the sofa and started dancing around the room until the song stopped, or got too quiet to hear, I don’t remember, at which point she sat down on the floor and started crying. It was a weird scene, that’s for sure. Not the scene in the movie, though it’s kind of weird, too, but seeing Tiff leaping and spinning around the room while Linda Thompson sang about wanting to spend some money and go dancing in the city to escape her mundane daily life. It was the most anything I’d seen out of Tiff since her mom left, and for a moment I was worried she was having some kind of psychotic break. But no, she was just dancing, and humming along with Linda Thompson’s vocals because she clearly didn’t know the lyrics, but there is that line that’s all like, “Now the weekend’s come I’m gonna throw my troubles away,” and honestly, in retrospect, when I thought about that line, I thought maybe this isn’t that weird, really. I mean, Tiff’s got troubles. Let her throw them away.

Anyway, at the tail end of Tiff’s manic display, after she spun around the room, when she sat on the floor and cried, I assumed she was crying because of a line of dialogue after the prostitute puts some drugs in Joseph Gordon Levitt’s eyes. As the drugs kick in, Joseph Gordon Levitt talks about how he can’t remember his mother’s face but remembers her touching his hair. Thinking this line was what set Tiff off on her crying jag, I moved down to the floor and touched Tiff’s hair and she swatted at my hand and told me not to fucking touch her. When I asked her why she was crying, she told me it was the song. “That beautiful song,” she said, like she was Daisy Buchan crying over that rich asshole’s shirts. I told Tiff she was being weird. She ignored me and grabbed the remote control from the couch and backed up the movie to the beginning of the scene and we listened to the song again. This time, Tiff stayed on the floor and wept. “What song is this?” she asked through the sobs. “‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,’” I said. “Who’s it by?” she asked. I told her. She crawled across the room where my guitar was leaning against the wall. She grabbed it and slid it across the floor to me. “Play it for me,” she said. “I don’t know it,” I told her. She said, “Fucking play it for me.” I stood up from the couch, felt the room spin, steadied myself by staring at one specific cigarette burn in the carpet. Then I went to my computer and played the original version of the song. Tiff said, “You play it. I want you to play it.” And so I found tabs online and looked at them for a moment, fingering chords, tried to figure it all out, but I was too fucked up, and it was too hard because Linda’s vocals were out of my range, and I’d need to get used to singing it while getting the song’s rhythms under my fingers. “I’ll learn it for you and play it another time,” I said. “And Tiff said, “I want you to play it now.” She said, “Play it now and I’ll suck your cock.” I asked her if I could play something else, instead. She said I could, but it wouldn’t be good enough. I told her I’d play something from the same album. After I told her that, Tiff looked right at me, her eyes big and expectant. She asked, “Does it have a trumpet?” I said, “I don’t have a trumpet. I don’t play a trumpet.” She said, “Oh yeah.” And then we both sat and stared into the empty center of the room for a few minutes before she said, “Play your goddamn song.”

And so I launched into the guitar intro of the only song I know front to back from I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. The song, of course, was “The End of the Rainbow,” and as soon as I sang the opening lines, I regretted my decision to sing it. I stopped once, right after the songs first lines that go, “I feel for you, you little horror / Safe at your mother’s breast,” but Tiff wasn’t having it. She said, “Don’t stop.” I said, “I don’t think I should sing this, now.” She said, “Fucking sing it.” And so I fucking sang it. I fucking sang all the parts about having a shitty family, and being fucked over and robbed by everyone, and the parts about life seeming “so rosy in the cradle,” and especially the parts that go “there’s nothing to grow up for anymore.” And as I sang the song, I felt increasingly self-conscious—the way you might feel when you show someone your favorite movie and you can tell they don’t really like it, but you also can’t stop it, only this was way worse than that, because Tiff is Tiff and Tiff has been dealing with Tiff’s troubles, and there I was singing this song that says, “There’s nothing to grow up for anymore,” and it seemed like such an unfair thing to be singing to her. I tried not to look at Tiff starting at me as I played, and I managed to do that through the song’s short outro.

After a beat of silence, Tiff offered up a slow clap, then started packing her bowl. I offered her my lighter and she pulled her own out of her pocket. She said, “This movie fucking sucks.” I told her I didn’t think she’d like it. She said, “So you know what I like now?” I told her I didn’t mean it that way. Then I asked her if she wanted to go to bed. “I think I’m going to crash with Dorothy tonight,” she said. I told her that was cool, then she took a hit from her bowl and passed it to me. I took a hit and watched Bruce Willis talk to Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the TV. I said, “You got a ride?” And Tiff shook her head, asked me if she could use my phone. I slid it across the floor to her and she called Dorothy. I took one last hit from Tiff’s bowl and handed it to her as I left the room and made my way to bed. When I woke up, Tiff was gone, and I haven’t seen her since. Maybe I shouldn’t have sung that song to her, but what difference would it have really made?

That morning, after I woke up, I heated up some coffee that I’d put in the fridge the day before because I made too much and didn’t want to waste it, and sent Tiff a text, asking her if she’d be around later. When she didn’t reply, I sat down at my computer and started muddling through “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” trying to match the resigned optimism of the lyrics to the song’s gentle rhythmic bounce. I sang, “Take me to the dance and hold me tight.” My fingers fumbled to find the song’s rhythm in the strings. I tried to sing the trumpet parts but they were out of my range. I sang, “Meet me at the station, don’t be late.” I sang, “I’m gonna dream ‘till Monday comes in sight.” I hope Tiff is dreaming, I thought. I thought, maybe I’ll see her on Monday, whenever that’s going to be.

—James Brubaker