Friday, March 19, 2010

Pretty in Pink

That I am writing today about The Psychedelic Furs’ "Pretty in Pink" owes nothing to the fact that lead singer Richard Butler is now, nearly 30 years after the fact, a neighbor of mine, albeit one I’ve glimpsed only fleetingly, bespectacled and coming out of a Main Street gallery that was offering for sale one of his paintings.

I’d actually met him, interviewing him for Creem, but I don’t think either of us would have recognized the other on the basis of that meeting, as I had never before and have never since seen anyone seemingly trying so hard to give himself emphysema over the course of a single afternoon. He lit one cigarette from its predecessor throughout our extended chat, and his hotel room was as smoggy as Los Angeles on a hot Thursday afternoon in August.

"Pretty in Pink" is one of those tracks that I’ve heard several hundreds of times in my life, but nonetheless rarely fails to thrill me every time I hear it. The musicianship’s pretty ragged (when I saw them live, they were a mess), and the main riff is a brazen Velvet Underground cop, but oh, Mr. Butler’s voice, a cross between Johnny Rotten’s and Lee Marvin’s, and oh, the clamorous production!

And oh, for that matter, the wonderfully perplexing lyrics, which Butler doesn’t sing so much as growl. Without making any traditional sense — and without rhyming, or adhering to meter — the lyrics manage to suggest cruelty and exploitation. They may well be about a transvestite prostitute who “lives in the place in the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight,” and elsewhere we learn that, among her suitors, “the one who insists he was first in the line is the last to remember her name.” The fact that I am unable to say with any confidence what the song is about doesn’t diminish my fervent enjoyment of it.

I have come over the past couple of decades, and with considerable dismay (since I’ve always been good at them) to realize that lyrics matter very little indeed in pop music. I mean, the wit and craftsmanship of a Cole Porter or Sammy Kahn or Lorenz Hart lyric certainly add to the pleasure of the song, but I love a lot of music in which the lyrics are impenetrable, unintelligible, or just idiotic. I regard The Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas album, on which Ms. Elizabeth Fraser sings gibberish, as a work of humbling beauty.


No comments:

Post a Comment