Wednesday, June 28, 2023

It's the end of the Seventies

The May 1979 Billboard Hot 100's a heady time machine. Your settings may vary.While recently poring over old Billboard issues, a favorite pastime, I resolved to take a look at the Top 100 pop chart during the week I became a teenager. Surely, I thought, while running down the list I'd be overcome by memories, taken back to that heady, oft-great, oft-awful time in my life—puberty—the songs scoring my melodramas, as in some overheated teen film. Instead, I was surprised by how little the charts resonated with me.

Let's go back to May, 1979:

Zooming in:

Some songs and their associated memories—snatches of images of friends and acquaintances; a vague scene out of a car window; faces of bullies and their victims; unhappy politics on the blacktop of St. Andrew the Apostle School—leap out at me, urgently: Blondie's "Heart of Glass"; Doobie Brothers' "What A Fool Believes"; Bad Company's "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy"; Wings' "Goodnight Tonight"; Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing"; Bee Gees' "Tragedy"; the Police's "Roxanne" and others were nearly all lodged in the Top 30 in May of 1979. These songs are mini-films or sonic story boards in themselves, with embedded memories and narratives, some full, some fragmented, part of the scenery around us as newly-minted teens, each telling, or more accurately translating, a different story. 

And when I turn and scan the horizon, I can see what's charging: Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me," the live version from Cheap Trick at Budokan, rested at the lowly 62 spot, but would eventually triumph at number 7, blissing out me and my friends along the way. Rickie Lee Jones's "Chuck E's in Love," also a newcomer only two weeks old, stood at number 55 and would head to number 4, like Cheap Trick introducing me to all sorts of new emotional complications and hard-to-decipher joys. Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll" was biding its time at the number 39 spot after five weeks on the charts, preparing to strut its way into the Top 20, and Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," also a newcomer, sat at number 53, commencing its funky journey toward cultural domination (not the least, for me, being its adoption by the Pittsburgh Pirates as their unofficial theme song for their Championship '79 team) and its eventual number 2 spot on the charts–it'd reach number one R&B. Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff," too, was poised for its fiery ascension. What a summer '79 would turn out to be!

"Although we continue to hear [Top 40] songs throughout our lives," Thomas Ryan wrote in American Hit Radio: A History of Popular Singles from 1955 to the Present, "they are sometimes mistakenly heard as a part of our past rather than as an active representation of who we are and what our collective tastes are like."

A sample browsing through the titles ought to display just how many of these songs have become signposts in most of our lives and have retained their relevance into the present. Most everybody has at least a passing interest in popular music, and everybody can name a handful of favorite songs.... Despite changing times, we continue to love the favorites from our past.

True enough. Yet what surprises me is how many of these songs, which sold in enough units to break the Top 100, I don't remember ever having heard. (Let's allow here some industry skepticism, of course, about just how these so-called sales were "counted.") If, as Aeschylus observed more than two thousand years ago, "Memory is the mother of all wisdom," then I feel kinda stupid. Granted, taste accounts for many of these pop culture blank spots on my part; I of course remember Peaches & Herb, Kenny Rogers, and Pointer Sisters, yet I was't as into to them as I was Sting, McCartney, and Debbie Harry. Some songs, were I to have caught a snatch of them in the dentist's office, at the public pool, or in a friend's parent's car, I would've gladly tuned out. And yet: popular songs are everywhere, all at once, that's what contributes to their majesty, myth, and power. I'd have thought that glancing at this list of songs would've brought back more than it did. 

I was a kid then, with narrow perspective and an inward-gazing personality, and though my taste in music was, like my acne, burgeoning, it was also fairly ironed out: there already wasn't a lot of room for Journey, Supertramp, Styx, Orleans, and the rest. I was more into album cuts on the Cars' debut album and the Police's first two albums than I was into keeping up with Top 40, so who am I now to be dismayed that more than half the chart sparks nary a sensation in me? The days of tuning in to Casey Kasem's Top 40 rundown on Sunday mornings on WPGC, which I'd listen to with the same spirit with which I'd pore over my favorite baseball player's stats in the Washington Post, were over for me by the end of the decade. Tycoon? Ironhorse? Alton McClain & Destiny? No idea. I'd have to YouTube them. They didn't enter my consciousness in the Spring of 1979, even if I did hear them at the mall, or a classmate's house, or on the radio somewhere.


