The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘lyrics’

Picnic Time

August 28, 2015 | by

Elizabeth Shippen Green, 1906.

In 1932, an Irish popular songwriter named Jimmy Kennedy penned one of the most sinister sets of lyrics ever composed. Kennedy—who had already had Tin Pan Alley success with numbers like “Barmaids Song” and “Red Sails in the Sunset.” Later, he would go to write “Isle of Capri” and “My Prayer.” But to the contemporary ear, perhaps none of his compositions is as memorable as that terrifying song he set to John Walter Bratton’s 1907 two-step.

I refer, of course, to “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” Read More »

Revenge of the Nerds

June 22, 2015 | by

Taylor Swift’s passive-aggressive lyrics are “the realization of every writer’s narrowest dream.”

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From the “Bad Blood” promotional poster, 2015.

“I’ve never thought about songwriting as a weapon,” Taylor Swift said with a straight face to an interviewer from Vanity Fair while the magazine was profiling her in 2013.

No, not Taylor Swift. Not the author of songs like “Forever and Always,” written in the wake of her relationship with former boyfriend Joe Jonas, the better-looking Jonas brother, and featuring this lyric: “Did I say something way too honest, made you run and hide like a scared little boy?” Not her, who wrote/sang about her relationship with the actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword/and realizing there’s no right answer.”

Not Taylor, who leaves the impossible-to-crack clues in her liner notes for each song by capitalizing a variety of letters that spell out the subjects in a very essential way: “TAY” for a song about ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner; “SAG” for the Gyllenhaal one (as in Swift And Gyllenhaal, or that they’re both Sagittarius. I don’t know).

For Taylor Swift to pretend that her entire music career is not a tool of passive aggression toward those who had wronged her is like me pretending I’m not carbon-based: too easy to disprove, laughable at its very suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong—I say all this with utter admiration. Taylor’s career is, in fact, the perfected realization of every writer’s narrowest dream: To get back at those who had wronged us, sharply and loudly, and then to be able to cry innocent that our intentions were anything other than poetic and pure. Most of us can only achieve this with small asides. Taylor not only publicly dates and publicly breaks up, but she then releases an achingly specific song about the relationship—and that song has an unforgettable hook—all the while swearing she won’t talk about relationships that are over. Yes, date Taylor Swift, and not only will she shit on you on her album, but the song will become a single, then a hit, and then you will hear yourself shat upon by an army of young women at Staples Center. And then she’ll deny that she was ever doing anything other than righteously manifesting her art. It’s diabolical, and for a lifelong passive-aggressive like me, it’s made her my hero. Read More »

The “Layla” IQ Test

May 15, 2015 | by

layla

Beloved of dads everywhere.

In 1992, Eric Clapton released an acoustic version of his 1970 Derek and the Dominos classic, “Layla.” Inspired by the Persian epic The Story of Layla and Majnun—and, of course, by Clapton’s personal life—the original was ubiquitous at the height of album rock. But the relaxed, dad-friendly “unplugged” take made an instant sensation, too: it was an inescapable part of the soundtrack of the early nineties. To this day it’s a Lite FM staple—just try to visit the dentist’s office without hearing it.

When it came out, I remember hearing it was everywhere. In stores; on MTV; in the local salon, Visual Difference, where tough young women gave me terrible haircuts between cigarettes. And whenever that live cover came on in our car—as it did in the cars of countless boomers across the nation and the world—my mom would go on the same tear.

Recall, to start, that the set was recorded in front of a Brixton audience. Unlike the rest of the world, the crowd captured on tape was presumably hearing this cover for the first time. 

Read More »

Word Games

May 5, 2015 | by

1024px-Simeon_Solomon_-_A_Youth_Relating_Tales_to_Ladies_-_Google_Art_Project

Simeon Solomon, A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies, 1870.

My mother’s loathing for the word lady occupies a special place in her pantheon of negativity.

To be specific, she doesn’t actually mind lady as a word or a title of the peerageas seen in, say, Lady Day*, The Lady Vanishes, or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s when the word appears in lyrics that she puts her foot down. (And even then, there’s a disclaimer: some lyrics are okay. “Luck Be a Lady,” “The Lady Is a Tramp”—these, among others, are acceptable.) Read More »

Conspiracy Theories

April 21, 2015 | by

presleyelvis-teddyed

From the cover of the “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” single.

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. —Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” topped the charts for seven weeks in the summer of 1957. It was from the sound track to Elvis Presley’s second film, the vaguely autobiographical Loving You, in which the King plays a delivery-guy-turned-singing-sensation who engages the affections of Dolores Hart, better known as the starlet who left Hollywood to become a Benedictine nun.

Anyway, everyone knows “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” is kind of odd, with its BDSM undertones and its arbitrary hierarchy of animals—what’s wrong with lions? Plus there’s the one-is-not-like-the-others aspect of it: Elvis sings of a toy teddy bear in a menagerie of otherwise live animals. But the strangest thing about it is the characterization of teddy bears themselves: Read More »

The Favorite Game

September 19, 2014 | by

Leonard Cohen in love.

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Cohen in 1988.

“Desperation is the mother of poetry.”
—Leonard Cohen

Like most people, I remember the first time I had sex pretty well. I can recall the surprisingly adept flirting I carried off beforehand, and the moment of pleasant shock when she kissed me. I remember how we stayed in bed until three the next day and how when we finally got up, faint from hunger, we went to eat at a greasy spoon that had a little jukebox by each table. I have no idea what I ordered, but I do remember that she got a grilled cheese sandwich. In the next year and a half that we were together, I don’t know if she ever ate another one.

We all have memories like that, jumping out of oblivion like buoys in the water. The facts might be fuzzy, but the moments are clear. Leonard Cohen describes such a memory in his first novel, The Favorite Game, published in 1963, when he was twenty-nine:

What did she look like that important second?

She stands in my mind alone, unconnected to the petty narrative. The color of the skin was startling, like the white of a young branch when the green is thumb-nailed away. Nipples the color of bare lips. Wet hair a battalion of glistening spears laid on her shoulders.

She was made of flesh and eyelashes.

Cohen, who turns eighty on Sunday, is exceptionally good at drawing out those moments of sexual crystallization. It’s a skill that, along with his gravelly voice and poems about women’s bodies, has given him a reputation for being a “ladies’ man.” Judging by the adoring crowds at his shows, it’s a reputation he deserves.

Yet it isn’t success with women that accounts for Cohen’s particular vision, even if his fame as a lover may have, over time, borne the fruits of self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather, his work is shot through with fears of physical deficiency and sexual deprivation, loneliness and insecurity. “He could not help thinking that … he wasn’t tall enough or straight, that people didn’t turn to look at him in street-cars, that he didn’t command the glory of the flesh,” he writes of his autobiographical protagonist in The Favorite Game. Decades later, in his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing, Cohen confessed: “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke / that caused me to laugh bitterly / through the ten thousand nights / I spent alone.” Read More »

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