In the tense moments before a motor home exploded in downtown Nashville in the US on Christmas morning, he broadcast a warning over a loudspeaker that a bomb was about to go off and urged people to evacuate.
Confusingly, the parked vehicle also broadcast a song, Petula Clark’s 1964 upbeat hit “Downtown,” about how the bustle of a city can heal the sadness of a lonely person.
The song begins like this:
When you’re lonely and life makes you feel lonely
You can always go downtown
When you have worries, all the noise and the rush
It seems to help, I know, in the center ‘
It sounds like something from a thriller: the jolly, jarring melody played over the eerie scene that portends bad things ahead (see “Caught in the middle with you” from “Reservoir Dogs”, “Hip to be Square” from “American Psycho ” and many others).
Seconds later, the explosion ripped through a block in downtown Nashville, injuring at least eight people and damaging more than 40 buildings.
“Downtown,” a number one hit and Clark’s signature song, was inspired by the lights of New York and not the attractions of downtown Nashville, whose streets and honky-tonks are packed with tourists and revelers most nights. . British composer Tony Hatch said the melody came to him on his first trip to New York, when he looked up at the lights of Times Square.
But the tune, which climbed the charts during the 1964 Christmas season, celebrates the bustle of urban nightlife everywhere: neon lights, crowded sidewalks, music spilling from cafes and nightclubs.
Its brilliant melody also masks an undertone of melancholy. “You can forget all your problems, forget all your worries,” he promises. “Don’t stay and let your problems surround you.”
Clark, 88, grew up in Britain, lives in Europe and still records and performs. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, he expressed surprise and disbelief at the bombing and the role of his song in it.
“Of all the thousands of songs, why this one?” she wrote. “Of course, the opening lyrics are ‘When you’re alone and life makes you feel lonely, you can always go downtown.’ But millions of people around the world have been encouraged by this joyous song. Perhaps you can read something else in these words, depending on your mood. “
It is not the first time that a popular song takes on a new quality after a shocking act of violence. Cult leader Charles Manson said his 1969 murder spree was inspired in part by the chaotic Beatles song “Helter Skelter,” which caused listeners to scramble to decode the lyrics.
In Nashville, authorities say a man named Anthony Quinn Warner carried out the Christmas Day blast and was killed in the blast. Warner, 63, lived in a Nashville suburb and was described by a neighbor as a loner.
It is unclear why Warner chose “Downtown” as his swan song. Did the melody speak to you in any way? Was it just a bitter joke? We may never know.
But some people in Nashville and elsewhere may never hear the song the same way again.