That's not not suggest that they didn't affect you. "In memory everything seems to happen to music." So mused Tennessee Williams. Once I got past my naïve, self-interested shock in recalling so little of the Top 100 in the weeks around my 13th birthday, the chart gained immense dimension: your memories were pegged to different songs this week than mine were. Your spouse or partner, your mom or your uncle, will read this Top 100 and be overcome my recollections tethered to completely different songs than mine. This isn't news, or particularly novel, and yet I'm amazed at just how infinitely evocative a document like this is: 100 songs, 100 chains of associative memories, each burrowing deep inside the rememberer where music and memory commingle, telling and re-telling the pasts that create our present. Each song's a doorway leading into a hundred different rooms, a hundred different lives; like a kind of sonic neighborhood, some of those doorways were on houses I'd only glance at on my walks or bike rides, and never visit; some were houses I'd never see, in a part of town I rarely ventured to. Each house privately thrumming with music.

Imagine a group of friends and strangers at a public pool in May of 1979. The radio's on here, and over there, and maybe coming out of the PA, too. In my version we're tuned to WPGC, listening to the Top 40, the songs coming out and entering each person; some songs take, some don't, some attach themselves to a fleeting thought, or glance, or a movement of the clouds and sun, and stay forever, others are lost into the sky. Each person leaves that day with an unknown, unbidden soundtrack, which they'll play over and over for the rest of their lives, each tracklist subtly or radically different from the other, and updated in the weeks to follow as the next group of "chart bound," "bubbling under," or "with a bullet" singles spills out into the sunshine, putting into words and melodies what we're all differently feeling, what we're looking at but can't see.
Memorial Swimming pool, Victoria Street, circa 1970 via Facebook

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Not trying to cause a big sensation

On identifying with not identifying, with Phillip Lopate (plus, the Who)

I've been on a big Phillip Lopate kick of late. One of the great pleasures for me in reading personal essays is the moment of recognition, of feeling "seen" or "heard" in a stranger's experiences. Such an identification is especially nice when I share little context with the writer—in the case of Lopate, there's a nearly quarter-century gap in our ages, and our religious/cultural and regional differences—he's Jewish, I was raised Catholic; he was born and raised in Brooklyn, I in suburban Washington D.C.—while not by any stretch vast, are unalike enough that when I find myself overlapping with his insights and perspectives, as in a transparency, I'm reminded again of the essential and eternal shared through-line among human beings.

In "'Howl' and Me," a terrific essay published in 2006 (gathered in Portrait Inside My Head) about his complicated attitudes toward Allen Ginsberg's epic poem, Lopate describes a feeling that I've often had myself: the deep reluctance to label oneself a member of "a generation." He wrote, "'Howl' proffered one more temptation which I resisted mightily, and which was contained in the words 'my generation'," adding, "This may not be the proper occasion to explore what lies behind my distrust of that (to my mind) smug, self-mythologizing notion. Oh, what the hell."
To quote Ben Hecht: "It is, as I have long suspected, very difficult for a writer to write about anybody but himself." Certainly true for me. In any case, I find the words "my generation" presumptuous; I don’t feel it's my right to generalize for all those who happened to be born during the same decade as myself. Or perhaps it isn't humility but vanity that won't allow me to speak of myself in any but idiosyncratic terms, resisting sociological categories that would place me in a collective epoch. 
My college students and younger nieces and nephews often stare at me suspiciously when I confess to not knowing, or anyway needing to regularly remind myself, which so-called generation I'm a member of. Like Lopate, I've long resisted the label, irked at being "defined" by what the pop media or sociologists have determined are the key aspects of the massive group of people who happened to have born around the time I was, as if our exposure to the same media, news events, and cultural Zeitgeists was a strong-enough glue to bind us together as a tribe with lifetime membership. (I've long been an proponent of the "age is just a number" bromide, anyway.) When my students attempt to amiably pigeonhole me given my age, I smile and roll my eyes at the parlor game—go ahead, if it works for you. Joyce Carol Oates remarked that the essay "is not place- or -time-bound," that it "survives the occasion of its original composition." In a funny way, I've always thought about myself similarly. I'm struck every semester by how consistently my twenty-something students explore in their essays more or less the same core issues—family politics, friendship, childhood, ill-fitting personae—that my students have always explored, over the course of the decades I've spent teaching. Though I encourage them to avoid clichés, I find myself myself muttering, the more things change....

