This is more of a postscript to the previous two entries than a new undertaking, but worth placing separately as the ideas haven't come from me.
Still fizzing with thoughts after the last entry, I was talking to a colleague about Waterloo Sunset and its possible influence on Bowie's songwriting. After a bit of mulling he cited Heroes - which instantly seemed obvious. It too couldn't really be described as a narrative, but it does have that image of a couple kissing which seems central to the song.
He suggested that the image may point to a possible difference between the writers' approaches: in Heroes Bowie appropriated an actual embrace (Tony Visconti and his partner) and put it in an entirely different context whereas Waterloo Sunset (whatever it may actually be) feels more like direct experience: however much he may empathise with the couple, Davies makes no secret of his separateness from them. The conclusion (assuming I'm representing the conversation accurately) seemed to be that Davies is less likely to play fast and loose with source material. Not quite sure how useful the distinction is as a general rule but I record it here anyway.
If you're becoming slightly confused (and I think I am), perhaps Bowie's comment about Be My Wife, as quoted in Hugo Wickens' book about Low (see earlier post here) may make things clearer:
"It was genuinely anguished, I think," Bowie once said of the song, before adding: "It could have been anybody, though."It's hard to imagine Ray Davies expressing a similar ambivalence about any of his songs.
Prompted by my thinking more about Big Black Smoke in the last few days, we also talked about the remarkable economy of means in Ray Davies' lyrics. The song is a kind of mirror image of Waterloo Sunset - the city threatens to swallow up and corrupt the girl - but it feels like a complete, and very effective, narrative rather than a single image. Not because the story is told in in exhaustive detail but because the details seem particularly well selected and compressed.
She took all her pretty coloured clothes,Those last three lines, for example, are all that we need for the essence of her relationship with the more exciting boyfriend. That first line is also rich with suggestion: the clothes that weren't appreciated or suitable in the stifling country setting? Could it hint at the possibility of prostitution to come, the being dragged down? That would add another layer of meaning to
And ran away from home
And the boy next door,
For a boy named Joe.
And he took her money for the rent
And tried to drag her down in the big black smoke,
In the big black smoke.
Till she walked the streets of the big black smokeDiversion: by an understandable associative process, that opening line calls to mind the opening of Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town (composed by Mel Tillis). Lines in that song such as
The shadow on the wall tells me the sun is going downseem on the money: the invalid forced to rely on such signs as that and
the slamming of the doorrather than being able to walk over to the window to check the time of day or go and physically stop her leaving, but I'm never quite sure about the song's opening couplet. A masterpiece of concision, as I sometimes think, or overfussy?
You've painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hairIf it's meant to be a question addressed to her, doesn't it contain a certain amount of detail more appropriate for third person narrative? The couplet calls to mind a line in a spoof radio play by actor Timothy West highlighting the pitfalls of exposition for inexperienced writers:
Oh Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?
Whisky, eh? That's a strange drink for an attractive auburn-haired girl of twenty nine.In short, why did Ruby's husband need to point out to her that her hair was tinted? Still a great song, though. And a great, spare production from Jimmy Bowen, too. When I heard his 1957 I'm Stickin' With You much later, it wasn't too difficult to see the family resemblance.
Diversion over: back to our conversation which then took a quirkier turn: what David Bowie songs might Ray Davies convincingly sing? I suspect the correct answer is "None; I can't imagine him wanting to;" but my colleague mentioned Panic in Detroit from the Aladdin Sane album. Not because it's a London song but because of that Davies-like use of small but telling detail to suggest a bigger picture:
He looked a lot like Che Guevara,His final provocative suggestion was that with such songs as the above, and with America rather than England as his subject, it could be argued that Bowie was attempting in his songwriting what Ray Davies had been doing closer to home.
drove a diesel van
Kept his gun in quiet seclusion,
such a humble man
Any thoughts on the matter - preferably from those with whom I have no professional association - gratefully received in the box below.