Thursday, September 16, 2004

Tuned V. 1, No. 1: "Big Day," Eno/Manzanera

found on Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head (1975)
Tuned In:
Really a simple pop song that was never popular, like most of the stuff I like. Verse-chorus-break-verse-chorus. But it really isn't simple, or it fakes its simplicity. That bass line brilliantly bops about, you might think, and sure enough if you check the album credits (you better be the sort of person who checks the credits if you're reading this) it's two different bassists (Bill MacCormick and John "Egads He's Responsible for Asia" Wetton). Those doubled basses are a hint everything is layered, including Manzanera's guitars, featuring a tiple, which is Andean, and therefore maybe Peruvian, which is where the song is set. ("In Peru we've lengthened the day...") It's one of those songs that skates out of your speakers, but I'll get to that when I tune out. It's also one of my favorite vocals, not so much for Eno's lead, but for his background choruses of "wee-bop-bop-bop" on the chorus, bright and bracing as your mouth biting into a Meyer lemon.

As for the lyrics, they want to have Peru both ways, offering Chamber of Commerce (assuming Peru has one) platitudes--"There are mountains piercing our skies / And the ocean's at our shores"--and some less flattering notions, too--"I will save up all of my wages / Even retail crummy cosmetics"--in an effort to escape. Is the singer of two minds? The delicious way he rolls the "r" in crummy makes the negative seem so playful. Or, given the bouncy tune, are we all of two minds? There's the official version that let's us live the lie; there's the place where "they can't pronounce my name here," which means they forgot the big Welcome mat outside the door to happiness. The song can be read both ways--people even do just that if you read the web writing on "Big Day"--and that just makes the song stronger. The sadness is undercut with joy, the joy undercut with life.

Tuned Out:
Songs, of course, are never just about the music and lyrics. They mesh with our lives, so I've never quite recovered from the notion that The Doors are horrible since every time I heard them something bad happened in my freshman year of college. (Post hoc, ergo Lizard King hoc, I know, I know.) But we all have such associations, and for me "Big Day" is a soundtrack for spring turning summer, the moment of the world's tumescence. It's the last tune to listen to before leaving the apartment to sell sodas at Spring Fair to raise money for the college literary magazine, and it was finally over 70 degrees in Baltimore and you could see coatless bodies and they'd be warm and needed Coke and words writ well.

Or several years later the tune of the night in Iowa when the yard came alive, as if all the worms simultaneously broke hibernation and turned the earth like a mighty spade. This really happened. Just once. But we didn't want to get too close to the groaning ground, both because it was kind of spooky and because we needed to give this oddness the space it deserved. Which is what a good song does, and Eno and Manzanera do. Oo-oo-Peru.
"Big Day" audio clip


Post a Comment

<< Home

eXTReMe Tracker