I recognize that I'm likely in the minority about all of this, in denial that the decade in which I was born is indeed a kind of birthmark that I don't (choose to) see, and wouldn't to be able to rub off if I wanted to. If so, I have Lopate in my corner, which I'll take gladly. As a self-taught essayist (and, for that matter, teacher of essays), I'll be forever in Lopate's debt for his guidance from afar. His wonderful Art of the Personal Essay anthology is a kind of literary travelogue that I've hold closely to for decades as I've visited the many countries of the essay, places I first stumbled through as an awed, ignorant, and  innocent tourist. It's dog-eared. At one point in "'Howl' and Me" Lopate remarks that he has spent his life "striving for skepticism and stoicism." That's another way I identify with him, and it's nice to have his essays around as reminders that there are others like me, and, maybe, you.


One man who's actively courted identification with his generation is, of course, Pete Townshend; it's impossible for me to hear the phrase my generation and not immediately think of the the Who's brilliant 1965 single. Though Townshend was fated to dodge incoming barbs for the rest of his career—did you really want to die before you got old?; you should've died before you got old!, and the rest—"My Generation" indeed defined him as a spokesperson for the kids near his age in England in the mid-1960s. He's carried the assumed mantle around for decades, and just last year he spoke about the song's origins. Appearing on Radio X's "According To Google" series, he said, "'My Generation' was inspired by the fact that I felt as artists we had to draw a line between all those people who had been involved in the second world war and all those people who were born right at the end of the war."
Those people had sacrificed so much for us, but they weren't able to give us anything. No guidance, no inspiration. Nothing really. We weren't allowed to join the army, we weren't allowed to speak, we were expected to shut up and enjoy the peace... And we decided not to do that.
Here's a man far more confident in finding connections between himself and his generation than I, a self-described loner, am. (A notorious contrarian, Townshend's disavowed the spokesman label as many times as he's preened with it.) Maybe the roiling, historic intensity of that decade had something to do with Townshend's identification with the times—having grown up, relative to the pop boundary-pushing '60s, in a less charged era, I felt less bound to my epoch. I don't know; I'd rather be untethered to my origins, less time-bound, as in Oates's essay ideal. I'm not sure that I've gotten to the bottom of just why that is. Perhaps my disinclination to identify with my generation is pathetic, a head-in-the-sand insistence that I matter on my own terms, not history's, cultural genetic markers be damned.  The space between Lopate's skepticism and Townshend's righteousness feels long, but it might only be two sides of a coin. 

