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A Collection

Introduction: Steve Hogarth wrote on Marillion.com "A song about souvenirs... John Helmer had a friend who was in the habit of photographing his girlfriends at a certain favourite location. Every girlfriend he'd had in his life had been innocently lured to this same spot, unaware that she was to become part of a series of similar snapshots. The photographs were assembled in an album, which he would peruse from time to time in secret. Well, it's not illegal... but it's not entirely wholesome either. John was inspired! He wrote this lyric which explores the desire to capture and to possess someone at a moment in time - to keep them forever."
Jon Collins, author of the Marillion biography Separated Out (which features album write ups from your truly (stop bigging yourself up - Ed) got in touch and asked whether John Fowles' novel The Collector had been an influence.

The Collector is a 1963 novel about a socially-inept man who kidnaps the woman he has fallen in love with in the belief that if she gets to know him, she will fall in love with him back. The novel ends with the protagonist planning to kidnap another woman.

I dug out an old interview I did with John Helmer for the Web UK. Here's the relevant bit:

Me: Can I ask you about some of the Marillion lyrics? One of the big ones has always been A Collection, which is either described as being about your uncle or a friend of yours - I don't know whether you would want to confirm which of those - but some people think it's about a serial killer. To me it always came across as something slightly wrong but to other people it’s seriously creepy and they think that something really bad is going to happen and that contrasts with this very pretty little melody.
JH: Yes. Again, I have to say I'm quite surprised because that wasn't necessarily the motivation, it wasn't there when I was writing it. Obviously you can read what you like in to it and I hesitate to say, "no, it's not" because I'm quite pleased with it! Really, it's about a source of male autism. This is about a guy who systemises, is everything possible all ends of his relationships. And everything takes a very similar pattern. It's a very male systemising 'on the spectrum' sort of thing to do. Obviously, a serial killer is an extreme example of where that sort of thing can end up. I do see where in the lyric you could feel like there was something there to pick up.

Jon then took it a stage further and contacted John and asked him explicitly. Helmer's reply follows:

"I'd certainly read The Collector, which was probably better known at the time (and more read) than it is now. It's probably true the similarity in the title was intended to give a resonance that suggested there was something less than entirely wholesome about the way the 'narrator' of the lyrics views the subjects of his photography. I'd stop short of the the word 'inspired' however. If you want to be fancy about it, the lyric is a critique of the male gaze, so the inspiration is probably more from feminist writing and people like Lacan. Fowles doesn't come that well out of such a critique, which is probably why he is not read so much nowadays."

Lyrics: John Helmer


Song Listing:

Songs with a link have explanations.


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