Thoughts on “Fázom, ha nézel” by capsule boy (Cz.K. Sebő)

First, listen to the song. Watch the video, if you like, or leave that for later and listen with your eyes closed (or open). Listen a few times. If you read Hungarian, read the KERET Blog interview with the song’s author, Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly. Then, if you like, come back and read these comments.

There’s no doubt that I like the song, but even now, after listening to it about ten times (in addition to a few times at concerts), there’s something more important to me than liking. Liking implies some kind of comfort, but this song gives me an exhilarating discomfort, but not just discomfort: many things over the course of its two and a half minutes. It is a love song and a happy song, but as Sebő says in the interview, it’s possible to come to it from different angles; the title line itself can suggest different meanings. He describes the song as a bridge between the classic (folk) Cz.K. Sebő and the capsule boy electronic subproject. I hear some of the songs on How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain? as bridges too (and the album as a whole), but maybe they go elsewhere. In any case, it is a bridge to spend some time on. It’s the song’s angles that make it so beautiful, I think.

The melody is not his own; he does not know the origin. He was shopping online for guitars and came across a video in which a boy was trying out a guitar and strumming a melody (which was similar to this one, if not the same). He loved it and tried to find out what it was, but no one knew. It took a long time to find the right lyrics for the song; they took shape along with his life. They can be translated, very roughly, as follows. (This translation is meant only as a bare approximation of the meaning; it doesn’t convey the rhythms, the sound repetitions, the nuances of the words, not to mention the silences and ellipses.)

Fázom, ha nézel,
mert a testem nélkül nézel
Szeretlek, mert nem hagysz bennem űrt

Szólok, mert látlak,
de nem a két szememmel látlak.
Végtelen, ami bennünk elterül

Mindenhol látlak,
de sohasem magyarázlak.
Szeretlek, mert nem hagysz egyedül

Szólok, hogy érzek,
Már a testem nélkül élek
Mint prizmafény, egymásban szétesünk.
I freeze if you look (at me),
because you look without my body.
I love you because you don’t leave a void in me

I speak because I see you,
but without my eyes I see you.
Endless the thing unfolding inside us.

Everywhere I see you,
but never do I explain you.
I love you because you don’t leave me all alone.

I say how I feel,
I’m now living without my body.
Like prism light, we fall apart in each other.

The melody catches the ear right away and has a way of playing over and over in the mind. It has a syncopated rhythm and an overall descent, then partial ascent; it hits every note in the C major scale except for the fourth, the F. After a pared-down keyboard introduction, it repeats many times, with changes in sound, counterpoint, texture; and with lyrics that take you from freezing into motion (unfurling, disintegrating) and from there into an infinity of light and color.

I hear the song, in a way, as a counterpoint to one of my favorite passages in Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

It is no wonder, then, that the variation form became the passion of the mature Beethoven, who (like Tamina and like me) knew all too well that there is nothing more unbearable than losing a person we have loved–those sixteen measures and the inner universe of their infinite possibilities.

This song, though, is not about the loss of a loved one, but about that person’s presence, with the inner universe right there.

The music does so much in a simple, short space, swelling up and thinning down, with lingering, bending keyboard sounds that change texture; acoustic guitar; something almost xylophone-like; a few layers of vocals; a passage that sounds a little like a baroque organ piece and gives way to a folk tone, and something like wind or sea at the end. All of this naturally, intuitively, the sounds not adding on to the song but turning and forming at its center.

And then the video—it’s a little hard for me to watch, because right now I just want to listen to the song. But its colors, images, and storyline draw me in anyway; the moment with the empty hangers (pictured at the top) is strangely moving. My students have been reading The Great Gatsby with me, and we spent a long time on the following passage:

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”

There’s a loneliness to that full closet, in Gatsby’s case (and maybe here too). In this video, though, as the young man gets dressed, putting on layer after layer, the closet empties. Everything he has been storing up, he is now taking into the world, to a particular person (and then takes off most of his layers again before ringing the doorbell). The song has nothing to do with Gatsby, but the contrast between the two states still brings something up. That empty closet with the bare hangers makes me cry with joy.

I think a song can take you to a new place in life, all by itself; that has happened to me with several of Sebő’s songs, including “Light as the Breeze,” “Hart,” “Felzizeg,” and this one. I don’t know exactly what that place is, but that’s what I mean about discomfort. Any good song gets me to hear life in a slightly new way, but this is very new, in ways that are hard to explain but wonderful.

I think I’ll end here. Congratulations to Cz.K. Sebő/capsule boy and to everyone who helped with or created the recording, video, and cover art: Bence Csontos, Ábel Zwickl, Ákos Székely, Sámuel Tompa Lukács, Fruzsina Balogh, and anyone I might have missed. I am looking forward to the capsule boy LP, which will come out at the end of the year.


Image credits: The picture at the top is a still from the video (by Ákos Székely and Sámuel Tompa Lukács.). The picture at the bottom is the cover art by Fruzsina Balogh.

I made a few edits to this piece (including the song translation) in several stages after posting it.

Update: Michelle Sowey commented on Facebook: “This reminds me of another cryptic love song with an infinitely repeating melodic loop and endlessly changing textures: Oração, by ‘A Banda Mais Bonita da Cidade’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW0i1U4u0KE (P.S. I love that passage from The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, too.)

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

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    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

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