Sunday, February 26, 2012

lovely wrapping on an icky present

One of my favorite songs is "Marie Provost," from Nick Lowe's debut album, Pure Pop for Now People (for purists or Brits, that would be Jesus of Cool). It's got such a pleasant sound -- jangly guitars, bouncy beat, and harmonies on the vocal. And I don't sing it or play it if my wife's around, since she loathes the song.

Why? Well, there is the subject matter. "Marie Provost," tells the story of a silent film actress who can't make the transition to talkies. She dies destitute, and is eaten by her hungry dog. The signature couplet is "She was a winner / Who became her doggie's dinner." The song is based very loosely on the life and death of actress Marie Prevost. Her dog didn't actually eat her, her legs did have tiny bite marks when her body was found. Presumably her dog was trying to wake her. I provide that detail only to avoide impugning the collective reputation of dogs.

You can hear the song here:

"Marie Provost" is one of many songs that sound very pleasant but are, well, icky, if you pay attention to the lyrics. A better known example is Billy Joel's "Always a Woman":
"And she'll promise you more than the Garden of Eden / And she'll carelessly cut you and life while you're bleedin'"? Not exactly a great character reference. But he's singing softly, almost wistfully. The piano is pleasant. So it's easy, if you're not paying attention, to miss how truly angry the song is.

One more example... "Every Breath You Take," (AKA The Stalker Song) by the Police. In interviews, Sting has said that occasionally he hears of couples using this as a wedding song. Now that's creepy.

If anyone has other examples of this, songs that sound all pleasant but are actually icky, I'd be curious to have them brought to my attention.

I ahve to wonder, sometimes, if listening to unpleasant messages like this affect the way one views the world? Is such an effect mitigated if one isn't really paying attention? Or is it actually reinforced because it takes on a subliminal quality?

Anyone out there studied the psychology of music?

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