Monday, September 29, 2014

Dori Anne

"The Leader of The Pack" and "Dead Man's Curve" are two of the more well-known "dead teenager" songs (also called "teenage tragedy songs" or even the morbid "splatter platter").

These are songs that drum up pathos by creating an angst-y teen character, often one in a societally disapproved relationship, and usually a "bad boy" or "bad girl" archetype... and then killing them off.

This Simon-as-Landis song, performed by David Winters. In this case, the doomed teen is another archetype, the pure-as-driven-snow one, who of course did not deserve to die.

While most dead teenager songs seem meant as cautionary tales by adults, and James-Dean tragedies to teens, this one is just plain sad. The song starts with a contradiction: “I'm all by myself, but I'm not alone.” How so? “Dori Anne, you’re always with me.” How tender. Is she out of town, perhaps after a move, or attending a distant school?

“I walk along the shore and sit beneath our tree,” the speaker continues, yearningly. “You were 16, my most precious queen.”

“Were”? Oh, no. Well, break-ups happen. Best not to keep revisiting your old hangouts and move on.

“Then came that fateful day.” Suddenly, the song takes a darker turn… The speaker (actually speaking this time, as in “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’”) tells of the tragic death: “A blinding headlight, a crash in the night/ Took my Dori Anne away.” Truly awful.

“The rest of my life, my love will be true/ Dori Anne, I’ll always love you.” True, there is little getting over a trauma like that when one is in the throes of adolescence. (A better line however, would have been “I am always with you,” to invert the earlier “You are always with me.”

Also, there will be difficult times ahead for whomever falls for this boy, as they will have to compete with the memory of a dead teenage—and thereby perfect— romance. No less than James Joyce, in his short story “The Dead,” explores the impossibility of a fulfilling life for the person who marries one who, in turn, pines for a tragically lost teenage love.

So very many teens die each year. Today, it could be gunfire or an overdose or a bully-provoked suicide, but once parents mostly worried about illnesses and accidents, causes of teen death also still prevalent. While it is easy to dismiss or even mock songs like this for preying on teens’ hyperbolic emotional states, teen death does, sadly, occur. And when it does, teen survivors and mourners can turn to such songs to help them cope. Simply knowing that others have endured such pain can be healing, as is music in general— it is part of funeral services in most cultures, after all.

A co-worker of mine is actually attending an annual memorial service for a teen he knew who passed away. The young man was in a band and loved music; every year, attendees are asked to bring a song lyric to read at the memorial.

We’ll never forget him, the Leader of the Pack. 

Musical Note: David Winters began acting on TV as a kid, then moved to Broadway, playing Baby John in the original Broadway version of West Side Story, switching to the role of A-rab for the movie version. He then became a dance teacher and choreographer (Viva Las Vegas), then a director and producer, both on stage and onscreen. Through it all, he never stopped acting.

Next song:  Please Don’t Tell Her

Monday, September 22, 2014

One Way Love

[Chalk up another post under "better safe than sorry," as once again the song is recorded by Simon-as-Landis but the authorship is "unknown."]

"I love you/ Why don't you love me too?" Is this not a heading under which we can safely place a third or more of all songs, altogether? This answer-less question, so often asked, is the basis for much of poetry as well, and trying to come up with yet another poetic way to ask it begs the question-- what's wrong with just coming out and asking it?

The expression "one-way" brings to mind the traffic sign, and our speaker does not disappoint:
"We have hearts that never meet/ Mine goes down a one-way street/ Aching with the lonely beat/
Of one way love."

The subject, in case it is at all unclear, is unrequited love: "For your kisses, how I yearn/ But you never will return/ My one-way love."

The speaker has standards-- "Love should be a dream for two," Faced with his predicament, he has several options. One is to seek revenge. One is to pine forever. And there are dozens more.

But this time, a surprisingly mature tack is taken: "You don't care, so I decided/ I must break away from you."

Since she doesn't care, who is he telling? Himself. He is asserting himself, to himself, to reinforce himself.

He has had what some psychologists call "an attack of dignity." He has come to the conclusion that he is deserving of affection and, since this person won't provide it, he has the right-- the duty-- to seek it elsewhere. "There must be/ A true love meant for me," he declares, adding confidently, "I can find her if I try."

How will he know he has succeeded? Simple-- it will be a two-way street: "She will care as much as I."

And then? "Then my heart can say good-bye/ To one way love."

For a teenager, this is a remarkably mature work, on a psychological level. Faced with an unreturned affection, many teens would not have the presence of mind or self-worth to simply mourn and move on? How many songs do we have about "one-way love" that turn into a dead-end street? Isn't the Heartbreak Hotel  itself "down at the end of Lonely Street?"

Love should not be "one-sided," the speaker says. So, he leaves his one-way street and heads down another road. And if this one also leads nowhere... there are always still more roads.

Next Song: Dori Anne

Monday, September 15, 2014

Let's Make Pictures

This dreamy, breathy melody is prescient of "Cherish" by the Association, or perhaps that was a throw-back to this earlier sound. (Again, the author is "unknown," but the song is on a CD of Jerry Landis reissues.)

The song opens with a chorus of women singing what sounds like an ad for a vacation: "Sunlight shining on snow-capped mountains/ Lovers strolling by sparkling fountains."

But the speaker then reveals that this is a vacation he takes in his mind... when he is in the embrace of his beloved. "Close your eyes, I'll close mine/ Kiss me/ Let's make pictures, pretty pictures tonight."

With his eyes thus closed, he anticipates the serene scenes he will imagine: "One by one, soon they'll come/ I see pictures when you're holding me tight."

So intense are these images that he prefers them to both visual reality and any sort of auditory input: "Don't wanna hear bells ring, bird sing/ Like some other lovers do."

Lest the person kissing and holding him feel left out, thinking perhaps his flights of fancy are solo excursions, he clarifies: "I just wanna see those pictures of my future with you."

The other notable feature of this song is that Simon/Landis speaks some of the lyrics, as in the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." This was not a precursor to rap, as the lyrics are not read rhythmically, but simply read, the way an actor might read his lines.

The song portends to sophistication, but is clearly the work of a teenager trying to sound mature. But that's the case-- he can't afford to take his girlfriend to Tahoe to see sunlight glinting off snowy peaks, let alone to the famous fountains of Tivoli near Rome.

All he can do is visualize being able to take her to these resplendent romantic vistas. Luckily, he has a vibrant imagination and the poetic gifts to express it. Also, a girlfriend appreciative that he wants to take her to such pretty places, and might have the ambition to pull it off.

Every success begins with a dream, and she inspires him to lavish dreams. Maybe they will only make it as far as Coney Island or Niagara Falls. But wouldn't you rather be there with someone who thinks that it's just grand... than someone who grouses their way through Paris, muttering about prices and waiters and traffic?

Maybe this couple grew up into the one in Simon's song, "America," imagining their way down the highway from Michigan to New York on a Greyhound: "Laughing on the bus/ Playing games with the faces."

Even now, while they are just making out on the couch, he is able to transport them to the Riviera. So, it's only in their minds-- where, after all, is their love?

Next Song: One Way Love

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Can Feel It Happening to Me

[Note: According to the liner notes I have, the author of this work is "unknown," but I am including it just in case.]

This is a very mature song, and an old-fashioned one, more along the lines of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" or "Embraceable You" instead of an Elvis or Everly song.

The song is set in the same circumstances as "Some Enchanted Evening," another song of that ilk. Our speaker sees a stranger from across a crowded room... OK, so he doesn't say it was "crowded," per se, but still, "I saw you clear across the room."

"I can feel it happening to me," he begins, ending with, naturally, "Let me see/ That you can feel it happening to you." This, then, is the theme-- did lightning strike her, too?

At first, he assumes, yes: "...when your eyes met mine/ Then the fire was there/ Desire was there." It's a bossa nova-ish number, but the emotion is as physically taut as a tango: "I'm aware of something very strange/ Deep inside, I know there's been a change...  Then the chills began/ Thrills began/ I held my breath/ Half-scared to death/ My knees grew weak/ I couldn't speak."

Then, he has doubts. What are the chances of lighting striking twice? "It started suddenly... can it be that love begins so fast?" Probably not... And did he ruin everything by his behavior due to his assumption/ hope that it had? "I'm afraid that I'll frighten it away/ If I... stare too much."

The song uses repetition in a very sly, sophisticated way to indicate that, regardless of whether she requites his ardor (yet)... he still has to say 'Hello' first! "Here I am/ Wondering how to let you know/ That here I am/ Wanting you with all my heart/ But when to start?"

To recap-- He sees her, has a love-at-first-sight experience, thinks she caught the spark too, and almost faints. Then he recovers and thinks, "Oh, great. I really came across as desperate. I imagined a whole relationship in my head and I don't even know her name yet. All right, let me take a breath. I'll wait for an opening-- stop ogling her! Come on, get a grip!-- and try to introduce myself without proposing if I can."

In the hands of a teenager such as Simon/Landis at this point in his career, the whole thing comes across, unfortunately, as a bit too sophisticated. This song belongs, instead, in the repertoire of a Mel Torme or Wayne Newton.

Next Song: Let's Make Pictures

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Growing Up Years

This is a special song if only for the fact that its arrangement consists of just Simon (sorry, Landis) and his semi-acoustic guitar. It's also a thoughtful rumination on adolescence.

George Carlin said that he resented being told to "Have a nice day." It put pressure on him, he fumed: "Now I've got to go out and somehow manage to have a good time!"

Our speaker feels the same sort of pressure to go find a party or something. "People all say, 'Laugh and be gay!/ Youth is the time for fun and pleasure.'" The adults around him wish to live vicariously through his winsome exploits, no doubt. But his mind is on more serious (ahem) matters.

Then another adult, one in more immediate authority, tells him to only focus other serious matters. "Dad tells me we can't go steady." His father tells him to limit his attention to schoolwork... and not to get too involved too young: "Don't try your wings before you're ready."

Faced with this intractable fate, our speaker does resigns himself, and breaks up with his girlfriend. "Now you and I must say goodbye/ There's nothing else we can do."

However, there is still a longing-- "How can I ever live without you?"-- and with it comes a resistance to his father's ironclad rule.

After all, time is on his side. While "long are the growing-up years," on the one hand, they will eventually result in his... actually growing up. And "strong is the ache in my heart." This convinces him to play the long game, and consider the break-up a temporary status, one to be reconciled once he reaches adulthood. "...when we're grown, you'll be my own," he vows, "Never, no never to part."

Now, we adults know that this is unlikely. Yes, there are cases in which high-school sweethearts wed. But in general, once college keeps two young adults in separate time zones for four years, such passions cool. Since they can't be with the one they love, as the CSN song goes, they love the one they're with.

"Youth is wasted on the young," sighed Shaw, sounding like one of the adults in the song urging teens to sow their wild oats. But this teen doesn't even have time for that. He's making some very grown-up commitments that he can't even keep because of his schooling.

It's a shame that his father can't see that his goal-- preparing his son for adult life-- is being done in a limited way. Yes, part of being an adult is getting a degree, finding a job, and making a living.

But another major part is making a life! The relationship he's being deprived of would mature him in other, equally important ways.

Chances are good that his serious young man will seriously pursue the young woman he is so serious about, once he gets the freedom to do so. This might be one of the times high-school sweethearts weather the storms of college and do end up together.

For now, maybe he should have his dad talk to his mom. She'd set the old man straight.

Next Song: I Can Feel It Happening to Me