Friday, 1 January 2010
Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 74
The Medallions' The Letter is one I'm also tempted to put in the pantheon. More than most others mentioned it's hard to be certain of any particular vocal skill (haven't heard other Medallions tracks, including Buick 59). It seems – not even a demo, but the faintest sketch of an idea: an echo of an echo. Yet it works; it's one of the good ones.
What intrigues more than anything is the sense that the singer is slightly sending himself up in that spoken section or feeling an inflated, self important pleasure at the beauty of his own delivery, never losing that awareness of the public arena - a record which people will hear - while supposedly suffering the torments of love:
What is there worse on this earth
Than to be unable to stop loving you,
Knowing well that I should?
I mean, the language doesn't exactly sound torn from the heart like the disjointed plea in Newly Wed - and yet ... Well, there's something appealing about the sense that the performer or his persona (both?) is nevertheless letting it all out, talking all out of his head, though intoxicated with nothing more than a sense of the public occasion of this "letter.” And this is the missive that might sway things, so who can blame him for a few verbal flourishes to attract his girlfriend's attention? (Though I can also hear, in the tone of his voice, Vernon far from shyly inviting us to admire his handiwork.)
I just love the way the song sort of trickles to a halt, as though, having just spent himself with the effort of this confessional, Vernon and his alter ego/echo simply stop ... Or is it that the suddenness of the epiphany - he loves her but she "just won't be true" floors him/them at the end?
I also like, and it's part of why this ridiculous record has a place in my heart, the way that Vernon has, despite the care in creating this fancy composition, travelled lunar distances beyond words as we understand them. There's a particular neologism (if that's the right word) I'll return to, but what exactly is the "purportance" of Love whereof our hero speaks? Is Vernon thinking of purport, which my dictionary has down as a claim, "esp. false", to be something?
That doesn't feel right: this record may be naive, but it's not cynical. Which is why Steve Miller's hijacking of the phrase and roping it in with other more swaggering steals from other songs seemed plain wrong: Vemon ain't no Gangster of Love, nor was meant to be; he is, I'd say, a fifteen year old alone in his bedroom, struggling to take upon himself the mystery of things - hey, as you do, after a spot of girlfriend trouble.
Which leaves us only with that other coining. If "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," as (I think) that doowop fan Frank Zappa said, then I'm especially aware of the presumption in trying to net - in both senses - this elusive specimen. But my joshing tone comes out of deep affection and I'm fully aware that Green's is the mastery (and mystery), not mine. Besides, didn't he invent "pismotality"? So maybe, like Alice, I'm only a thing in his dream – or, to stand back further, a drop in that vast ocean of golden teardrops which is The Whole Damn Thing: singers, listeners, lovers, scribes, memories, impulses and - at the heart of it all - a girl, real or imaginary, who still represents, as she always did, a future dazzling with possibilities, sweet dreams of contentment.
Meanwhile, I'll keep hoping, as doubtless we all are, to catch the echo of those all-solving, all-healing sweet words of pismotality from that ideal doowop record which nestles somewhere in the track listing on the next CD compilation I buy.
Or the one after that ...