Monday, May 1, 2006

I've Been Down So Long (It Looks Like Up to Me)

While stumbling around on iTunes some time back, I found a song called “Some Velvet Morning,” the meaning of which escapes me but the tune of which can take hold in my head for days at a time. It climbed up my most-played list until it reached the very top, where it’s hovered ever since. “Some Velvet Morning” was initially sung by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood back in the 70s. Several different artists have covered it — like Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave or Evan Dando and Sabrina Brooke — but I somehow doubt anyone reading this now would recognize any of the versions of it. Too bad, really: The original is especially good in that neither Sinatra nor Hazlewood has what you’d consider a traditionally good singing voice, so they kind of song-speak their way through the song. It’s odd, but it works.

I’d bet Hazlewood had a hand in writing a lot of the songs he sang with Sinatra. Each has a something quirky about it, like “Big Red Balloon,” which involves a man escaping from his shrewish wife with the titular floatation device, or “Down From Dover,” which explains childbirth with the lyrics “At any time a tiny face will show / The wait is almost over.” (Shudder.) Nothing too weird, though, just a little off.

I make this claim about Hazelwood authorship because Spencer and I recently stumbled across the man’s personal webpage, on which he discusses much of his life. Most prominent among featured bits: an excerpt from his autobiography, The Pope’s Daughter, in which he talks about his relationship with Nancy Sinatra, the child of one of the most powerful figures in the recording industry. I’m almost keen to read the book, based on this passage alone.
What’s it like to work with a Nancy Sinatra? They ask it, and ask it, and when you have answered, they ask it again. And the ‘ahs’ and ‘ers’ come pouring from your mouth like so many miles of frozen string melting from each desperate tug of a left hand filled with warm adjectives. And because you will not free your sinful right hand (so happily engaged in mental masturbation), and swim for shore, you drown in a sea of sometimes kind, seldom clever, never interesting and mostly biased anecdotes.

So perhaps in our little story it is best we stay with feelings, failings and fantasies, shying away from graffitied walls of truth where someone has bothered to engrave it all, just as it happened, but didn’t!

What’s it like to work with a Nancy Sinatra? It’s a visit to Disneyland, only your father owns all the rides. It’s an evening in the medicine cabinet of Edgar Allen Poe’s mother. It’s a trip on Superman’s cape and you are too frightened to look down for fear you’ll discover your real identity. It’s a Sousa march and the phallic cymbals are playing melody. It’s a plastic palace where all that glitters is gold. It’s a Las Vegas stage, sitting on a two-dollar stool in front of a fifty-two-piece orchestra, next to a lady in a five thousand-dollar gown; you’re singing a little flat and wondering if the fly is open on your eight-dollar ‘jeans’. It’s Beauty and the Beast selling a ‘fix’ to the Mickey Mouse People. It’s frustrating, foolish, Falstaffian, freaky, fucked-up and fun.
Easily the best writing I’ve seen in a celebrity autobiography, and you’re hearing it from a guy who spent twenty minutes reading Adrienne Barbeau’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do.

1 comment:

  1. Huh. I have that song (Sinatra version) on my computer, but I don't think I've listened to it for a while. GOing to have to find it.

    Do you have any idea if the song has been used recently in any soundtracks?