18. 18. Ed Sheeran: Lego House
His song is about helping to heal his girlfriend, but it begins with the image of a Lego house:
‘I’m gonna pick up the pieces and build a Lego House
if things go wrong we can knock it down’
His theme is repairing: he’s not with the girl but he will in time get back to her and mend whatever needs mending:
‘and out of all these things I’ve done I will love you better now’
The initial image contains the idea that the ‘house’ can if things go wrong be knocked down. The idea of impermanence of human situations carries over to homes. Obviously a Lego house is made to be broken, but his use of the image suggests that if nothing went wrong the Lego House would remain a house.
Lego is designed for children to practice building skills and generally develop manual skills, though adults have constructed vast buildings made of Lego (one house involving 3.3 million pieces. That seems entirely mad: there are much easier ways to build a house.
The idea of a Lego house leads me to the great song ‘Little Boxes’ made famous by the folk singer Pete Seeger.
He and Woody Guthrie were part of a folk music movement with political overtones which grew from the poverty of the Depression in the 1930’s and still exists. The song is a satire on suburbia:
‘little boxes on the hillside
little boxes made of ticky tacky
little boxes on the hillside
they all look just the same’
The inhabitants of these little boxes all go to the high school and then to the university; they are all middle class people: doctors, lawyers and business exccutives. But they are ‘they all look just the same’ So their uniformity of attitude and life style are of a piece with the Lego sort of homes they live in. The song makes the houses sound as impermanent as Ed Sheeran’s Lego one: ticky tacky is not exactly Aberdeen Granite when it comes to housebuilding. But Seeger was attacking middle class values more than bricks and mortar.
But the ‘ticky tacky’ nature of the dwellings makes me think of the impermanence of US dwellings. In England you get a mortgage and cannot run away from it, and are therefore fixed in most cases for 20-30 years. In the US you can simply leave the keys in the door and walk away if you cannot afford it. In the same way whole areas of houses can be left vavacant, either built and not occupied, or deserted wehn nobody bought them. Greg Brown refers to this in his song ‘Dream Cafe’:
‘there’s flowers now on Linn Street
and the new moon just above
they tore down all the houses
where we used to make love
But they’d been long abandoned
when we went there anyway’
That deals with the point that the houses were impermanent, and lay abandoned for a long time when deserted, aside from occasional use by Greg and his girlfriend. Eventually they get cleared, as in the song, and probably new ones built in their place.
In England most houses last 50-100 years or more, unless one thinks of the cheap housing put up for workers in the 19th Century which often has been cleared. But the structure of our property law makes buildings more permanent than in the US.
Ed Sheeran’s image makes a virtue of impermance. If things go wrong we can demolish it. That is good in human relationships, if the old structure can be demolished without too much collateral damage. Ed Sheeran is in his mid-20’s and so things may seem easier to demolish at that age than they may prove to be. But transience of both human relationships and things like dwellings is increasing. In Sheeran’s image transience is a good thing; but it is not always so!
For no logical reason here is my own angle on the Sheeran phenomenon: