Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Three Button Hand Me Down" - The Faces

I've reached that point in my life. It's not a strictly "good" or "bad" thing, but it's definitely happening. You don't imagine that it's gonna happen to people your age, at least not in large numbers, and yet all of a sudden, there it is, happening all around you. I'm referring of course, to the time in your life when all your friends start getting married. Besides being besieged with nuptial news via social network, I've already seen two high school friends tie the knot and am a week away from seeing a couple of friends from college do the same.

At times like this, it's hard not think about the important things in life, like clothing. If you're a man who shares my mindset then you know that weddings are nothing more than crude negotiations between hosts and guests that go as follows, "OK, you dress up for three hours and tell my wife how beautiful she looks and I'll provide bottomless booze and restaurant-quality food to soak it up." As someone whose long abhorred the discomfort and ridiculous airs that are involved in putting on pinstriped wool and a dangling triangle of silk to go to a suburban hotel ballroom, I have to say that I've actually been coming around the the joys of a well-tailored suit for such occasions.

The Faces - We'll Meet Again by Ron Wood
Enter, the Faces. Born in the aftermath of Steve Marriot's departure from the popular (in England) late 60's hitmakers, the Small Faces, the band dropped the "small" and imported Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, creating another classic rock lineup in the process. The Faces' 1970 debut album First Step still bore the "small" prefix on the cover but in all fairness, I'm guessing that the band was too drunk to notice. The Faces were a notoriously volatile and inebriated live act who flourished on grit, stolen soul affectations and a knack for American blue-inflected rock singles of the highest quality.

Closing that first album was Rod Stewart's immortal salute to a used suit that always lights up my face as I'm tying my tie, "Three Button Hand Me Down". Starting with a sly bassline steeped in blue-eyed funk, the song immediately catches the ear and announces its Stones-y ambitions in no uncertain terms. After twenty-five seconds of low-end noodling, the song finally sputters into gear as the band springs to life with both acoustic and electric guitar followed shortly by a glorious Al Kooper-like organ swell. As the song lumbers forward you can't help but start nodding along maybe even moving your body a little bit too.

Lyrically, "Hand Me Down" is perfect FM radio rock fodder. Rod Stewart adopts a southern (American) swagger and twang and sings about his poor childhood in Oklahoma during which his father left him with just a set of clothes and some seemingly mystical advice. He said that "others may come and others may go but that suit will be around wherever you're goin'", something the narrator takes to heart. On his road of life he meets all sorts of American women ("a filly from Boston, a barmaid from Huston, not forgetting the one in Detroit") who all beg him to abandon his square duds but, in true rock fashion, he defies them all, sticking with his patrimonial suit. Stewart dredges all the blue-collar cred he can muster as holds on to the suit through the years and styles, tailors be damned.

What draws me to this song isn't necessarily the message or the tune but the pure rock attitude that the Faces imbue it with. Miller High Life commercials alone prove the durability and attractiveness of the myth of the American male who rejects putting on airs, lives simply, works hard and follows his own, innately wise inner voice. It is this this glorious ideal that the Faces pay homage to. The playing may be loose and sloppy, with beer spilling on the fretboards, the singer may be a pompous feather-haired pretty boy whose giggling through his lines (the band certainly wasn't adhering to such staid notions of masculine fashion at the time), but the appeal of the story is clear as day. In fact, it's ridiculous spend six minutes singing about a grey flannel suit and the everyone knows it, but it's just that over-the-top commitment to the bit that makes you feel a need to join in a with a intentionally cracking Rod Stewart impersonation every time he hits the chorus.

Writing about Wild Flag yesterday made me take a half-step back and remind myself what made me fall in love with rock n' roll in the first place. I love that rock can be serious, political, arty, challenging, weird, dissonant, subdued, sensitive or almost anything else you need it to be, that's not what drew me in. What made me love rock (and thus, music) was that it was loud, catchy and FUN! If "Three Button Hand Me Down" isn't all those things in all the right ways then I don't know what is.

Three Button Hand Me Down - The Faces  Buy First Step and Good Boys When They're Asleep.

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