#nowlistening: Kirsty falls apart

Well, Kirsty’s finally crumpled. We knew she would. Not that we wanted her to, especially after her pointed reference to everyone waiting for her to fall apart, but it had been brewing. Perhaps what tipped her over the edge, though, was not Fallon’s cricket faux pas, but Ray Charles and Betty Carter crooning Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” 6-and-a-half minutes into Tuesday’s episode.

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Ray Charles and Betty Carter

As @emilybakermusic has observed, mellow jazzy sounds have been a popular music choice on The Archers recently, and this track continues the trend. In some ways, though, it’s far from an obvious choice of song; as a classic love song, performed here as a duet as if to emphasise the romantic theme, it invites some rethinking of the words if we are to imagine them resonating with Kirsty’s position. But resonate they do, if we consider also the moments after she leaves the tea room, when she explains to Helen how she wakes up at night because the baby isn’t moving, only to find “it’s like losing him all over again.”

Written in 1944 by Cole Porter, and now part of what’s called the ‘Great American Songbook’, it’s been recorded innumerable times, both vocally and instrumentally, by many of the canonical names in jazz. (At the risk of an inappropriately amusing sidenote, it even featured on The Simpsons, in an episode with an apt title for our purposes: “Krusty Gets Busted”.) And so the song itself reiterates—keeps “saying goodbye”—across the decades, to the point that we think we know what it is “about”: romantic love. The familiar musical tropes are laid on thick in this performance too; velvety strings and lush harmonies are matched by Charles’s and Carter’s effortless vocals musing away at the melancholic lyric, and the song is only just raised up from suffocating smoothness by the occasional flick of a harp or a piano flourish.

In juxtaposing this apparent familiarity with Kirsty’s breakdown, the scene jolts us out of what we think we know—even about Kirsty. Throughout Helen’s catastrophic relationship with Rob, and in the witness box, and on the road in the rain as he tried to kidnap Jack, Kirsty was there—Helen’s stalwart defender. But here, it is Kirsty who turns instead to Helen, as the resonance of the lyrics becomes heartbreakingly clear. For in this moment, the song has to be reimagined. The voices may no longer be those of lovers, but of mother and (unborn) son, the latter finally acquiring the voice he never had, haunting Kirsty at night. The cloying soundworld of strings and choral harmonies become the suffocation then of Ambridge itself, with its small-world politics of cricket teams, fur coats hastily thrown on over a nightie, and gossip in the tearoom.

It is this disjuncture between the familiarity of the song’s message and the song itself on the one hand, and the radically reimagined context of Kirsty’s trauma that helps generate the emotional power in this scene. Here’s hoping that, From This Moment On, she can sleep All Through The Night, and find, At Long Last, Love.

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