Following

Following (M.Steele)

Year: 1986 (Recorded September 1985)
Band: Bangles
Album: Different Light
First Live Performance: x/8/01
Last Live Performance: x/1/04

Tab:
Guitar

Lyrics:

You think I’m crazy or something
Always following you around
You say I’m a hopeless case
Run an obsession into the ground

You call me a loser
You call me a shadowing fool
Look over your shoulder
And you say I’m haunting you

So why do you call me
Why do you look for me
Why do your eyes follow me the way they do

You hold me responsible
Yeah, so I stand accused
Of causing all the trouble after high school
Between him and you

You call me a loser
You call me a shadowing fool
But I was a good girl
Yeah, ’til you taught me what it means to be true
So why do you call me
Why do you look for me
Why do your eyes follow me the way they do

Analysis:
Although technically preceded by her cowriters’ credits on ‘Born To Be Bad’ (Runaways) and ‘Let It Go’ (Bangles), Following is Michael’s first officially released composition. Due to being released in Europe it is also her only song to become a single. To many fans, it still rates among her finest work. The song features traits seen in other songs of hers, most notably a focus on the aftermath of a romance rather than the actual romance and lyrical ambiguity.

Sung in first-person, its main theme is the paranoia and obsession that follow from the end of a teenage romantic relationship. While stalking in itself is not an unusual topic in music,,Following is unusual for depicting it in a more complex fashion than stalker songs such as The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’. This complexity is due to the narrator and the ex-lover (although the ex-lover is often assumed to be male, this is not directly stated in the lyric) each accusing each other of obsessive behaviour, in a sense making their fears of stalking mutual. Michael has acknowledged in a 2003 chat that the song is autobiographical, without specifying anything more about its inspiration beyond it being about her ‘high school sweetheart’.

The narrative perspective and the identity of the lover remain unknown.  The lines “You hold me responsible/yeah so I stand accused/ of causing all that trouble after high school/ between Him and You” suggest an interpretation that the song is in fact being sung from the (male) lover’s perspective.  This would be unconventional, if not atypical for Michael’s songs.  For example, Song For A Good Son is sung in the first person, but from the male character’s perspective (“the dark eyed son/the privileged man”).  However, in the next verse of Following, Michael makes clear that she’s singing from a woman’s perspective (probably hers), with the lines, “But I was a good girl/ yeah til you taught me what it means to be true.”

For this reason, an equally, if not more reasonable, interpretation of the song, is that Michael is singing about a female ex-lover.  The aforementioned “Him” in the prior verse suggests a sardonic reference to her ex-lover’s post-high school boyfriend. And the use of “good girl” and “truth” in the lyrics suggest that the affair between Michael and her ex-lover forced Michael to abandon societal (heterosexual?) pressures, in favor of following her own truth.  This idea also gains plausibility for Michael’s high school days being in the early 1970s.

Beyond this, close inspection of the lyrics reveals other interesting details. For example, the image of a ‘shadowin’ fool’ may be a highly subtle literary reference, in that John Galworthy’s epic 1920s novel The Forsyte Saga features a character being referred to as ‘the fool, the shadowing fool!’. Highlighting these points does not exhaust the song’s meaning however, as it is has a great amount of depth for a three-minute number.

Following also stands out for its sound, somewhat unusual for 1986 and clearly differing from the rest of Different Light in that Michael’s acoustic guitar (capoed on 2nd fret) is used as lead instrument with keyboards only used to provide extra background, in a more subtle fashion than elsewhere on the album. Additionally, Following uses jazz chords and an arpeggio-heavy style of playing throughout that features virtually nowhere else in the Bangles catalogue. Musically and lyrically then, Following is a highly sophisticated song, and moreso for being its writer’s first released tune.

Quotes:

“Michael wrote and sang “Following,” a haunting acoustic track on Different Light. “He had totally forgotten about that song,” she remembered. “He was totally freaking out about which of the 27 mixes of ‘Manic Monday’ was the right one. We were almost done with recording and I said ‘Uhh, David, remember the song ‘Following’? So it was, like, two takes.”” Bill DeYoung, ‘California Dreaming’, Goldmine Magazine, September 2000.

“DN: I’ve always wondered what Micki’s reluctance to truly go solo was — to actually craft a statement, put it out there and live by it. And maybe she did with her bands, ‘cause I wasn’t hanging with her, so I can’t know what was really going on. But from a public standpoint, it simply seemed like she wasn’t doing the obvious thing. She was always the one where, when her songs were on a record — “Following” was the biggest example of that — it stood out above everything else as: This is a unique talent. This is not a little Bangle girl. This is somebody who’s in some ways better than all of them.” -Dan Navarro

Reviews:

“One of the biggest revelations of Different Light is Michael Steele’s debut as a singer and songwriter. Surprisingly, she shows herself to be the band’s most interesting lead vocalist. Her alto is full of blue-Monday moodiness; her phrasing is informed by the talk-sing styles of Bob Dylan and Rickie Lee Jones. And Steele’s angry, sorrowful ballad “Following” arguably stands as the LP’s strongest track. Certainly, it points the band in another direction – toward darker feelings as well as jazz and folk constructions.” Laura Fissinger, ‘Different Light’, Rolling Stone March 13 1986

1 Comment

  1. Micki was the most under rated singer and player in the bangles.her own songs Really gave you something to listen to.I could listen to her all day long.Its a great pity she does not perform any more.I’d love to see her live if she did.

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