Anyway, PLAY LOUD:

"Pete Townshend And Broken Guitars London, 1966" (detail), by Colin Jones

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Desperate in New York City

The Boyfriends' impassioned "I Need Your Love" is a lost, now found, gem from '77

Too many bands and artists have been relegated to the bulging "What Happened?" file, bursting as it is with accounts of musicians that should've made it (whatever, precisely, "made it" means). You have yours, I have mine—and none of our protracted, well-meaning sighs help out those artists much. New York City's Boyfriends are yet another example. Their brief career has recently been neatly compiled in Wrapped Up In A Dream, a gathering of the band's two singles and many demos, released on Reminder Records. As Collin Makamson succinctly observes in his liners note:
Right place (CBGB’s, Max’s, NYC), right time (1977), right look (Heartbreakers with skinny ties), right sound (power pop plus Johnny Thunders’s guitar buzzsaw), right connections (Greg Shaw, Malcolm McLaren), right publicity (BOMP! Magazine, NY Rocker), right direction (interest from Sire and Stiff Records, opening slots for The Ramones, Joan Jett, The Romantics)—right everything!
He might've also added "right photographer," as legendary lensman David Godlis was in the band's corner, as well. So what, indeed, happened? The usual blend of bad luck, no luck, bad timing, dubious management, unfathomable (to the band) industry indifference, packed shows on both coasts in front of apostolic fans eager to pony up for the albums that never materialized. (Makamson wrote a full bio of the band in his liners; Reminder offers a thumbnail history of the band on their site.) When the dust settles, band members' lives resume, different paths are chosen, by pragmatic choice or rueful necessity, resentments may or may not stew over decades. And less talented bands, gifted with better luck and the planets' alignments, rocket to the top, if not necessarily for very long. The story's as old as dirt.

In the Boyfriends' case, they left behind more than just potential, they left behind the goods, particularly with their sublime "I Need Your Love." Like most in my generation, I first heard the song on the Ramones' Subterranean Jungle, released in 1983. How the tune ended up in the band's, or in their management's, hands, I have no idea. (Does anyone know who can hip me to the story?) All I do know is that the band's version is utterly fantastic—ardent, bold, the best kind of rock and roll in that it sounds fresh with each hearing, as though I'm catching up with each spin. The verses were built for Joey Ramone to sing, with their elementary, ascending/descending melody and their evocations of 60's boy-girl romance, where hand-holding is the acme of physical affection, where he calls on her with tender machismo and she's waiting and the evening begins. But it's the craving chorus where Joey, hyped with massive backing vocals, really delivers: a four-word, three-note declaration of pure need that's somehow both desperate and joyous. (Desperate and joyous; I'll add that to my growing list of "Rock and Roll, definitions of.")


The Boyfriends recorded "I Need Your Love" in 1977 as a demo, and it possesses a raw, rough-and-ready feel relative to the Ramones' polished version; thickly muscular, it really drives. Bobby Dee Waxman is steered by his excitable guitar riffs, bassist Jay Nap and drummer Lee Crystal indulge in a few more frills than Dee Dee and Marky would allow, and singer and guitarist Paddy Lorenzo howls his way through it all: a New Yawk punk-era classic. The demo sounds releasable, is nearly radio-ready to my ears, yet it was fated to vanish, and then eventually materialize, in various places and in varying quality, online, where I finally heard it. Now Reminder Records had done the proper thing. "With the talent, songwriting ability and pop craftsmanship here on display," Makamson writes, 
The Boyfriends hopefully will finally get the chance to write the long-promised happy ending to their story and, with that final chapter, assume their rightful place within the New York City punk and new wave pantheon.
Hopefully the band makes some coin off of this release; at least they have a snazzy, well-annotated and -produced album to admire, crow about, and pass down to their children. 

Here's what I want to do. I want to defocus the lens, as it were, so that the Boyfriends morph into a kind of featureless, universal blur, in effect becoming all of those bands, artists, and musicians who never "made it," and say: I love you. I've lost count over the years of the times when some nameless opening act on, say, a Wednesday night, in front of a dozen friends and dutiful strangers, lifted the top off of a venue and made ear-ringingly, movingly clear to me the eternal promises of rock and roll. Here and gone. These days, thanks to digital home recording and sites like Bandcamp, Patreon, and all the blessed rest, more artists than ever can upload their song(s) for potentially millions to hear (if not always purchase). Back when the Boyfriends toiled, sewn to the myth that signing with a major label was virtually the only way to mainstream success—success, period—far fewer bands could send their own work out into the light of day. Thus, a rock and roll gem like "I Need Your Love" is left in the dark—though not before setting alight many a stage in the Boyfriends' capable hands. Thanks to the Ramones' sharp ears, the song is familiar to many, yet most bands aren't so lucky. 

