This father-daughter duet was a smash hit and there’s absolutely nothing creepy about it. There’s nothing odd at all about 52-year-old Frank Sinatra singing a tender love song to his 27-year-old daughter Nancy. Never mind that the song was originally written by Carson Parks as a duet with his wife. Never mind that it very much appears to be about the concerns of a staid sugar daddy wondering how to woo a younger woman who gets around a bit. There is nothing in those sentiments that can’t easily be transposed to one of those horrifying father-daughter oath dances where little girls pledge their ‘virtue’ to their daddies. Apparently nobody had a problem with it in 1967, when fresh material from Frank Sinatra was hard to come by and Nancy Sinatra was hot. Anyway, there have been plenty of hit songs about astonishingly disturbing things, and this one is fairly low on the scale. There’s actually something campy and endearing in its weirdness, and it’s almost as if we’re the weird ones for expecting someone like Frank Sinatra to know about normal-person social boundaries.
This should lift your spirits. Donovan hasn’t been on-trend since his heyday, what with gloom and doom being the prevailing mood, but sometimes there’s a need for something cheerful. The optimism and playfulness of 60’s psychedelic folk music hasn’t been recreated. Artists like Donovan, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and early Pink Floyd leaned heavily on folklore, fantasy and children’s literature – things that are just too pure for our cynical world, I guess. It took a truly unique cultural moment to make those things edgy with the in-crowd. No wonder we still gaze back on the 1960’s with awed fascination; every decade since then has just been the same banquet of depravity, sex and anger. Anyway, I hope you’re feeling cheered up.
Jefferson Airplane is one of those groups whose best known songs have been abused into cliche by too many movies about the sixties. Want to signal that your character is really having the ultimate groovy 60’s experience? Throw in some Jefferson Airplane. Besides that, what even is their legacy? It seems that Grace Slick was thinking the same thing, as she tried to distance herself, in the 70’s and 80’s, from being emblematic of a particular two-year period in history, with mixed results. I, for one, don’t know much else of what Jefferson Airplane did outside of Surrealistic Pillow.
If you’ve never listened to Nancy Sinatra, your impression of her might be that of a very corny and square cabaret singer completely out of step with the psychedelic counterculture all around her. That’s based on her background, of course, and the way she wore her hair. It couldn’t be more wrong. Nancy Sinatra made some of the weirdest music of the sixties, and yeah, that’s saying a lot. In her series of duets with Lee Hazlewood, she managed to find an overlap between psychedelia, country music and Europop – three things that could not be more disparate or antagonistic towards each other, yet formed a bizarre love triangle on Nancy’s records. This is one of the best known of their collaborations. It plays like the fever dream brought on by a heavy dose of LSD and a Clint Eastwood matinee. Making it one of the most perfect curios of the psychedelic era, and surprisingly, one of the most enduring.
Just as there have been books written about Leonard Cohen’s best known song, there are movies being made about his best known love. Cohen had the archetypal artist-and-muse relationship with a real person named Marianne, a relationship we see as so anachronistic and exotic that we keep wanting to examine it and pick it apart, even though Marianne, unlike other famous modern-day muses, was a private citizen with no aspirations of being a celebrity in her own right. It’s a relationship dynamic we can’t quite wrap our heads around anymore, now that women are very rarely likely to settle for a life of making sandwiches in the warm glow of their partner’s genius. We even ask if it’s somehow unethical for an artist to leech inspiration not only from his own life but from the life of his partner. But we still find it romantic, because poetry. Who doesn’t want to be remembered forever in the flattering glow of love? That feeling when you’re in love that everything is more special, more beautiful and imbued with deeper meaning? It’s a feeling most of us can’t articulate, and may not even be able to hold on to in our memory. But poetry keeps that glow burning forever, and it serves as a proxy for people who don’t have the ability to set their feelings down in words and images.We may be uncomfortable, now, with the implications of articulating love and desire too well. It makes us think about objectification, possession, jealousy, control, all the things that can turn beautiful experiences into ugly ones. To be in love is to be subsumed, on some level, by another person’s view of ourselves, and it’s terrifying, especially now that the social rules of courtship have changed and we’re all fighting so hard to nail down the boundaries of our identities. How do you allow yourself to be another person’s object of love and desire, and yet still remain yourself? Well, don’t fall in love with an artist, I guess. Fall in love with someone who will take their vision of you to their grave with them. I guess that love songs and art will always be a little bit unethical, because they drag the most private feelings out into the open, and the artist opens themselves up because that’s what the artist does, but the muse is opened up, with or without consent, and on the artist’s terms. And the reward is to be loved by the world, not as you were, but as your loved one saw you.
The estate of the late Harry Nilsson must be making friends and cashing checks after Harry was so prominently featured in every single episode of Russian Doll. I am ten thousand percent on board with anything than puts the music of Harry Nilsson before a broader audience, and this was some major exposure. (Also, it was a great show, you should watch it.) Nilsson did have a number one hit single at one time, but it was so long ago, most people have forgotten, since he never made much of an effort to follow up on it. Nilsson had the voice of an angel, and the career instincts of your deadbeat cousin Gary. He threw away multiple chances at major pop stardom in favor of keeping his day job at the bank, drinking too much, and recording jazz covers, in no particular order. Just when it seemed like he would drink himself into a premature grave, he found a nice lady, retired from the music industry, raised his kids and became involved in gun-control activism. Of course, he also died relatively young anyway, but at least it was in the midst of an otherwise healthy and happy normal-person life. Nilsson did not follow the expected rock star script; he made unexpected and sometimes self-sabotaging decisions, but I’d like to think that following his muse rather than pursuing generic career goals made for a more interesting body of work, in the end. If anyone deserves posthumous accolades by the bucket, it’s Nilsson.
Donovan always takes me back to a childlike place. That sense of innocence and wonderment was of course the intention; Donovan recorded a double album with one side for adults and one side for children, though both sides sound the same. And, when one and everyone around one are zoinked to high heaven on LSD and Mary Jane, the world seems full of magic and the mind reverts to younger days. While I, as an actual child, did respond to all of those effects and decided that all of Donovan’s music was very much for children. (The sexual references went over my head.) So with all that said, this is a trip down memory lane for me.