Song of the Week: “One of Our Submarines” by Thomas Dolby

The songs I loved most as a teenager in the early ‘80s were dramatic monologues: Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” Squeeze’s “Cool for Cats,” Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp,” all that Bowie, etc. Doubtless, it was the drama queen in me.

“One of Our Submarines” by steampunk godfather Thomas Dolby was a favorite. The speaker begins, “One of our submarines/is missing tonight—/seems she ran aground on maneuvers.” He’s an observer, not the protagonist—a Tom, not a Gatsby. These opening lines now remind me of Ionesco’s Exit the King—when the negligent monarch finally sees that his kingdom has crumbled, and the wreckage is on fire. And that “seems” as in “SEEMS she ran aground” means the story’s a lie—the official lie.

“Submarines” is grainy newsreel footage of an empire vanishing sonar blip by sonar blip. Its soldiers—deserted, or dead. Dolby’s chorus, “Bye bye, Empire./Empire, bye bye”, rings like a palindrome—inevitable—as the synthesizer’s pings, boops and hisses swim up like air hose bubbles from a depth as far away as stars.

-Jennifer L. Knox

Jennifer L. Knox is the author of three books of poems, The Mystery of the Hidden Driveway, Drunk by Noon, and A Gringo Like Me. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and four times in the Best American Poetry series. She is working on her first novel.

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