Marc Bolan never did write a book about the adventures of Kingsley Mole and Lionel Lark. He became a famous rock star and lost interest in fairy tales and whimsical creatures. Or rather, fairy tales and whimsical creatures went out of fashion along with peace, love and idealism at the end of the 1960’s and Bolan was at the cutting edge of fashion. He was. This doesn’t sound like the composition of a man who was at the cutting edge of anything, but let me assure you that in 1969 all of the coolest people were reading The Wind in the Willows and trying to incorporate its rustic charms into their own writings. It wasn’t a more innocent time by any means, but there was a belief that the world could become more pure and loving, somehow, and reverting to childlike whimsy was part of that mindset. Then, of course, everyone gave up on that pipe-dream and starting doing a lot of cocaine and heroin instead. But it was a wonderful, charmed time while it lasted.
The Beatles recorded quite a few covers early in their career, and it always felt like it was a bit beneath them. Those guys could write mega-hits in their sleep, sometimes literally. The Beatles doing other people’s material is like Rene Redzepi busting open a box of Easy Mac. Even when the original writer is a luminary such as Chuck Berry. I’m in no way comparing the quality of Chuck Berry’s songwriting to a boxed macaroni product. If Chuck Berry’ music was a food item, it would be something deceptively simple and invigorating, like a perfectly grilled steak. However, master songwriters don’t need to lean on material that’s not exactly up to their own level of sophistication. The Beatles in 1966 were way past writing three chord rock songs about the joys of rocking, as was Chuck Berry himself. None of which really detracts much from the basic fun of a basic song about dancing, just as most us never stop enjoying Easy Mac.
Did you know that The Beatles were a rock band? They invented feedback! Actually, no. In fact, The Beatles weren’t really a rock band in the sense that The Rolling Stones were a rock band, which is to say that they weren’t a blues band. They took musical cues from a wide array of sources, but the blues wasn’t really one of them. So there aren’t actually all that many Beatles songs that, you know, rock, in the sense of rock being rhythm-driven blues-based music. This is one of those few, and it makes you wish there were more. If they had managed to tolerate one another for a few years longer than they did, maybe they would have leaned into it more heavily. That would have been a really interesting direction to go in, but alas.
A lot of things have changed since Elvis Presley’s day, but some things have not. This is one of my favorite Elvis songs because it illustrates just that. Obviously, it’s a song about outdated technology, but technology is just a vehicle for the same old human behavior, and human behavior doesn’t become outmoded at quite the same pace. People still write to one another, of course, although some scholars may argue that we’ve actually reverted back to hieroglyphic writing. How we write and how that writing finds its way to its intended reader has changed monumentally. In 1962 letters were still being delivered by specially trained dinosaurs, so that must have been really different for anyone trying to conduct a love life. But one thing you could count on, than as now; sooner or later somebody would to that thing to you that we call ‘ghosting’ and which your grandparents called ‘ignoring them until they go away’. There’s a lot of debate on whether or not this method of stomping out another person’s feelings towards you is more or less humane than just straight-up telling them you don’t like their face. But the sentiment remains the same, from pony express days to the heyday of the telegram to the information superhighway. And as Elvis clearly grasps here, if your letter comes back a third time, move the fuck on, buddy.
It’s been decades of change, and we can still relate to every word Aretha Franklin is saying. Except that bit about bringing your man all of your money, you know that Aretha Franklin is almost certainly not about to be bringing some man all of her money. Who does he think he is? But that line makes sense in context. What not everybody remembers is that Aretha’s anthem of feminine empowerment was actually written by Otis Redding about his own struggles. It was the 60’s, when a man’s ability to bring home the money defined his value as narrowly as the circumference of a woman’s waist defined hers. Touring musicians made very meager wages back then, especially black artists on the so-called ‘chitlin circuit’, and well-known artists with chart-topping records often still struggled to support their families. That was Redding’s concern. Aretha Franklin wasn’t much of a feminist standard-bearer in those days either; like many women of her generation, she started having children while still in her teens and suffered through a string of abusive husbands who attempted to control her career. All either Redding or Franklin were asking for was to just be one tiny little bit less downtrodden. That radical idea really caught on with a lot of people, making a huge hit and a cultural touchstone. Its mainstream popularity allowed Franklin to become the kind of artist who sets her own rules and doesn’t accept bullshit. And its simple message continues to resonate with women who only want one thing. Spell it with me…
Here is Donovan with an educational history lesson, which, if you don’t live in Texas, you may be needing. Living in Texas for nearly a decade, I really should know more about this Alamo thing that we have. Apparently it was a very epic historical event that Texans really have a hard-on about remembering. Something about taking Mexico away from the Mexicans so Texan-Americans can be free? Honestly, the more I live here the more I don’t give a shit. However, the Battle of the Alamo has retained a strong mystique in the public imagination. It has an undeniable storytelling appeal, and who doesn’t love a tale of desperate courage in the face of inevitable defeat? It’s inspired its better-than-fair share of songs, and books, and movies, and stage names, and dumb-looking hats etc. All of which vary wildly in their degree of truthiness. But history is not about what happened, it’s about teaching a good lesson, and telling a rip-roaring good story. So we keep telling the story about those brave good old boys defending their miserable garrison in the name of Freedom™ as an example of the good old American can-do spirit, even though the broader context may be a little bit hazy. Texas wasn’t even a member of the United States at the time, and lemme tell you, Texans are inordinately proud of their short-live little republic, even though or maybe because half of it was requisitioned from Mexico at the cost of great bloodletting. I’m frankly a little confused as to why Texians defending their right to be a sovereign republic that is not a part of the United States of America is such a beloved example of American patriotism, but the complexities of history bore me, and the concept of patriotism is a very difficult one for me to grasp, and it seems like all it comes down to is that the tale is a fun one to tell.
Let Pink Floyd set you up for an afternoon of childhood nostalgia. If your childhood nostalgia actually involves listening to Pink Floyd, all the better. Even if not, it’s the perfect mood piece for reminiscing, or daydreaming, or just dozing. It’s just great mood music. If you have drugs, good. If you have a mimosa, good. If you have a nice cup of tea, good. If you don’t have any of those things, maybe think about going back to bed.