James Bell

Work In Progress

  1. Formaldehyde
"And then she went about her day..."


This song has provoked visceral reactions in the past — friends have told me they plain hate it, and I think I can understand why. According to my notes I wrote it in November 2004, at a time when I was writing songs with no intention of ever playing them to anyone, as a means of understanding who I was and what I was doing with my life. And this was one of the songs I was most proud of, even though it has that folk music cliché that generally annoys me to the marrow: the dead baby. But it was never really about the baby: it was about how intense love bends rationality like mass bends space and time. On a deep level, she knows he’s dead, but her conscious mind is unable to process it. I think I’ve always been attached to the song because I recognised that this was something I was prone to do: to rationalise insane thinking until the romantic obsession underneath it all reached its horrific conclusion, and someone got seriously hurt.


I had a friend, her one desire Was just a baby boy close by her But this desire was soon denied She had her child, the baby died She had her child, the baby died Her friends all feared her suicide She didn't wail, she didn't moan She named him James, and took him home She drove the limit, parked the car Then found herself a large glass jar She gently placed the boy inside And filled it with formaldehyde And then she went about her day She'd cleared the room for him to play She placed the jar upon the bed And acted like he wasn't dead She read him stories, bought him shoes As years went by she'd even choose Bikes and carts for him to ride Preserved in his formaldehyde But next door's baby screams and cries While James forever shuts his eyes But rather face what she's denied She feeds that baby cyanide And many times in recent years I’ve come back to the same conclusion Never underestimate A person's power for self-delusion We do it each and every day Decide which things should be denied Sometimes it's the only way To stop that endless downward slide And it's not like tears don't reach your eyes It's not like you no longer care For something just because it dies Or just because it's now no longer there So if your love has somehow strayed Pretend it never went away And if your love has somehow died Preserve it in formaldehyde

Credits & Copyright

Written by James Bell in November 2004. Recorded and released by James Bell in April 2018. (C) & (P) House of Lyra.