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Sunday, November 21, 2004
BB #09: SPAINOLATED
Intro, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Last "programmatic" song on the album. Whee! Look for wrap-ups soon.
Probably won't be doing "1917" anytime soon for the same reasons I'm not doing "Mason City," as described in the previous entry. Would definitely like to do "Birdie Brain" and "Turning Round" sooner rather than later. Taking a hesitant peek at "1917," I'm struck by the degree to which sections of this album are avant-garde noise music with pretty melodies over top. Awesome. I still don't know what the fuck is going on, though.
First of all I have to bring up the fact that the live version of this song is, if not better, at least more immediately appealing, and I doubt I would have focused on it to the degree I have without the MP3 Matthew posted a while back of this played live in between "I Broke My Mind" and "Single Again." It's worth a listen, and while it does greatly streamline the structure, there are certainly things to be gleamed from the album version as well, so let's set in on that.
The song begins with what might as well have been a negative-timing countin (you know, how on the CD it'll go TRACK 3 TIME -0:15 and so forth) as it has zero do do with the rest of the song. Two lo-fi/kiddy keyboard parts, the first one midrange and the second one bassy and oddly nautical--I swear--alternate bars, playing scalewise. There's phased static in the background and there's a piano chord on the 4 of every 2nd bar.
Then we have what I'm calling the "verse intro" and it's fairly lengthy, at least for this song, which is only 3:21 total. The arrangement is a open-tuned acoustic guitar played with a slide doing the chords, an electic guitar wah'ed fairly rhythmically, alternating notes, playing a stepwise descending figure over the chords, a high-pitched synth playing whole notes mirroring the root note of the electic's figure, gutbox percussion, and electric bass. After a while, the electric/synth settle into playing the verse melody kind of lazily, and a piano plinks along in. The chords for the verse are F#-F#-B-F#. It's maybe interesting to note that there's a minute-long instrumental intro here for a 3-and-a-half minute song.
Everything cuts out and it's just piano and vocals for the first verse. Afterwards the bass and drums and a weird squeaky noise come in for the chorus. The chords for the chorus are D#m-C#-B-C#. Then the second verse is as the first verse except with a hand-muted crash on the 1 and 3. Following this there's a little Rhodes break/solo thing. Then there's another verse intro, played by slide electric guitar (not in open tuning, I don't think, just sliding along the top 3 strings) and piano. When the vocals come in an acoustic comes in too. No processing on any of this except a light reverb on the vocals and amp reverb on the electric. Then there's a tempo shift downward to a sort of head-banging clod as full drums come in along with a Rhodes solo and a synth line and a wah'ed wash of white/pink noise. The vocals go on a bit, and then we end with just a delayed plop, a bassy synth line, and a melodica. The whole thing ends on like a ii-2 chord, I feel like, although I'm too lazy to check.
In chart form, with transitions noted:
Regular tempo begins.
0:13-0:58 Verse intro
0:59-1:11 Verse 1
1:12-1:28 Chorus 1
1:29-1:40 Verse 2
1:41-1:55 Break 1
1:56-2:23 Verse 3
3:02-3:21 Melodica outro
This feels like an Eleanor song more than anything else on the album except maybe for "Dog." It's short, focued on international impressions rather than imaginings, and even the imaginings seem more personal than character-based. (Not to favor one or the other, but still.) Starting from details that specific but much more recent than in, say, "Chris Michaels" or the previous track, when it descends into a daydream (presumably) it feels much more mature, somehow, than the ones in "Blancheflower." Plus, it's arguably real, more along the lines of the India section in "Chris Michaels," a melding of fantasy and fact. Let's take it literally to begin with.
Eleanor is in Spain but broke, presumably due to the fact that she's an American fresh out of high school and can't get a work permit. And so, she is serving as a subject for medical experiments, but is homesick, and so goes to TCBY (aka "This Can't Be Yogurt!!") to get that lovely franchise connection back to the states. Apparently she's there somewhat late, because she feels like she should be afraid, but she's not, or at least pretends not to be. One night she is walking home by the water because it's so nice out, but is lured over by an old man who throws her into a bag and imprisons her in his old ship, where she is forced into religious gestures and anti-growth pills. She does have a guitar, however, and when she's not helping to row the boat, she is doing sad reinterpretations of songs from "My Fair Lady."
Now of course the latter part of this doesn't really make much sense, but the key to it is the line near the end: "I wish I wish I was back in Chicago." Now, those two "I wish"es may only be there for rhythmic convenience, but they're just great, and plus this is the second line of the couplet directly following the little Rhodes break, setting it apart pretty deliberately, I think. Basically, she's homesick there in Spain and only 18 years old, but she's intelligent enough to know that her depression isn't really justified. And so she makes up this elaborate metaphorical scenario to sort of legitimate the feeling: trapped in an old rusty ship (the country/city), forced into religious display (Spain is a more publicly religious place than Chicago, or at least suburban Chicago), stunted in growth because she's regarded as immature, even though she is, and the only saving grace is her portable guitar, which was small enough to bring over on her flight. I think the sad-sack line that closes the song--"The pain, the pain, in Spain, falls mainly on me"--is a lovely little wink, a sort of exaggerated, back-of-hand-to-the-forehead-eyes-rolled-"oh-woe-is-me" gesture that acknowledges the fact that she is actually pretty lucky to be just hangin' out in Spain (in Barcelona maybe?), so she shouldn't complain, but still, she's not happy. The guitar helps, though.
Eleanor's character here is basically the same one in "Chris Michaels." She's decamped internationally after the hubub in the US, and Spain is just one of her stops. However, it's her final and most significant one, as it turns out. You can make a case in this particular area for the kidnapping being metaphorical or literal, but regardless, the "pain in Spain" is real here, the result of an old curse, and the particular details and scope of the kidnapping story are ancestral memory. Her family is cursed, disgraced, and she's come back to the center of it. Key line here is from Paw Paw Tree: "the King of Spain don't care." I'm trying not to tip my hand too much, but this is where it all ties together, more or less. Wheels within wheels...uh, have I said that before?