Written By Phillip Mottaz
Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry," The Groovie Ghoulies' "I'm Doin' Fine," and The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Bold As Love."
It's getting warm here in Southern California. A stint of chilly Spring is giving way to Perpetual Summer, and everyone's very excited. I'm often reminded of that Baz Luhrmann "song" "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", where they advise the class of 1999 to live on the East Coast, but move before it makes you hard, and to live on the West Coast, but move before it makes you soft. Too late. I'm soft as a pillow made of kitty dreams and Muppet babies. A few weeks of temperatures in the 60s and I am ready to freak out. Why are we even bothering to kill the ozone layer if we can't manage some decent weather around Hollywood?
As our weather perfects itself, cool breezes have become more common on my neighborhood walks, and those breezes deserve a soundtrack. And for whatever reason -- but mostly desperation for a song on which to fixate -- that soundtrack has come via Rufus Wainwright's track 1, side 1 of his album #1, "Foolish Love". I have no precedent in my catalog for this CD. I remember buying it after I saw a "CBS Sunday Morning" story on Wainwright and dug his style. But I'm not a retro-sound guy, really. Make no mistake: I love nostalgia, and dinosaur rock, and all that sort of thing. But I have no patience for (most) music made of this era, but sounds like a past era. The whole Big Band craze fits in this category. Yeah, Brian Setzer had an energized Orchestra; but I can't music giving me a history lesson. Even though it may cost me my membership card to the indie world and dark-rimmed glasses club, I have similar problems enjoying the Decemberists, and you may send me as many nasty comments about the feces in my ears as you like. Some music feels natural and others feel completely cerebral; it just so happens that I respond best to the natural type, and I get that vibe from Wainwright's music. Listening to "Foolish Love" -- an immaculate recording of brittle production and sassy performing -- nothing could feel more matter-of-fact.
For all his Tin-Pan Alley longings (am I even using this reference right?), something about Wainwright's style sits well with me. It soothes, calms and engages me. His vocal style come so close to being horrible that it's great, and there's nothing more rock 'n' roll than that. Isn't the search for that blurry line separating greatness and terrible disaster the essence of every artistic endeavor? If music expresses what words fail to articulate, and if that same blurry line does exist somewhere but we just can't quantify it, then it is only discovered by the actual creation of art. Whatever the case, Wainwright's singing rests just this side of awful and annoying, and the effect is invitation. Harry Caray used to say that the charm of having a bozo like him sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" was it got everyone in the stadium to think, "Well, if he can do it..." and then join in. Same thing here. We've all got a moaning whine living in our nose. Have had it since age three. "Foolish Love" provides an adult theme for that childish whine, and even though the topic might not be so appealing (mourning a failed love affair), the style of the song is immensely invitational.
Almost all of the lyrics are memorable and perfectly hung on or around the song. Almost. It's just me; I never seem to get lyrics right. If I really work at it, sometimes I manage to scrape out a bit of accuracy, but I'm usually too lazy to care. If I don't like a song, no amount of lyrics are going to help. What's even more embarrassing is when I love a song, sing along with it for years, and still don't get the lyrics right. I have made up my own, and often times when I learn they're wrong, my Lyrics still resonate better with me. This says a lot about my ego. The fact that I misheard "Why can't you last?" in "Foolish Love" as "Why can't you laugh?" says even more about my personality. I always got that this was a mellow and melancholy song, so I must have equated a lack of laughter with the kind of misery being portrayed. I've been humming that bit incorrectly for ten years, and it's only this week -- after subjecting myself to a strict listening regimen -- that I finally heard the "-st" at the end instead of a "--ff."
I've mentioned before that a sad song can make me feel great, and that's the case again with "Foolish Love." I think this has more to do with my relationship and reactions to beauty in any form rather than the content of that beauty. "Foolish" is a song about denial and putting on false smiles and pretending not to care when really you cannot let go of the thing you should let go... and it makes me feel great. This great feeling, my friends, comes from songwriting. Simple, clear, precise songwriting. A perfect example can be found in the two notes -- TWO NOTES -- played before the "peppier" middle section (the "denial movement"). True, they're mostly there for a transition between keys in the song, but they act a greater purpose in being a low note followed by a high note. I'm sure there's endless papers and essays from top scientists I could find and quote, and make tons of links to their experiments and historical data that prove that a low note followed by a high note translates in our basic human souls as "up beat," but I'm not going to. And not just because of my firm embrace of Fox News style journalism, and not just because I'm lazy (mostly though); it's because it's clear as day if you just listen to it. There it is.
By the way, just a live version today. A great one, but the studio cut is gorgeous.