June 7, 2005

Too many parties and too many pals

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 3:20 pm

I’ve had a music entry in mind for a while. I was going to do an entry about the resemblances I see between the Arcade Fire and the Talking Heads, and how some people I know are resistant to the idea. However, I’m going to put that one off (again), because I’ll have a chance to put my theory to the test…when I see the Arcade Fire playing with David Byrne at the Hollywood Bowl in a couple weeks! I don’t want anyone to ever complain about Los Angeles again.

As the song-doohickey at the top of the page probably reflects (and as Bret noted in a comment earlier today), I’ve been listening to Hank Williams a lot. I went from nothing to a three-disc greatest hits collection in about eight dollars, thanks to the magic of public domain. For those of you who don’t know Mr. Williams (I don’t like calling musicians by their first names), he’s the guy who wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and was one of the earliest big country music stars, in the fifties. (Some of you may hold that against him.) I like it a lot–it’s slide guitar-heavy bluesy crooning, covering the eternal country themes cleverly and creatively.

Today, I want to talk about something that might be ridiculously trivial: an awful lot of Hank Williams song titles are complete sentences.

This is a phenomenon that first came to my attention with the Smiths. Run down all the songs by the Smiths, and you’ll find a surprising number are complete, sometimes elaborate, sentences: “I Know It’s Over,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “The Queen Is Dead,” “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” “How Soon Is Now?”, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “William, It Was Really Nothing,” and, of course, my favorite: “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” This is only a partial list. (Morrissey’s solo work displays this even more heavily, judging from “You Are the Quarry”: “America Is Not the World,” “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” “The World is Full of Crashing Bores,” “How Can Anyone Possibly Know How I Feel?” and more–nine out of the twelve songs, all in all.) Normally, I’d never blog about this–as I say, it’s pretty trivial–but it’s something that I occasionally wonder about.

But I’m bringing it up now, because Hank Williams has the same thing. There are 60 songs on this set I got, and almost half of the titles (26) are complete sentences. Furthermore, as with the Smiths, a lot of the titles are depressing: “Why Don’t You Love Me,” “You Win Again,” “I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye,” “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” “I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Living,” “My Love for You Has Turned to Hate.” I know you’re not supposed to confuse the art with the artist and everything, but reading those titles it’s not surprising that he drank himself to death at age 29.

Now, the Smiths are not much like Hank Williams, musically or personally–Morrissey is still alive and shilling for PETA. However, something they do have in common is that they are both very frequently concerned with sadness, despair, futility, etc. Their approaches to the subject are different–the Smiths sound petulant or wounded (“I’m feeling very sick and ill today”), Williams sounds rueful (“What can I do? You win again”)–but they both wear their hearts on their sleeves. There’s something plaintive about calling a song “What Difference Does It Make?” that doesn’t permit much ambiguity; it’s clearly bitter on its face. At the same time, both Morrissey and Williams have a certain sense of dry humor that I think is well served by elaborate titles. The Hank Williams song “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” is sad, but with a certain amount of self-conscious irony, and I think that part of that effect is the way the title lays all the song’s cards on the table. Anyway, I should stop talking about this before I get even less plausible, but I’ll close by saying that I’m a big fan of the starkness of these kinds of song titles, particularly when it’s reflected in the song itself. There’s not much room for optimism in a song like “I’ll Be a Bachelor ‘Til I Die.”


Marginally related to music: for the second time in a month, I’ve been shafted in Apple class-action suit settlements. First, it was the iBook settlement, when I would have been eligible for money had my iBook adapter failed like all the others did. Instead, it worked flawlessly for all four years I used it. (The battery failed, yes, but never the adapter.) Now, I find that if my iPod battery had failed, I’d be eligible for a new one (battery or iPod). I’m still within the period covered by this one, actually, and I’d really love one of the click wheel iPods, so if anyone could arrange for the battery to have some kind of…accident…I’d be very grateful.


1 Comment

  1. Tom, I don’t think the battery has to fail. I think you just have to say it failed. Right? Plus, “fail” I think means “goes down to 4 hours or less of continuous use.”

    Comment by Bret! — June 13, 2005 @ 4:47 pm

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