Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lionel Richie's "Hello" is a rather egregious offender

Often, I get worked up when I read "Top Ten Somethingsomething" or "100 Best Blahbliblah". As I read through the list, I inevitably experience wild swings between joy (Yes! Nailed it!) and contempt (No, that is the wrongiest). I know my friends are thinking, "What? St. Murse visibly and audibly vacillate between euphoria and vitriol over something relatively trivial? No. No, I am not prepared to believe it." All I can say is, you know me too well and also that I'm sick of that cartoonish, overblown, ironic, shocked voice you use so quit it.

Anyway, Entertainment Weekly has another list out this week, "50 Greatest Love Songs". They wisely exclude unrequited love, lust, and standards like "It Had to be You" so as to make the list more manageable. Though they did include The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out"which is clearly, brilliantly a secret, unrequited love. So I read the introduction and then right there, #1, The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows". Ugh. OK, I stipulate that is has a great arrangement and is beautifully sung, but those lyrics. Ugh.

I'll explain. There are certain cliches that drive me crazy. Cloying sentiments that annoy me like the intermittent back-up beeping of construction machines at 8 AM when you're just trying to get some goddamn sleep! Fucking bulldozer! With the beeping, then the not beeping, then the beeping again!

Aforementioned sentiments:

1. You complete me, (or it's corollary, I am some percentage less than 100 without you)
2. We will be in love forever and ever and ever
3. I cannot conceive of an existence where we are not in love
4. I will die without you

The reasons that I loath these sentiments:

1. You complete me, (or it's corollary, I am some percentage less than 100 without you)

What a sad specimin you are. Come back when you have your own life, personality, esteem, 2nd lung, etc. What you should be aiming for is, "You complement me." The second version is usually expressed as either half or zero. I would love to hear, "Now that I've met you, I'm 22.5% more me than before," but that rarely happens.

2. We will be in love forever and ever and ever.

Not bloody likely. Look around you, people break up all the time.

3. I cannot conceive of an existence where we are not in love

How unimaginative. The singer has experienced brain trauma or is too stupid to remember a time before s/he fell in love or to conjecture on a future without the love object.

4. I will die without you

No, you won't. Now you may commit suicide, but the cause of death will actually be the pills or gun or train wheels in addition to the inability to perceive that it HAPPENS ALL THE TIME and people GET OVER IT.

The bare human feeling that these sentiments try to dress up in distracting, Bedazzled™ clothing is simply, "If we were no longer a couple I would suffer from altered brain chemistry resulting in depression, a precipitous drop in sexual activity, and a crippling fear that I will die alone." Now if they would just say that, but instead they throw around gooey hyperbole.

Let's get back to "God Only Knows". It starts,

"I may not always love you"

A promising start. He's at least acknowledging the possibility. Then he wrecks it with,

"But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it"

Great. His love will last until the heat death of the universe. Cliche #2.

Second verse,

"If you should ever leave me"

So he dodges Cliche #3 (while putting the whole burden of the possible breakup on her, how gentlemanly), only to embrace Cliche #4.

"Though life would still go on believe me
The world could show nothing to me
So what good would living do me
God only knows what I’d be without you"

Not death per se, but the lack of a reason to live so it close enough. So there we are, a treacly mess.

As a counterpoint (and demonstration that I'm not a loveless automaton), let's move on to an example of a song that avoids all the cliches and is a personal favorite. Somebody at Entertainment Weekly had the great taste and ability to see through the admittedly odd phrases to the heart of Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)".

"The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong . . nothing"

What a incredibly clear-eyed vision of love. It captures the magical quality, without the desperate flailing about. Imagine that.

Later, David Byrne offers one of my favorite lyrics ever,

"Hi yo We drift in and out
Hi yo sing into my mouth"

What an odd, yet sweet request. Sing into my mouth. Genius. Some day I hope to do that. Though, not to David Byrne. That would be weird. But also cool, in a weird way.

Near the end of the song, Byrne encapsulates the biological and temporal aspects of love with a few choice phrases.

"I'm just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead"

Damn fine song.

The last think I'll say about the Entertainment Weekly list is that Elvis' version of "Can't Help Falling In Love" is like slogging through a field of thick pudding under a hazy sky to reach your love, where Lick the Tins' version (featured over the closing credits of Some Kind of Wonderful) is like skipping down a sun-dappled forest path to a hidden waterfall, hand-in-hand with your love.

Also, Etta James singing "At Last" is fucking sublime.

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