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Posts Tagged ‘lyrics’

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. 

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Word Games

May 5, 2015 | by

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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.

leonard cohen

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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His Own Wavelength

August 13, 2014 | by

Talking to Weird Al about his process.

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From the promotional poster for UHF, Al’s 1989 film.

It’s not that there wasn’t a self-referential pop culture before “Weird Al” Yankovic; it’s just that those of us under forty might have a hard time remembering it. Just as difficult to imagine are those who, even after all these years—after all the albums and songs and verses, after all the puns and parodies and poetry—still think of Weird Al as nobody more than that guy who rhymes about food over popular music. Weird Al engages the entire culture, in all its functions and facets, through his lyrics, his videos, his original musical-style parodies. Just how he does it all remains a mystery no matter how often he explains it.

When he explained it to me recently, by Skype, he said much that I’d never heard before, even though, like most culture vultures my age, I’ve followed his career since the early eighties. And if a lot of those early songs did in fact find their rhymes in the names of food, it’s also true that a lot of them did not. His songs have become more intricate with each new album, even as they’ve become more expansive. And more popular, too. It’s easy to forget that Weird Al’s career, after an early but tough start, nearly failed to make it very far out of the eighties. It wasn’t until his parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (“Smells Like Nirvana”) that he safely established full traction and momentum.

That was 1992. Since then, his career has been an inverted, warped variation on the typical pop-music career, just as his songs have always been inverted, warped variations on typical pop music. In 2006, he released his first album ever to break the top ten (Straight Outta Lynwood, featuring “White & Nerdy”). And now, eight years after that, and thirty-five years after his very first single—“My Bologna,” which, yeah, is about food—his new album, Mandatory Fun, has gone number one. It’s not just the first time Weird Al’s done it; it’s the first time any comedian’s done it since Allan Sherman, with My Son, the Nut in 1963. Read More »

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Dennis Wilson Was a Good Editor

March 6, 2014 | by

Charles Manson’s Lie: The Love and Terror Cult was released forty-four years ago today.

Charles Manson 

Dennis Wilson was the only Beach Boy who surfed. Accordingly, he embraced a more, let’s say, briny side of the beach-bum lifestyle—he’s the only Beach Boy you can picture actually sleeping on the beach, living out of the rusted trunk of some boat of a car, feeding the gulls, rolling spliffs, letting himself go. His excellent solo record, Pacific Ocean Blue, proves how undervalued he was in the band. But his work on “Never Learn Not to Love,” the B-side to 1968’s “Blue Birds Over the Mountain,” proves that he knew how to wield a red pen.

First, some obligatory exposition. It was Charles Manson—yes, the—who first wrote “Never Learn”; he called it “Cease to Exist,” and when his friend Dennis Wilson, that Beachiest of Beach Boys, asked to record it, he was thrilled. Or rather, he would be thrilled, he said, if Wilson agreed to one condition: he was not to emend Manson’s lyrics in any way.

He did, of course; he retitled the song, rejiggered the verses, tossed in a bridge, and quietly published the song as his own. Manson, as you can imagine, was pissed, and threatened to kill Wilson, but when the former turned up on the latter’s doorstep, it was apparently Wilson who beat the piss out of Manson, not the other way around.

As befits a story starring a cult leader, this is a tale full of apocrypha and lurid curlicues—hitchhikers, bullets, group sex culminating in group gonorrhea—but the lyrics, not the diseases, are our interest here. Read More »

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