“Rings of Gold” (Dottie West and Don Gibson)

The band of gold is a promise of fidelity—it signifies “forever,” or for at least as long as the golden ring remains. Gold is an image of permanence, but, after betrayal, neither party to the marriage can see anything but “rust” in place of jewelry and the “plans we’ve made just yesterday, sands of time have chipped away.” Like mighty Ozymandias, “now they’ve crumbed into dust.” So, “knowing there’s no hope for us,” what do we do from here? Well, Dottie and Don are still in harmony, and they sound as though torn between mourning and toe-tapping. Colin Escott calls this trax “playful,” and that’s definitely the dominant mood. There are three electric guitarists (including Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed) having a ball here, and Grady Martin’s solo is a model of mockery, laughing at the lover’s predicament and imitating their lament. The doctrine “nothing lasts forever,” therefore, may kill the metaphysics of romance, but the party is just beginning.

 

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“Rocket” (Smashing Pumpkins)

Limitlessness denied. Similar to ideas from both Nikolas Rose and Jean-Luc Nancy, freedom, which comes with the free disposal of rights, is presupposed by both a State and psy- discipline; the result for singer: he “couldn’t stay free.” The human body becomes a projectile, hurling into celestial emptiness (instead of into another) to be rid of “those voices in my head.” Ingesting love and consuming hate becomes the necessary fuel to attain escape velocity. The catch: “no more lies” assumes that once future being emerges, the true, sovereign subject will materialize. The irony not fully realized—here or there.

 

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“Wealth” (Talk Talk)

Mark Hollis, in full organ hymn mode, seeks the “wealth” that is a “sacred love,” and asks the gods or the fates to “take my freedom” in exchange. It is certainly true that the freedom-of-being cannot be squared with accumulation of any sort (its register is loss unremitting, and  not gain).

But to therefore seek freedom-from-being, and in the name of some half-baked romance. . . . Well, such talk is cheap.

 

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“Take Me to Church” (Hozier)

A lot is made of the fact that Hozier’s lyric cites Christopher Hitchens citing Fulke Greville’s “Chorus Sacerdotum” from 1554 regarding the Christian predicament: “Created sick— Commanded to be well.” In this way, it’s been possible to understand singer Andrew Hozier Byrne as a Hitchens’-style fellow traveler: an anti-Christian secularist and atheist. But the purpose of Hitchens’ appropriation of Greville (in Letters to a Young Contrarian [2001]) was to highlight the problem of Christian sacrifice and salvation: “I didn’t ask for it, and would willingly have foregone it, but there it is: I’m claimed and saved whether I wish it or not.” Hitchens calls this structure of sacrifice “totalitarian” and “worse than a Big Brother state.” Hozier Byrne, however, actually doubts the doubter. Rather than announcing the end of sacrifice, he both transports it back in time, and makes it personal in present-tense scenarios of affection: “If I’m a pagan of the good times, my lover’s the sunlight. To keep the Goddess on my side she demands a sacrifice.” In a way, then, “Take Me to Church” doesn’t believe that we are done with sacrifice, and doesn’t accept that it can be finished by fiat. If even love has a sacrificial structure it is likely that we remain firmly embedded.

 

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“Rita Juanita” (Wayne Newman and the Torques)

