March 25th, 2008


Song personae

"Who is Chuck and Dave from When I'm 64?" muses Paul McCartney on the BBC News site, "Who is Eleanor Rigby? Who is Desmond and Molly from Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da? I don't know, I just make them up." He's trying to disperse -- or possibly craftily encourage -- rumours that the song Mister Bellamy on his last album is about Heather Mills (the title is an anagram of "Mills betray me", apparently, if not "Paul is dead broke").

I'm not so much into songs-as-anagrams, as chanson-a-clef score-settling, or as personal therapy. But I like the focus on dramatis personae in Sir Paul's denial, no matter how disingenuous it is. "I like giving characters names and just making them up and trying to make them fit," says the old Beatle.

The video above (higher-quality Quicktime version here) is a new interpretation by Joseph Knowles of my song Sempreverde. I actually went in some depth into the composition of this song when I wrote it. Here are the finished lyrics, and here's the cast list:

The man from the north
The man from the south
Some insect-sized birds
A panda in a zip-up pigskin
Otto the Rich
Otto the Poor

Joseph Knowles says his film "is composed entirely of clips from about a dozen different industrial films from the 1940s to the '60s (all now in the public domain). These reused materials from our industrial past form the basis for a film about spooky manufactured pharmaceuticals in a fractured, probably doomed quest for love and happiness". He's also populated the songscape with a whole cast of new, generic men and women, propaganda paradigms from public information films. He's added to the crowd of characters already loose in the song.

"If records had cast lists," wrote Stuart Maconie in a review of one of my old records, "if they wore their dramatis personae on their sleeves, most of them wouldn't make it past opening night. All those tired, 40 minute farces full of bloated rockers, feebly bleating nightclub divas and bad Lou Reed impressions. Who'd bother? But only a fool could ignore this record, featuring as it does Martin Amis, Henry Kissinger, Sigmund Freud and key members of the board of directors of Lohnro..."

Actually, there is an anagram on that record: on the lyric sheet it's not Henry Kissinger but "Henrik Issinger" who buys my sister. Is that an anagram? Probably not, but it kept the lawyers off our backs. Now there's a bunch of characters you don't want running rampage through your song.