The Boyfriends' recording of "I Need Your Love" never stopped beating in the dark of that box in the closet or the bottom drawer where it was for so long relegated, humming its electric promises, waiting for the day where it can be heard and turned up, no less relevant a song than it was when it was written, back when it was already looking behind and recognizing the long, loud tradition it's proudly part of. Welcome to the light of day.

Image details from Wrapped Up In A Dream (Reminder Records, 2023)

Thursday, June 8, 2023

I'm a poor boy

"Man With Money" is one of the Everly Brothers' most powerful songs

By the mid-Sixties, the Everly Brothers were facing tough times commercially in their home country. Only two of their eight albums released in that decade sold in any measurable amounts, and after 1964 only two of the numerous singles they'd issue would hit the Billboard Top 40. In 1965, in the considerable wake of the Beat Group splash, they released a loosely-linked pair of albums, Rock'n Soul (March) and Beat & Soul (August), neither of which sold much, though "Love Is Strange" reached number 11 in the always-welcoming U.K. singles charts. With cultural tides rapidly changing, personal and health issues dogging them, and sales drooping, it's grimly apt that the Everly Brothers would be singing about cash.

In 1965 Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" was only six years old, but had already been covered, famously and obscurely, countless times, a staple in nearly every beat or garage band that was sent into spasms by the sublime groove and rockin' riff, not to mention the timeless cry in the title. The brothers (or their label) felt obligated to toss their version onto the pile, and it's a winner, muscled into ascension by a fantastic group of "Wrecking Crew" players gathered at United Recording Corporation Studios, in Hollywood. No less than James Burton, Glen Campbell, and Sonny Curtis played guitars on the sessions, with Larry Knechtel (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums) as the ace rhythm section, and Leon Russell and Billy Preston pitching in on piano. (Other sources suggest there were more musicians involved in the recordings. Oh but for someone to have wandered in to United with a Super 8mm film camera!) We lack specific details as to who played what on which cuts, but trust your ears; as arranged by Campbell and produced by Dick Glasser (The Ventures, Freddie Cannon, et al), these tracks really swing, and land plenty of punches, especially in the mono mix.

"Money," recently owned by the Beatles, the Sonics, and Jerry Lee Lewis, catches fire. The famous riff's decorously invited in by some acoustic strumming, and then pushes everything aside, the musicians hanging on for the ride. Yet, naturally, the song belongs to the brothers, ownership they assumed over many of their cover versions, especially in the way they sing the title phrase—they goof on it, wink with it, and smile through it, country twangin' all over the joint, and never lose sight of its claim on them. When the brothers get excited their close harmonies open outward, vibrantly, and they really belt it here, especially the backing vocals. I don't always feel the urge to crank the Everly Brothers, but I reach for the the volume knob here. I bet Lennon dug it, if he deigned to listen.


The startling "Man With Money" kicks off the second side of Beat & Soul. I'm fairly in awe of this song and performance, which adds dimension to the wailing "Money," contributing a darker, even more yearning voice. The lone Everlys' original on the album, "Man With Money" is obsessed and desperate, sung with urgency and played with the kind of defiance that hopes to bully away all of the song's problems. To wit: the singer needs cash because his girl thinks "money makes a man," and yet he's "a poor boy." The way the Everlys sing that phrase, forlornly, resignedly, in a descending melody, exposes the emotional truth of the song. ("A Poor Boy" is the unofficial song title, to my ears.) The forthright, four-four beat mirrors the singer's determination to do something about it, and that something arrives in the astonishing middle:

