clap clap blog: we have moved
Thursday, September 23, 2004
BB #05: PAW PAW TREE
Intro, one, two, three, four.
Starts off very quiet, with some sparse, delayed scufflings, which then become tonal, sounding like a mid-octave synth-bass patch with a 100ms 75% feedback delay on it. After 30 seconds some higher-pitched synthesized warblings come in. Then 5 seconds later we get a bass line and a reverbed, distant snare on the 2/4, while the scufflings and warblings continue behind, with some guitar feedback added. Then at 1:10 the delay becomes a cyclical clicking and a sub-bass rumble as everything cuts out, and the full backing comes in as it decays.
The full backing consists of a bass playing the same line it did in the intro, a drum part that's the 2/4 snare with a kick added, an acoustic guitar, and Matt's signature wah-wah electric guitar noodlings. After 12 bars or so, the vocals come in with a line that was presaged by the lead guitar. Eleanor sings a stepwise melody that then shifts up a fourth when the chord does on the acoustic, as does the bass. The electric plays on behind this quieter, often out of time or tune or just making atonal noises. Then a little break with the guitar mixed louder, and back into a verse. Then a quick change into the chorus, with the only actual difference being the vocal melody. Here Eleanor sings a loping little line that starts a little late on the first chord and then breaks on the first beat of the second chord, and then resumes in a slightly different form for another line that breaks in the same place. It puts some air into the vocals, where there was already a lot of air, but it works really well to differentiate, and it's a great little melody. The lead guitar plays through the vacant chord.
For the third verse, a LFO'd organ following the chords, which continues into the chorus. After the second chorus. After the second chorus there's a solo, with the lead guitar pretty much playing the vocal line from the verse. It's harmonized below, I'm not sure whether simultaneously or not.
In the fourth verse, another electric guitar is added playing a rhythmic chord that doesn't seem to actually be particularly near the key of the song, and the wah'd guitar echoes this. They stop doing this for the final chorus, then resume in earnest for the outro. After the guitars handling it for four bars, they change key slightly and add a piano banging out a ringing chord on the one, along with a crash on the one, I think the first cymbal in the song. It increases in volume and intensity through the end of the song, totally against the mood and tonality of the rest of the backing, but then segues strongly into the first chord of "I Lost My Dog," which we'll get to later.
In chart form:
1:16-1:54 Verse 1
1:55-2:24 Verse 2
2:44-3:02 Verse 3
3:41-4:00 Verse 4
A pretty simple storyline here, at least self-contained, and kind of like a boy's adventure story mixed with a blues narrative, which form I think the lyrics definitely reflect, although it's unclear whether this was a conscious decision or just the usual Fiery Furances lyric-writing mode.
Eleanor's character was on a ship that was forced to stop in a tropical bay. She was taken to shore and sentenced to work in the silver mines, but she tries to escape by cutting her bonds with a pickaxe. When caught, she is sentenced to death, and is tied at the top of a tree to await her fate. Word is sent back to Spain, but the King there will not intercede and so, presumably, she is put to death, or they "make mango mush" out of her.
This song has grown on me a lot, and I really like it now--the melody is very pretty and the arrangement is sparse but effective. Lyrically, I like that there are a lot of places you can go with this, and a lot of questions left unanswered despite the straightforward premise--what exactly is her punishment? Why the King of Spain? And so forth.
I also like the inversion being practices on traditional adventure stories--normally the escape would be successful, or there would be another escape, but here, no escape at all, very bluesy. It mingles different traditions to interesting effect.
First, let's address the issue of setting. Everything in here, as I said, indicates a tropical setting: mangos, silver mines, a bay, etc. But what exactly is a paw paw tree? Well, it's actually a tree native to North America: "Our Pawpaw, which grows as far north as New York and southern Ontario, out west as far as Nebraska and Texas, and south to Florida, is known by several other names including the American Custard Apple, the West Virginia Banana, and the Indiana Banana."
However, the page also notes: "The name of this plant is sometimes spelled Papaw - and in that form is often confused with another fruit that sometimes goes by that name, the Papaya, Carica papaya. (The latter is in a totally different family than our Pawpaw, and can only grow in tropical areas.)"
So there's an interesting, and possibly useful, confusion here. I've already noted that there are links here both with North America and with more tropical areas, and I think in the end this confusion will be key to the particular way the timelines interact on Blueberry Boat, on the way present-tense is interrupted with backstory without any warning. There is a perfectly legitimate reason to place the papaw/papaya tree in the tropics, and to place the narrative there, too. But it can also take place in Michigan or Texas.
The song begins with the line "At last when the choice was neither nor," and so the song begins as a continuation of something. "At last." I think this song is the end of the story of Eleanor's character in "Quay Cur"--this is where she eventually ends up. Matthew's character goes to Ireland, but Eleanor's heads the opposite way from Eskimo-land, to the tropics, once again taking her chances with the shipping industry, but meets an unfortunate end. That part of the story we're left to figure out for ourselves.
Of course, going with the above, she could also just head south from Eskimo-land and also end up in paw paw tree-country. But we'll see.