Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Pop Tunes Cultural Masterpieces

Great pop tunes truly speak to our innermost feelings and experiences, but we are hardly expecting a three-minute ditty to compete with Finnegan’s Wake. Then again - once in a blue moon - a song comes out of nowhere, totally unique, inviting comparisons with the best that literature has to offer. This is hardly the way to sell records, particularly when the subject matter is incredibly dark and depressing, but - of all things - the songs I mention below became hits, then classics. How else would I have heard them?

From my personal “Where Did THAT Come From?” Department, three cultural masterpieces from my youth:

The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby

I was 16. I flipped over my younger brother’s “Yellow Submarine” 45.

“Ah, look at all the lovely people,” Paul laments to the accompaniment of two string quartets. George Martin’s string arrangement is spare and minimalist and totally atypical. No guitars or drums or keyboard. A bit of background vocal from John and George.

The song is Paul’s work, but according to Wikipedia, Ringo came up with the line, “Father MacKenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear ...”

At the end of the song, the two lonely people meet. Alas, Father MacKenzie is attending to Eleanor Rigby’s burial.

Is there an eighth century Old English ballad that predated this?

Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billie Joe

During 1966, it was possible to have three radios tuned to different stations, all playing this song at the same time. Call it a narration set to music.

The family gathers for dinner at the end of a sleepy dusty Delta day. As the daughter relates, Mama tells everyone: "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge. Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge."

We learn from Papa that Billie Joe never had a lick of sense. Mama and daughter and brother take in the event in their own ways. We find out that Billie Joe and “a girl that looked like you was throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

A year goes by. The brother has married. Papa is dead, and Mama is in a deep depression. Daughter is picking flowers and dropping them “into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

Is there an unpublished Faulkner novel that Bobbie Gentry adapted this from?

Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush

This 1970 apocalyptic vision is associated with drugs, typical of the hippie era, but in truth this piece is no more about drugs than St John’s Revelation is about sitting in a cave.

The song opens with a Medieval festival, with arresting imagery involving a “fanfare blowin’ to the sun.”

But now mother nature is on the run. The man with the vision is in a burned out basement looking up at the moon, when the sun unexpectedly makes a reappearance.

A nuclear explosion?

The shit is definitely hitting the fan, just like in Revelation. In a dream, the narrator sees the chosen being loaded into silver spaceships flying “to a new home in the sun.”

Ah, the sun again.

What does it all mean? We are left, with the band playing inside our heads, to figure that out for ourselves.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I thought you may find this interesting...

Former CNN CEO, Tom Johnson shares his story of being diagnosed with depression and what he did to recover and start to live again. Here's his story: