Saturday, July 7, 2007

music: big men sing of heartbreak

I'm a sucker for big man laid low by the power of love. You expect women to write of such things, but when a rocker does it, he's compelled to craft a solid, ultimately uplifting song so as not to come across as a tearful whiner. To me the original is Led Zeppelin's Going to California from 1971, where Robert Plant torturously emotes
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it's not as hard, hard, hard as it seems. ...
Going to California with an aching in my heart
(supposedly written about Joni Mitchell).

Steve Perry's Street Talk (another gem from 1984!) has some lovely aching ballads despite overly glossy production, including "Foolish Heart":
Foolish heart, heed my warning
You've been wrong before
Don't be wrong anymore

I'm feeling that feeling again
I'm playing a game I can't win
And this of course is reminiscent of "What a Fool Believes" by a master of the genre, Michael McDonald. From inside the underrated Doobie Brothers, he wrote a string of heartsick songs, climaxing in the desperate, great "Real Love":
Darlin, I know
I'm just another head on your pillow
If only just tonight, girl
Let me hear you lie just a little
Tell me I'm the only man
That you ever really loved
Well we've both lived long enough to know
We'd trade it all right now
For just one minute of real love
I have his first two solo albums, and he pens even deeper depths of misery, such as "That's Why":
Look back loneliness, you won't see me behind you
Hey now emptiness, no more leading the way
Go on desperateness, I don't need you beside me no more...
That's why, I won't be down very long
That's why, I'll be all right from now on
But he needs at least the memory of a hard-rocking band to make this bearable. It's easy for it to descend into "in the cabin of my BMW, I laid down and wept" sentimentality (that's my line, I'm saving it for my group). Or as Elvis Costello put it in a 1986 interview:
Two types of rock 'n' roll had become bankrupt to me. One was 'Look at me, I've got a big hairy chest and a big willy!' [obvious reference to Robert Plant] and the other was the 'Fuck me, I'm so sensitive' Jackson Browne school of seduction. They're both offensive and mawkish and neither has any real pride or confidence.
True, Elvis, true, but put them together and a hairy-chested big-willy man sings of love, and it can be magic.

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