It’s not clear how he got into this predicament, but it’s 1960 and this Louisiana singer is courting identical sisters of color, Rita and Juanita. “My head it spins because they are twins.” He loves them both, and they each love him. In order to avoid misidentifying them (and especially on the telephone), he calls them corporately, “Rita-Juanita.” Well, that solves one problem. But the singer eventually figures that a decision must be made. The girls, however, won’t accept such a choice: “You can’t love one and still be true.” Endlessly and ultimately aporetic, the trax exits by reiterating the impossible choice: “Which one shall I lose? Which one shall I choose?” This trax is in mono, but that doesn’t prevent us from recognizing its potential implication in “stereoscopic viewing,” a key invention of the nineteenth century. It’s as if the singer has taken two slightly separate images of the same person (the two related echoes in the trax), and is desperately trying to fuse them. But he cannot find his stereo Viewfinder and is thus doubled over in the agony of indecision. Relatedly, Samuel Delaney once informed a member of the Traxionary staff that both the stereoscope’s name and dream connect it to another crucial nineteenth-century invention, the “stereotype,” which was often made of papier-mâché, and allowed for the three-dimensional metal molding of printing plates. “Stereotyping” was thus originally deemed as substantially improving and correcting one’s representation or copy of reality. So back to the trax: it is possible to see that the singer is psychologically blocked precisely at the moment when he has to choose a woman of color as his main squeeze? Has he stereoscoped—and thus stereotyped—his girl, all in the name of a certain and definitive rendering? As for his motivation, surely he’s considering whether he can bring either of these girls home to meet Mom and Dad. (And remember the alternative, which is to skirt bigamy: one “Juanita” is diversity, two constitutes a girl gang.)

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“Strawberry Letter 23” (Shuggie Otis)

One would probably want to worry about the numbering and disregard the LSD theories about the song for the moment. What makes #23 special? Nothing in particular, it seems. Letters are co-authored (anticipating another), and their meaning(s) resonate in unintended ways. All of this makes imagination (the sense of traveling toward an other) both impelling and dispersed. But: this experience comes from #22. So, #23, like the repeated descending arpeggio (with initial pull-off), is a missive about trax as ground(s) for flight. Only “sit[ting] in[side]” for a few moments, at ease: freedom as disposition (and to be spent).

 

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“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” (Jeff Buckley)

The funereal as first condition of love, albeit of the “too young to hold on” variety. Inside-out strategy documents this suffering, from the initial sharing of mortality to the infinite indebtedness and sacrifice necessary for pleasure. Huddled and awaiting the invited intrusion which would reinitiate this fateful exchange, singer must confess, accept responsibility, and hurl imperatives functioning as (desperate) invitations. (Reminiscent, really, of Bill Clinton’s putative Putting People First (1992): social support, for too long, has been a “way of life,” but it should really be a “second chance” so that we can “reward work” and “demand responsibility” in the name of reworking desire.) Occasional (and stunted) Leslie speaker intrusions imply a slowed doppler effect: exchange is in the passing.

 

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“Sukiyaki” (Kyu Sakamoto)

Originally entitled “I Look Up When I Walk,” singer answers loneliness by preventing the spilling of tears. Walking (in winter) “beyond” the clouds and sky and avoiding the “shadow” of night, the problem of feeling “alone” is that it must have its origins in the familial/familiar; by having the eyes serve as bowls, truly, the prismatic effect of looking through tears possibly allows access to “happiness,” but this can only come about through willful delusion. As the biggest hit by a Japanese act in America (number one in between Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” and The Essex’s “Easier Said than Done”), this is the sweet stew(ing) produced by the tether of (ascetic) love.

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“I Cover the Waterfront” (Connee Boswell)

Max Miller’s wonderful insider memoir of San Diego newspaper reporting is turned to song in 1933, but utterly repurposed. At first, it seems a conventional love trax: waiting at the docks for the beloved to sail into port. But something isn’t right: why doesn’t he write, and let her know which boat he’ll be on, and what day and time? Why the need to watch the whole of the sea and its shore continuously? There’s a certain misanthropy at work here (“away from the city that hurts and mocks”) as well as a lurking, water elementalism. Indeed, we’re in close temporal promixity to H. P. Lovecraft’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth,” written in 1931: “Some frightful influence, I felt, was seeking gradually to drag me out of the sane world of wholesome life into unnamable abysses of blackness and alienage” among “great watery spaces.” “I’m covered by a starless sky above,” the singer laments, and “I see the horizon, the great unknown.” The last chorus is sung the most forcefully, however, as she begins to assert her rightful place at the edge of posthumanist cosmology.

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