Just down the street, I know a place
When they're asleep, I'll cover my face 
I'll break the lock, open the door
I'll slip inside, I'll rob the store
Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the imagined plot; this is feverish stuff for the singer, who needs to hide behind a mask not only for anonymity but because he'd have to be a wholly different person to steal. The mounting, Spectorish drama in this passage—set up with a compulsive, 3 AM repetition of "man with money" muttered by the singer to the ceiling—could've easily veered into melodrama, but the Everlys sing the despair so fervently that the fears, regrets, and faux courage feel all too real. (Springsteen was listening, that's for sure. And for that matter so was Pete Townshend: the Who cut a version of "Man With Money" during the A Quick One sessions in 1966 but it collected dust until the 1990s.) The full band comes crashing in after the dream sequence, tasked with puffing up the singer's fragile bravado, and the performance really starts to accelerate. Yet it's hopeless: we never get to the robbery scene, the song fades (appropriately, as there's no resolution for this poor kid, not until he grows up a bit), and the title, sung over and over, is the inner voice of loserdom he can't yet shake.

"Man With Money" is an extraordinary pop song—powerfully sung, with steep dynamics and a forceful group performance, the guitars and rhythm bed rocking hard (in his Leon Russel biography Superstar in a Masquerade, William Sargent reports that Russell plays the track's mixed-low piano). I find the rock and roll attack of the pretty melody so moving, the yin and yang of fantasy-desire and all-too-real reality. As for the points of view: different angles expose different truths. Is she a shallow "gold digger," that tired trope? Or is she smart, unwilling to waste time on a guy who can't support himself? She isn't given a verse.


"When Phil and I hit that one spot where I call it 'The Everly Brothers,' I don't know where it is," Don Everly once remarked.
'Cause it's not me and it's not him. It's the two of us together. I sing the lead, and so I can drift off. Then we'll come back in together and the whole thing happens again. It amazes me sometimes.
In the middle passage the first two lines are sung solo, the last two as a duo. The Everly Brothers have the sublime knack for inhabiting the concerns of lone individuals and bringing them to life with two voices, thickening the emotional grist of the songs in a kind of magic trick—and often tightening my throat in the process: their songs routinely move me to tears. There are the great hits that everyone knows, and there's "Man With Money," one their greatest album cuts, a deeply moving, bracing tune about sorrow and hopelessness sung with optimistic gusto. Thanks—yet again—Phil and Don.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Once, I had a ship

In Television's "Carried Away," Tom Verlaine discovers the world and loses himself
Television: l-r, Billy Ficca, Richard Lloyd, Tom Verlaine, Fred Smith
There's a certain spell that's cast listening to music while on a plane. The surreality of it all—the muted, ambient cabin noise, the intimate proximity to strangers, as in a darkened movie theater, the still-miraculous notion of being transported at six hundred miles an hour while held aloft eight miles in the air. Safely tucked away behind my headphones I enter another state, compounded by the view out of the window of the tops of clouds (to which I once alluded in an awful poem I wrote in college as the heads of Gods we were not supposed to be able to soar above).

I discovered during a recent flight from New York City that Television is a great band to listen to while high, as it were. Though historically associated with a gritty street rock scene, the band produced a quasi-psychedelic, shadowy sound, even inside of their more agitated, nervy arrangements, that evokes a placelessness, due in no small part to the generally abstracted, musing nature of their lyrics. Tom Verlaine's ephemeral vocals, so airy as to be transparent, always sound untethered, easily escaping gravity and earth-bound concerns. Marquee Moon's "Elevation" ("I live light on these shores") obviously self-nominates as a flying tune, yet up there in the sun and the clouds I was especially moved by "Carried Away," from the band's second album Adventures.

