Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Well, There Were Moments When

When people think about The Shangri-Las, the 60s girl group, they probably think of pastel confections such as “The Leader of the Pack,” with its corny motorcycle sound effects, or even odes to teenage melodrama such as “Give Us Your Blessings,” in which tragedy climaxes with the simultaneous deaths of the protagonists. But some unfortunate souls may not know that this group performed some cool, progressive work during its run, and one of the standouts is “Past / Present / Future,” a spoken word piece paired with “Moonlight Sonata.” The Shangri-Las released “Past / Present / Future” in 1966, which Mad Men taught us was the same year that The Beatles released Revolver, so you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that other groups began venturing into experimental territory, but the girls in The Shangri-Las were still teens in 1966, so their plunge into the bizarre maybe seems a little more daring.

Here’s the track. You might at first think it’s hokey, but give a listen all the way through. You may end up somewhere darker than where you began.

Keeping in mind that the girls were all still in their teens when the song came out, it’s discomforting how the song allows you to project all manner of horrendous situations onto the narrator. She’s talking about something bad, yes, but she offers no details, so her trauma can be however awful your imagination wants to make it.

So there’s that. But there is also a second reason I love this song: It’s kind of hilarious if you imagine it being just one side of a conversation of some poor guy’s date with a batshit crazy woman. I’ve thought this for years, to the point that when “Past / Present / Future” starts playing on my iPod — and yes, I have this song on my iPod — I can actually time it about right where I play the part of the guy on the date and squeeze my lines in between the ones in the actual song.

And here is what that sounds like, more or less. (Shangi-Las on the left, me on the right.)

[Past. Past.] Well, now let me tell you about the past.

Oh, great. I actually didn’t know that much about —

The past is filled with silent joys and broken toys, laughing girls and teasing boys.

That’s, um, expressive.

Was I ever in love? I called it love. I mean, it felt like love.

I actually hadn’t asked that.

There were moments when. Well… There were moments when.

Is there someone I should be calling?


Do you also hear people speaking in unison?

Go out with you? Why not?

What? We’ve been at the restaurant for, like, twenty minutes.

Do I like to dance? Of course.

I definitely did not bring up dancing.

Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to.

We’re in Ohio. Do you know we’re in Ohio right now?

But don't try to touch me. Dont try to touch me.

Waiter! Check please!

Because that will never happen again.

Believe me — we’re good.

Shall we dance?

I don’t think I — oh, okay, you’re kind of going on of your own there, twirling.

[Future] Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow’s a long way off.

I actually cannot wait for tomorrow.

Maybe someday I'll have somebodys hand.

Like, you’re going to cut off someone’s hand?

Maybe somewhere someone will understand.

Like, a doctor?

You know I used to sing, “A tisket, a tasket, a green-and-yellow basket.”

Hey. Hey! Waiter!

Im all packed up and I'm on my way and Im gonna fall in love.

That’s why you brought a suitcase, I guess.

But at the moment it doesnt look good.

Wow. No, it does not.

At the moment it will never happen again. I dont think it will ever happen again.

[Lights dim but do no go completely dark. The actors remain frozen on stage. 
Eventually, the audience decides for themselves that it’s time to go.]

And that, my friends, is everything I have to say about The Shangri-Las’ “Past / Present / Future.”

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