We live in a strange bubble. – Brian Molko

Over the years, I have followed the band Placebo.Their cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill is exquisite and better than the original. Twenty Years, released in 2004, struck a chord as I was doing reflecting of my own at the time, looking back and looking forward.

I had not been particularly interested in the lead singer. I knew his appearance and voice made people talk;

With his jet-black hair, diaphanous, grey-blue eyes and painted nails (even the toes are lacquered), the singer cuts an androgynous figure.

But a recent article in The Belfast Telegraph did make me sit up straight. He had a very peripatetic, international, cross cultural upbringing. Turns out Brian Molko is a third culture kid. It made me see him in a different light and the band’s songs too, especially as he is the one who writes most of the lyrics. And it’s a shame that this period in his life is glossed over, that no questions are asked of his developmental years in Liberia, Lebanon, Belgium or Luxembourg.

Brian Molko once said that Placebo are a band “for outsiders, by outsiders” and that their gigs are “like conventions of outcasts”.

Is that how he really feels? TCKs have to start as outsiders many times in their lives. And wrestle and fight the feeling even when it is perhaps no longer true. In my opinion, Placebo’s best song is Song to Say Goodbye. It is also their saddest. Goodbye is Old English for God Be With You. It is an evocative word for anyone. It is important to say it but there is a finality to it. I tend not to read You Tube comments as they are invariably silly or abusive but there were some interesting ones on the song’s video.

  • It’s about the frustration of trying to help someone you love and the heartbreak that comes from realising that you ultimately can’t. Children of drug-addicts often end up becoming premature care-takers of their own parents. There comes a point where all the moral support in the world wont make a shit of difference and they need professional help and you need space to build a life of your own.
  • Feel free to call bullshit but when I watch this video I can’t help but feel as if the father and son both lost someone very close to them. There is no sign of a mother so I would assume the father lost his wife and since has shut down in the eyes of his son
  • I can hear the song, but i cant see the video at the same time without crying…
  • I think that I am not the only person who feels different things and finds different meanings while watching this video every time.

I agree with all of them. To me it’s like any arrival in a new country and it begins past the honeymoon stage of culture shock. The world is turned upside down. A child is driving a car, which is how a TCK feels with each new posting. But the roles are also inverted, the child is a navigator. He leads who I assume is his father by walking and dragging him to different places; nameless, overwhelming, crisscrossing streets, bleak hotel rooms and empty restaurants. The tunnels are tunnel vision. The one of constriction of the visual field resulting in loss of peripheral vision, the one of single-minded concentration on one objective. I remember feeling like that with each international move, anything else would have brought about a free fall. The bridges are the ones we have to cross when relocating and the ones we burn, except that children don’t have consent or choice in the matter. It is the boy who reads a newspaper, comforts the guardian when he falls down, chooses food in a supermarket, tidies up and feeds him. Is this reference to how parents, also bewildered in international settings, can sometimes rely on their children to help get them through? Could it also be a TCK who has to grow up too fast? But however grown up he may seem in the video, he is still a little boy. He is desperate for connection. You see him using the payphone and reaching out to touch the man’s hand. He is a little boy who copies the adult’s strange behaviour. By the end, we gladly no longer see him in the driver seat. He has said goodbye and is entering the adjustment stage of his new world. He has moved on from an old one. The music video is a beautiful representation of a child’s geography, easily one of a TCK.