The covering of another artist’s song is an homage to the original. Sometimes the cover eclipses its predecessor, like Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah.” Some covers reimagine the original, like Tori Amos’ take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” John Lennon said that “Across the Universe” is among his favorite Beatles’ songs, and the one whose lyrics rise to the level of poetry. Laibach does a fine live cover of that song.
As stories, popular songs are a witness to their time, and in inspired cases, prophets. The no-fault divorce gave powerful men a shot at younger wives and ordinary men paid the price. Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” takes us to the late 1970s and feminism’s blitz. The narrator approaches a woman at a bar. She removes her wedding band and tells him that she’s looking for more than what she has. He then sees her husband walk in:
In the mirror, I saw him and I closely watched him
I thought how he looked out of place
He came to the woman who sat there beside me
He had a strange look on his face
The big hands were calloused, he looked like a mountain
For a minute I thought I was dead
But he started shaking, his big heart was breaking
He turned to the woman and said:
“You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille”
The broken husband leaves, the speaker and the woman go to a motel. But he can’t perform, thinking of how he’s wronging another man. The story is set in Toledo, Ohio. That was almost forty years ago, before agribusiness, HUD-driven neighborhood wrecking, and recently, refugee resettlement. The great Waylon Jennings covers the song but his style does not do it justice. Also, none of the other performers I checked out on YouTube did the song right. In this case, the song truly belongs to the storyteller himself, Kenny Rogers.
Studying the guitar revealed to me the pleasure of watching amateur musicians cover popular songs. For example, this well done rendition of the guitar solos in Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, which make me better understand David Gilmour’s. Another video shows a music class performing Dream Theater’s Pull Me Under. Great job on their part, and a fine instrumental analysis that song. Another musician performs Mother Love Bone’s Stargazer, delivering a low-key interpretation of Andrew Wood’s flamboyant original that paradoxically still expresses its spirit.
Sometimes a cover does not strive for novel interpretation. Brazilian band Fleesh replicates Roger Water’s Final Cut, amplifying the volcanic pathos of the original via a female vocalist, to good effect.
For the end of this post, I wanted to show a video of one of several youth choruses from Eastern Europe performing a popular song. But I decided to not do that, and instead have you imagine the optics and the easy synergy of an ethnically pure group of vocalists. My original intent was to leave things on an aspirational note, and it still is. We all have a clear understanding of neoliberalism, the evil of our time.
But do we always have a clear positive vision of what we could have? Showing a joyful chorus of bright-faced young people of one nation would evoke a pang of hunger: I want that! It no doubt would, but this point (as someone elsewhere put it), images of nothing but White people are like porn to us. And given the all-too-apt simile, by posting such a video I would be enabling prurient interest in things that belong to others. Those videos, while properly modest, are more beautiful than is proper to display.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes its pregnant absence and the imagination’s resulting effort to generate its own vision is worth even more. We on the AltRight know what we want, but do we always see it clearly?
And finally, last year Disturbed recorded their grim cover of “Sounds of Silence.” Interesting video too. Any meaning in those scenes of exodus?