The Dangerous Little Demon
There's the day of your birth and then there are the days you are born, and there can be lots of those and I don't mean born again. I mean something wakes up inside you; there's a recognition; there's a flicker of "that's who I am." (One of the things I am, for instance, is someone who gets off on working two semi-colons into one sentence. I didn't say I was a good "am," after all.)
Listening of late to the re-issued (thanks Yep Roc) version of Nick Lowe's 1977 classic Jesus of Cool, I'm pretty sure the first time I heard "Marie Provost" had to be such a moment. [For info about the real Marie Prevost go here or gaze at her, at left, stockings saucily slung at different heights; and no, it wasn't the talkies that did her in, no Lina Lamont, she.] No doubt when that chorus couplet clicked in my head for the first time--"She was the winner/that became the doggie's dinner"--my sense of humor let out a satisfied little yelp not unlike a dachshund tossed a treat. Laughter can be such an uncomfortable thing, and that's what Lowe serves up here, the exact rhymes locking shut like truth. He even sweetens it, what with his and Dave Edmunds' backing "oooooooh-aah--aah-aahs" sounding mighty celestial in the background. But the heavenly is often that unnatural, and far away. Instead we're left with the handiwork of Marie's little dachshund, that hungry dachshund.
So it's a pop song with a killer hook. If you know what I mean. Life's sort of like that--Lowe's one "hit" is "Cruel to Be Kind," after all--and knowing you can make some art about it surely made me happy at 17 or whenever I heard it first, and not when it quite came out, as I wasn't Jesus of Cool myself, I was a suburban kid who didn't know shit but began to know it when he smelled it. Anyways, I had (still have) the U.S. version of the LP, which was called Pure Pop for Now People and different songs and a different order and I had a sense they were dumbing things down for us Yanks, but I figured the Brits probably knew better about us.
It's a lot of weight for 3 minutes of pop, bringing dark humor to a teen from across the seas. But it's just what "Marie Provost" did, and more than that. Maybe a sense of empathy, of age providing insight--after all Lowe sings "she never meant that much to me, but now I see, poor Marie." Of course, the most sympathetic figure in the song might be the dog, for what could he have been thinking? The Wikipedia page about the real Marie suggests "Maxie, had nipped at her legs in an attempt to wake her up" and if Wikipedia wants to live in that sweet world, who am I to judge. But it's a dog eat star world.
And then there's the easy to mis-hear lines at the very beginning, "Marie Provost did not look her best/ The day the cops bust into her lonely nest" that I like to sing loneliness (of course you sing along with Nick Lowe, that's a good half of what he's for). If only the cops busted into her loneliness sooner. But is that a job for the cops, anyway? The Lonely Police? Methinks such a force could hardly be benevolent.
[here's an audio only on YouTube of the song, if you don't know it]