Sunday, 15 May 2016

Pretty Lies

"All romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café"

It's disturbing when you recognize yourself in a song. Particularly one that you've heard many times and never got the connection. And particularly when the reflection is not an admirable one.
Sometimes truth isn't in the words but in their delivery.
The benefit for poets is that their words are written to be read and perhaps spoken by another's voice. There's nothing lost in the translation or delivery because it's likely that the spirit behind the 3rd party's voice is admiring, willing, already won over.
It's different with songs. Things obviously differ genre to genre but, regardless of the quality of the lyric the singer needs to convince; otherwise the spell is broken. Those words might be written to win a lover, to make an apology, to rant at the inequities of life or simply to make a sweet phonetic sound but... the noise, the delivery, must be convincing.
After yesterday's ramblings in praise of imperfect things I was set to wondering. Perhaps I have a bit of OCD; something that compels me towards grasping at some sense of perfection. I'm sure that I'm not alone; we all want a little bit of 'perfect'. A view, a restaurant table, a kiss, a midnight walk in the rain... In the morning's cold light it's clear that it's a thankless task. 'Transience' is the nature of most everything; the cracks will inevitably show. And still, time makes a fool and a thief out of all of us; we steal from our past and reimage or rebrand it to suit our present. The currency that keeps us vital is life itself, and our vital perception not just of life as it happens, but of our processing of that experience. Our value is not just what we could be, but what we are, what we have become. The further we grow away from our histories, the more obvious their influence becomes, and the more we idealise and cherish that influence. The trick I think is to avoid cynicism. Easier said...
I've written about that stuff for years and... I think I'm done. Time then to learn to recognize and embrace the realities of an imperfect existence then. Toys get broken. Shoes become scuffed. Records get scratched. Sweethearts disappoint us. Loved ones get old and wither... We learn to fear success as much as we fear failure.
But there's nowt wrong with admiring those sweet innocents who eye the heavens and still believe in... the possibility of perfection. They remind us of lost youth and tarnished ideals without rubbing our noses in the dirty bits. Puppies and 3 year olds; wide eyed: too young for hope; too young for disappointment. Full of possibility.
When it comes to ranting about the transient joys of all things bright and beautiful, Keats got there long before me, but I believe that William Blake nailed it best when he wrote:

He who binds himself to joy
Doth the Winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

In pursuit of perfection this morning I put on Joni Mitchell's 'Blue'. Most albums have a track that I could live without; a 'Yellow Submarine' or 'Taxman'. I know that I'm not alone in recognizing the particular pleasures of 'Blue' but, to me it is perfect. There's not a hair on its head that I'd change. That said, the least involving of its jewels was always 'The Last Time I Saw Richard'. This morning it's words hit me hard. I've heard them so many times before but never really recognized myself in there:

"All romantics meet the same fate someday 
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café"

The brilliance of the lyric is that it manages to be world weary and wide eyed at the same time. And then... there's the delivery. Those prodding piano 'chords of enquiry' are adult, sophisticated, often unresolved and yet the voice is of a child; her spell yet to be broken. Her words might be 'pretty lies' but with that delivery... Christ, I believe every perfect word she says.

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
You laugh he said you think you're immune
Go look at your eyes they're full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they're only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said "Drink up now it's getting' on time to close"
"Richard, you haven't really changed" I said
It's just that now you're romanticizing some pain that's in your head
You got tombs in your eyes but the songs you punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet Love so sweet

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
I don't want nobody comin' over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase these dark café days

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