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Child's Christmas In Wales

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1Child's Christmas In Wales Empty Child's Christmas In Wales on Sun Aug 28, 2011 7:12 am

Would someone care to share his/her personal interpretation of these lyrics in particular? "Ten murdered oranges bled aboard ship / lent comedy to shame" has intrigued me since I first heard it when I was fifteen. Since that distant past I have had the privilege of working with and around Cale twice - once during his Helen of Troy period, and once during Music For A New Society...

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2Child's Christmas In Wales Empty A Child's Christmas In Wales on Fri Sep 23, 2011 6:53 pm

Hi! Hope you’ll find this of interest.


Justine Kirchner

Turn That Heartbeat Over Again

Friday night, at the Steely Dan show, we were talking about pop bands, and which if any wrote lyrics that were as smart, shadowy and allusive as Walter and Donald's. I gathered up some of my best guesses and lent them to a friend at the office, who has made it his life's mission to violate copyrights on recorded music. Among the handful was Joe Henry, who I mentioned in a posting long ago, and a true mad scientist, John Cale. Cale, as you may know, took part in a several-year staring contest with Lou Reed (also known as the Velvet Underground); before that he was an avant-garde pianist and cellist; after that he put out some wonderfully crooked, and largely ignored, rock records.

I always thought Cale would be an interesting collaborator for Becker and Fagen. My friend described Steely Dan's songs as "the shadows of stories"; they leave out the details you need to follow the plot, but keep in the "color." You know that the kid was wearing a spangled leather poncho and alligator shoes, but you don't know who he is or where the action is taking place (calling the place the Custerdome doesn't help). Cale writes that way too, except perhaps with more of a William Burroughs cut-and-paste feel. A Child’s Christmas In Wales is a great example.

With mistletoe and candle green
To Halloween we go
Ten murdered oranges bled on board ship
Lends comedy to shame
The cattle graze bold uprightly
Seducing down the door
To saddle swords and meeting place
We have no place to go

Then wearily the footsteps worked
The hallelujah crowds
Too late but wait the long legged bait
Tripped uselessly around
Sebastopol Adrianapolis
The prayers of all combined
Take down the flags of ownership
The walls are falling down

A belt to hold
Columbus too, perimeters of nails
Perceived the Mamma's golden touch
Good neighbours were we all

At first glance, it's a yard sale; belts and flags and holiday decorations all tossed on a card table and set on the sidewalk. But you look closer and realize that two-dollar earring has an emerald stud, and every comic in the box is "Death of Phoenix," airless in mylar.

So how do you square that with Cole Porter, or Johnny Mercer, or Hoagy Carmichael? How do you iPod from one era to another? By any standard, the old-timers were much more elegant and, yes, intelligent than modern writers. On the other hand, their subject matter didn't range far beyond good love and bad love, and there are times when my ears are too impatient to wait for those songs to start working. Or maybe I should say: There are times when I'm so dulled to nuance I can't appreciate their charms.

Not the worst problems to have on a Wednesday morning in a lousy century.

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