Thursday, September 1, 2011

Six Song Six-Pack (Pt. 1) - When A Man Takes A Wife It's Like Going To Jail For Life

When I was growing up my nana had a saying, "take your time friend of mine" that I soon adopted and used as my own for years. It wasn't until I was nearly out of college that she told me the beginning of the saying - "when a man takes a wife, it's like going to jail for life, take your time, friend of mine." An interesting twist, but also one from a bygone era, one where divorce was rare and adolescence didn't stretch across one's twenties.

I tell this tale because this weekend I'm heading down to St. Louis for the wedding of one of my closest childhood friends. As I've been sweating over writing my toast, I've been listening to wedding songs to get me in the mood. Of course, not all of them are really the best way to prepare to celebrate love and I wanted to get them out of my system early. Today I'm sending you six songs guarenteed to sour you on marriage before giving you the good stuff tomorrow with six love songs so heart-melting they'll have you flying to Vegas for a quickie wedding with the next good-looking guy/girl who walks by. Enjoy!

1. Big Bopper's Wedding - The Big Bopper  Buy it.
Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. (aka "The Big Bopper") was a Texas DJ who also dabbled in songwriting and was good enough to score a hit with "Chantilly Lace." "The Big Bopper's Wedding" was a follow-up and doesn't stray far from his first single's formula of a repeated chorus with jokey sung-spoken verses. It even features his famous "hello baaaaby!" The basic premise of the song is pretty thin as the Bopper is standing at the alter of a shotgun wedding as the preacher asks him the big question. Thoughts of bacheloric debauchery fly through his head, giving him pause. When the exasperated priest finally asks him "Well, do you take this woman or don't ya?" he replies "Padner, I don't believe I do!" Left unanswered is how he convinces his fiance's gun-toting father to go along with that. Oh, this is it!

2. Advice From A Divorced Gentleman To His Bachelor Friend - Of Montreal  Buy it.
Before Kevin Barnes took his band Of Montreal into cross-dressing, alter-ego, synth dance territory, it was a happily twee Elephant 6 recording project that palyed about in the waters of mid-sixties nostalgia. 1999's The Gay Parade was perhaps the height of this trend combing whimsical art work and grand concept with surprisingly dark character sketches. "Advice From A Divorced Gentleman To His Bachelor Friend" is what would happen if you let Professor Henry Higgins write the words to a Zombies song. It's a warning against love and all its fripperies, as the advice giver tells his friend that "too much conversaion with a woman dulls a man's wit" and that "in the real world [love is] too easily unmade." It's a song that would depress you if you miss the impishness with which it's all put across.

3. Marry Me - St. Vincent  Buy it.
Oh Annie Clark, your siren song could steer many a man's ship into perilous rocks. Sadly, that's exactly what she seems to be doing on this title track from her first album. I have to admit that, given my own patronym, my heart melted a little bit upon first hearing her cooing request to "Marry me, John / I'd be so good to you." But this is just a setup for a sucker-punch as she tells you that "you won't realize I'm gone." It's a shell game as Clark wants a marriage with affection but without real love. She whispers how it will be more honest than most marriages and she'll still make you happy but you know it's too good to be true. By the time shes asks to "do what Mary and Joseph did / but without the kid" you know that if you say yes, you'll never be able get what you really want. And yet...

4. If You Wanna Be Happy - Jimmy Soul  Buy it.
"Say man!"
"I saw your wife the other day and she's uglllly!"
"She may be ugly but she sure can cook baby!"

Thus spake Jimmy Soul in his 1963 #1 hit, "If You Wanna Be Happy." Based on an calypso song "Ugly Woman" Soul amp'd up the energy and turned it in a floor-filler. The premise is simple: pretty woman, unhappy man, ugly woman, happy man. Soul reasons that "a pretty woman makes his husband the star / but very soon causes his downfall." The solution? "Make an ugly woman your wife / then you'll be happy for the rest of your life." This can easily be read as a pretty anti-feminist song, but even as a kid, I remember thinking "the joke's on this guy, he can't keep up with a woman he actually wants!" I always read it as a desperate attempt by the singer to convince himself that he's happy with settling for a someone who doesn't threaten him. That could be an overreach, but with a hook this good, you're gonna be dancing either way.

5. Divorce Song - Liz Phair  Buy it.
One thing that Liz Phair ISN'T trying to do is fool herself. Off her fantastic Exile In Guyville album, "Divorce Song" isn't an angry kiss-off to a husband but rather a kiss-off to the old version of who she though she was. Set at the end of a marriage, Phair is just coming to grips with what leaving her husband says about her and trying to process the new reality. When she sings that " it's harder to be friends than lovers / and you shouldn't try to mix the two" it's just a clever setup for the clincher, "cause if you do it and you're still unhappy / Then you know that the problem is you" that just breaks your heart. What's most remarkable about this song is her steely, clear-eyed take on letting a beautiful part of oneself die without bile. By the time Phair sings "But you've never been a waste of my time / it's never been a drag / so take a deep breath and count back from ten / and maybe you'll be alright" you just want to give her a hug.

6. There Will Be No Divorce - Mountain Goats  Buy it.
If there were ever an argument against marriage, it's John Darnielle's Alpha Couple. The Alpha Couple is two nameless people who love each other so much that they hate each other with every fiber of their being... yet they can't let go. They've popped up throughout the Mountain Goats' work, most notably the album Tallahassee, which has been the last that we've seen of them... so far. "There Will Be No Divorce" showcases the couple in their usual misery at being together, unable to sleep, unhappy, punching out the windows in the middle of a rainstorm. Nobody does romantic desperation as well as Darnielle and it's unclear from the song how the two deal with their desperation. I always assumed that it was about a joint suicide, going down together rather than facing their lives but each time I listen to it, I begin reading something new into it. I'll let you be the judge.

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