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Can't Fight The Moonlight


Charlie Fox

March 28, 2024
Image by Matt Copson
Image by Matt Copson

It was a weird time in my life when I wrote ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’. I was still in my early twenties and working at a bowling alley in Notting Hill and dealing with the fact that I was a werewolf. I say ‘dealing’ but that’s a lie: circa summer 1999, when the song first scratched its neon claws on the door of my brain and sang to me, I was just running amok in my shaggy fur coat and flashing my sharp, sharp fangs every night. Medication kept my more extreme symptoms at bay but I wasn’t taking my medication: I was stealing cars, getting into fights at pet shops (it was wrong of the staff to not let me free the birds) and, of course, I was howling until I coughed up blood. I mean, I was participating in the retrospectively fragile euphoria of the time: Midnite Vultures, those fuzzy Ecstasy tablets with the cherry on them for four quid… But maybe it was taking a toll. 

Just in case you’re unfamiliar with the nature of werewolf transformation, let me explain: it wasn’t as if the bloody Argos catalogue of medication I had to stuff myself with like an Xmas goose— a goose in wolf’s clothing?— kept me in a Halloween costume of regular flesh. It just made me a zonked and witless wolf-person. It made me feel like I was permanently underwater. It was boring. So, ‘Can’t Fight the Moonlight’ is appropriately, symbolically, a song with a certain diabolical double trouble at its heart. Two wolves chewing each other’s tails. Two wolves making out with blood all over their chops. One half of it is me in this, like, fucked-up nihilistic Paul Westerberg mode, telling myself to just submit to my impulses because it’s all in my blood, and the other half is, well…

OK, I was also in love with girl named Ramona (not her real name). She used to swing by the bowling alley and, once upon a time, at the end of my shift, we split a plate of curly fries and swooned. Her coat was pink, her eyes were green, her lips were always blue. She knew a lot about antiquity, she brushed my fur, she once used my belly as a plate for ice cream. She called me Cerberus because I talked too much, a mutt with three heads. If I offered her narcotics she said, ‘I shall try to resist…’ She made me want to freeze time. Or bring her my heart in my gore-soaked paws. In my more lucid moments, between breakfast and Neighbours, I had dreams of us transforming together. Maybe we could break into a carvery and devour several roast beasts together while the establishment’s manager had an aneurysm. 

But at a certain point, maybe around the time I started to hallucinate a party of Disney raccoons frolicking over the landscape of my plaid pyjamas, the lust between us cooled. It wasn’t just a drug thing: she got freaked out by the possibility of falling in love with a werewolf, I think: the freak show possibility of our wedding photographs, the scratches on her arms, the furballs she yakked up in the morning. I remember a mirage at the foot of my bed telling me she was going now. I remember the melancholy digital barks of her landline’s dial tone, repeating over and over, me whispering into them, things I’d never say if someone was listening.

Somewhere within this chemical fog, I wrote the song. Obviously, once it exploded the following autumn, a lot of people assumed it was a legitimate Southern-fried entity, created by a connoisseur of rhinestone-studded denim, Jack Daniels on their breath. Years later, Will Oldham phoned me up and sang a ghoulish rendition down the phone (double goosebumps, tail between my legs), accompanying himself on autoharp from a moonlit field in Kentucky… And there is a parallel universe version— a cover version!— of this story where this British pantomime fur is pulled off to reveal the tragic Texan coyote underneath, pedal steel guitars weeping like wind in lonesome power lines. I mean, it ended up as the hit song on that movie Coyote Ugly. After I rented the video from Blockbuster, one of the archaic rituals of the era, I was depressed to find out that nobody in it actually transforms into a coyote… And after my Texan doppelganger tells you how everything was Texan at the time— LeAnn Rimes, President Bush, Madonna in her cowgirl hat on the cover of Music, Will Smith in Wild, Wild West— we’d just fire shotguns into the night sky and weep… ‘It sure hurts to hear that song comin’ on the radio every night, even now…’

But pop music is a masquerade, especially British pop music. Like, who is Bryan Ferry, really? Is he a boy from the North who got lost in the dressing up box or is he a vampire from Knightsbridge? Who the fuck are Gorillaz? Being a werewolf, I was obviously familiar with these strange games with identity, I knew them inside out, neither authentically boy nor beast. If you slow ‘Moonlight’ down and croon the lyrics in a Home Counties voice, it’s obviously a rip-off of something from Avalon by Roxy Music. Dry ice, seduction with a feral edge, the full moon is a mirrorball twirling over a haunted Gothic mansion. But then, oh, Trevor got hold of it and bewitched it.        

Yup, Trevor Aloysius Horn of Sunderland, Mr. Video Killed the Blah Blah Blah, co-creator of the Art of Noise and, at the time, not-yet producer of ‘All the Things She Said’ by tAtU.… One night not long after my apocalyptic break-up with Ramona, I was slumped in a fancy pub, sinking Guinness I couldn’t afford. When the bell for last orders tolled, I howled at once, and then I sang my song. I admit I do have country blood: if you lay the waveforms of a wolf howl next to the wails on, say, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, they’re eerily similar. We’ve all got these strange creatures inside us aching to escape. Perhaps inside me there’s a heartbroken cowboy. Perhaps not. When I stopped singing, the pub was still and shushed. As the room slowly emptied accompanied by confused murmuring and weary sobs, I consoled myself by licking the dregs of foam from my glass, my tail on a low wag. When I looked up, a fiery-eyed ogre was swaggering towards me in a top hat and announced in robust Northern tones, ‘I’m Mr. Horn! Come outside, my boy…’ 

In the pub car park, we split a cigar and watched a small-scale fox hunt. No, I was not hallucinating. Mr. Horn paid local schoolboys to enact fox hunts after dark on jet-black ponies, half of them dressed in handsome velvety frock coats and the other half wearing fox costumes I remembered from ecological dramas on kids TV. Older boys stalked the periphery of the game occasionally blasting bugles. A mysterious boy in a red cloak stalked the edges of this weird scene, neither hunter nor hunted, but operating even then with the vibe of an extremely chill wizard, whispering strategy to the foxes while shuffling a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards.

‘My boy’, said Mr. Horn, sending fat plumes of cigar smoke into the night sky, ‘I wish to purchase that song of yours for a fine sum. An amount that should keep you in Guinness and treacle and game hens for many moons to come.’

A griffin swooped overhead, spilling calligraphic glitter in his wake. 

‘But, Mr. Horn, I can’t do that. It’s a song for my beloved. It’s the song of my broken heart.’

He pulled out a wad of banknotes as thick as a Victorian tombstone. 

‘But we may’, he said, whispering in the moonlight, as one of the fox boys knocked a hunter from his horse, ‘turn that broken heart into a bag of cash…’

I agreed on one condition: that wolf howls be snuck onto the song, low on the mix. Mr. Horn allowed this, ‘kept his end of it’, as he said. ‘Good lad, he muttered as the game disbanded, boys and foxes bloodied, the boy in the cloak nowhere to be found. ‘Shake.’ And we did. It was later credited to Diane Warren, who also wrote smash hits for Aerosmith and Cher, perhaps because her original given surname was Wolfberg.

When the song became an inescapable hit the next summer, I lay on my fancy red couch and drank champagne and howled until the windows shook. The raccoons on my belly rubbed their bloodshot eyes and said, ‘Can you stop? We’re trying to sleep…’ The song blasted on MTV, from the windows of speeding cars, from inside strange houses everywhere I went, dawn to the dead of night. And I heard the wolf that was there, and the wolf that was not.