Friday, March 03, 2006

His heart-exploding words.

I've been trying to warm up to Rhett Miller's new comme ci comme ça album The Believer. While I've never been the biggest Old 97's fan, I spent most of September - November 2002 exclusively listening to Miller's solo debut The Instigator. I get the feeling I'll come around to the new album, but listening to it has only made me go back and reacquaint myself with The Instigator. Okay, so that's a lie; I haven't made it past "Our Love," the album's opening track. In the past two days I've listened to the damm thing nine times. (This according to my iPod's handy play-counter.)

There's much to obsess over: the off-the-chart power pop chorus, Jon Brion's galloping electric guitar work that nearly jumps the rail at the 1:48 mark, Jim Keltner's monster drumming. However, it's the opening verse that really kills me. Check it:
Richard Wagner's letters to his lover Mathilde were a mess
He should have quit before he had written the address
They made love on the mezzanine her husband was his friend
Vienna in a fugue-state working on a thing
That when he finished it took almost seven hours to sing
He still found time to write to her his heart-exploding words.

That's right. Dude took Richard Wagner's epistolary activity with his mistress and turned into into a pop song. The second verse, while not as great (what's up with the third to first person jump?), tackles Franzie:
Kafka in his letters to his lover Milena was alive
But he was waiting for a love that never would arrive
Their rendezvous was singular her husband was his friend
She is a living fire she is a reason to live
She is killing me burning only for him
I'll spend my whole life loving her my heart exploding words.

I love the incongruity of a guy writing a three minute song for his girl and expressing his love via biographical sketches of two long-dead artists.

The Miller song made me think of how hilarious it is to hear Natasha Bedingfield namecheck nineteenth century poets in her TRL-sanctioned hit "These Words." ("Read some Byron, Shelly and Keats / Recited it over a Hip-Hop beat / I'm having trouble saying what I mean / With dead poets and drum machines.")

Your turn: in the comment section, your vote for the most unlikely fodder for and/or reference in a pop song. And the Nabokov ref in Sting's "Don't Stand So Close to Me" doesn't count. Go.

10 Comments:

At 2:07 PM, Blogger girish said...

Ben, I'm a big fan of The Instigator, Fight Songs, and Satellite Rides, so I'm eager to pick up the new album.

A couple of referential candidates off the top of my head:

(1) A verse that could be a manifesto for the Pet Shop Boys, from their song "Left To My Own Devices," off Introspective:

"I was faced with a choice at a difficult age/would I write a book? or should I take to the stage?/but in the back of my head I heard distant feet/Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat."

(2) And the flood of references that closes "Hot Topic" by Le Tigre. I don't even know who most of these people are!

"Gertrude Stein, Marlon Riggs, Billie Jean King, Ut, DJ Cuttin Candy, David Wojnarowicz, Melissa York, Nina Simone, Ann Peebles, Tammy Hart, The Slits, Hanin Elias, Hazel Dickens, Cathy Sissler, Shirley Muldowney, Urvashi Vaid, Valie Export, Cathy Opie, James Baldwin, Diane Dimassa, Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett, Mia X, Krystal Wakem, Kara Walker, Justin Bond, Bridget Irish, Juliana Lueking, Cecelia Dougherty, Ariel Skrag, The Need, Vaginal Creme Davis, Alice Gerard, Billy Tipton, Julie Doucet, Yayoi Kusama, Eileen Myles.
Oh no no no don't stop stop............"

(3) Film references: Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend (one of the great alt-pop records of the 90s!), with the songs "Day For Night" and "Winona", plus that smashing Tuesday Weld cover pic.

 
At 2:49 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Okay, so, it's not a name check but I've always loved these Built to Spill lyrics from "You Were Right" (the last track on Keep It Like A Secret):

You were wrong when you said everythings gonna be alright

You were wrong when you said everythings gonna be alright

You were right when you said all that glitters isn't gold

You were right when you said all we are is dust in the wind

You were right when you said we're all just bricks in the wall

And when you said manic depression's a frustrated mess

You were wrong when you said everythings gonna be alright

You were wrong when you said everythings gonna be alright

You were wrong when you said everythings gonna be alright

You were right when you said you cant always get what you want

You were right when you said it's a hard rain's gonna fall

You were right when you said were still running against the wind

Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone

You were right when you said this is the end

 
At 2:59 PM, Blogger Ben said...

G.-- Damn, that Le Tigre block is crazy. The PSB quote is pretty damn funny. Have you heard their score for Potemkin? I've always wondered what that's like. And I really need to get into the Matthew Sweet catalog.

T.-- I had no clue you were into Built to Spill.

 
At 3:10 PM, Blogger Tim said...

It's very hit and miss. I'm pretty fond of that particular album, even though I don't own it...I lost it while moving here, but never bought it again. But I don't know the others very well. Anyway, I LURVE that song. I'm kicking myself as we speak for not having it on my iPod.

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Right off the bat, I'm thinking of Dylan's line: "Situations have ended sad/Relationships have all been bad/Mine have been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud," from YOU'RE GONNA MAKE ME LONESOME WHEN YOU GO.

 
At 3:25 PM, Blogger girish said...

Ben, I haven't heard the POTEMKIN soundtrack; it might be the only album by them I don't have. Come to think of it, "October Symphony" off Behavior (1990), was probably a foreshadowing of their Soviet affinities.
I've also been eyeing their entry in the BACK TO MINE series. (I particularly like the Groove Armada and Everything But The Girl comps in that series.)

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger Ben said...

LRHB-- One of my favorite Dylan tracks ever.

G.-- I love the Back to Mine series. The New Order and Richard X sets are also excellent.

 
At 5:46 AM, Blogger Joshua said...

An entry from a country star who deserves an indie rock revision of her own, Pam Tillis and "Maybe It Was Memphis":
"Read about you in a Faulkner novel
Met you once in a Williams play
Heard about you in a country love song
Summer nights beauty took my breath away."

And there's also Stephen Malkmus's wonderful ode to Yul Brynner:
"I'm not what you think I am
I'm the king of Siam
I've got a bald head
My name is Yul Brynner
And I am a famous movie star
Perhaps you saw me in Westworld
I acted like a robotic cowboy
It was my best role
I can not deny I
Felt right home deep inside
That electronic carcass."

 
At 3:12 PM, Anonymous docpacey said...

Just a little further along on 'the Instigator' Rhett pays homage to Delillo in 'World...', and pretty much every Irish literary figure ever is somehwere in just about every Van Morrison song; as is Kerouac (just check the track 'Cleanin' Windows' for Dharma Bums and On the Road). I'm just sayin'.

 
At 12:44 PM, Blogger Brian W said...

You didn't mention the best part of Bedingfield's song--after all that name-dropping, she mispronounces hyperbole. Oops!

 

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