James Bell
  1. Formaldehyde -:-- / 03:19

“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.