In an article in New Musical Express on the occasion of the album's release, Verlaine acknowledged that the lyrics to "Carried Away" "took a long time to write," suggesting that the subject matter was either stubbornly elusive to Verlaine or so deeply felt that he took his time in carefully composing the words. In Elektra Records press materials of the time he remarked also that "Carried Away" was the first piece he'd written "primarily on keyboards," adding, "I usually write on guitar. It was almost like improvisation." This makes sense to me: "Carried Away" is about letting go, giving over to where the currents take us, much like improvisation requires surrender. But this is Verlaine the Craftsman, so musical spontaneity is cautiously allowed. (It was almost like improvisation.)

In fact, the main keyboard line is cheerily basic (and, when played at double-time in my head, jaunty even), arriving as it does after the song's opening, gentle two-chord sequence on guitar played with an "early 60s vibrato" that has "a watery flavor," Verlaine observed. "The guitar vibrato keeps the pulse of the song going rather than the cymbals." So we're hearing and seeing a river before the first line, where the singer reports that the night before he'd "drifted down to the docks."
The water, glittering and black
The snow fell lightly and disappeared
I felt the old ropes grow slack
He felt there at the river's edge that he might dissolve—that's the word he uses—and there's fear behind it; some of us don't want to lose our grip before we're prepared to. But "the beacon revolved" and he loses himself in the moment, allows himself (and I'm pretty certain that he's surprised here) to get carried away. The guitar vibrato's not the only watery language: the singer drifts and is carried away, he sinks into banks, he acknowledges that once he had a ship— 
Yes, I had a map
I had the wind
Like a tree has sap
—a charted course and a means to get there so native to him that it was in his marrow, yet in that moment the maps, like himself, dissolve, and as he sinks into those banks any fear of the unknown's replaced by wide-eyed wonder at the world, a world where "Everything was more / Than I took it for," the song's great discovery and probably also its origin point; Verlaine's gentle reckoning with the ecstasy of that moment by the docks, with the freeing, and alarming, "old ropes grow[ing] slack," is the reason the song exists. Like so many responses to a mystifying, renewing, unbidden moments—in his review of the album Christgau called them "visionary surprises"—"Carried Away" lets the wordless passages say what the lyrics can't, as the simple guitar/keyboards (there's also a cheery jangling piano) hover just above Richard Lloyd's complementary guitar and Fred Smith and Billy Ficca's rhythm bed, respectful on the banks, near to the singer's revelation but never intruding. 


Adventure was released in the Spring of 1978, two months before Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town, and perhaps its the chronological nearness that I can't shake but I hear "Carried Away" as Verlaine's attempt at a Bruce song, the closest he'll come to writing one, anyway. Maybe it's the Federici-like keyboards, the stately, mid-paced groove, the solemn, solitary persona and his epiphany along a river, the imagery of east coast docks. Had Springsteen written the song, he might've given the scene to one of his many invented characters, and likely would've steered clear of the literary abstractness in the middle passage's references to golden heads, arms full of lightning, and obscurely whispering lamps. Springsteen doesn't really do "detachment," yet I'd love to hear him tackle "Carried Away" one day, try on Verlaine's wry vulnerability, his urban skepticism, and see if it fits him.


Maybe you hear a different song, a darker one. I can see those currents carrying the singer away in much different and literal, perhaps deadlier, circumstances. And what about that shattering glass? Yet I can't help but imagine Verlaine singing "Carried Away" with a half-smile, a contented (even) look on his face. Up in the clouds, the song moved me immensely. Back on Earth, I listened again as I drove home from the airport; literally on the ground, closer to docks and rivers, my tires hugging the road, I felt the song's upward-drifting transcendences on fleeting currents no less keenly. For me, the poignancy arrives via Verlaine's naked singing, the poignant ways that he admits to all sorts of potentially life-altering moments in a voice that's both exposed and guarded, pulling back in contemplation even as it reaches for a glorious world, paradoxes that make the song's discoveries all the more urgent. Finally, "Carried Away" is a glad song, glad to have arrived, one of Verlaine's and Television's sublime recordings, a tender tale of an exalted moment. 

Photo of Television by Roberta Bayley / Redferns