And so another month is down, and we’re past 30 weeks on this song-a-day series. It’s not like I’m running out of songs, but I am sometimes a bit hard-pressed to find the wherewithal to post about a particular song. Like: what’s the causal factor, y’know?
To end July I wanted something I associate with summer—kind of the running theme at present—and I also wanted to avoid the overused decades—Seventies and Sixties—if possible. More to the point: why not something from the Nineties, a decade getting neglected on here. I hit upon Rickie Lee Jones as someone not yet posted about and because her album of the early Nineties, Pop Pop, a longtime favorite of mine, would seem to be somewhat neglected itself.
I got it in spring of 1992, shortly after acquiring a CD player for the first time, Christmas 1991. Still have it, a Sony. At the time, the conversion to CD was unavoidable because vinyl was going, going, gone. So I bit the bullet and got the inevitable disc changer. Changed my life for a bit there. Shuffle play! Song programming! And of course there was the novelty of digital tech. No more scratchy records!
Pop Pop seemed to benefit from that change. Though now I’d give something to hear an analog-recorded and vinyl-pressed version of it. Still. Those nylon strings and Jones’ weepy, swallowy, murmury vocals sure did create an aural texture I became much enamored of and I imagine it would sound even better reissued like some of those jazz greats from the Fifties.
I could dedicate this song to the summer of 1992, when I was reading for my generals in Princeton and the album was in my small pool of CDs. But more to the point, I guess, I can dedicate this song to many summers gone by and the companions of those glorious eras now grown ghostly.
It’s a great “thinking of you” song. And of course it’s generally regarded as a farewell song too—Doc Severinsen played it on the last night of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Bing Crosby had a hit with it in 1944 when it was a wartime favorite due to the touching nostalgia it brings to mind. Lots of enlisted men thinking of “all the old, familiar places.” Billie Holiday also recorded it that same year.
Much as I may know the song in some earlier version, I discovered it anew in Jones’s. As with much of that album, Jones makes the most of her unique vocal qualities, which can seem so tremulous at times, but can also be incredibly elastic and vibrant and gentle and tough. She gets at the heart of the songs she chose, much of the album having an old-timey air to it. Which was fine with me because picking up a CD player and having available so many new re-issues of old music led me to acquire some jazz recordings for the first time. And Jones has a very jazzy voice, which greatly suited Pirates (1981), the album of hers that initially blew me away with its grand early Springsteen-meets-late-Steely Dan qualities.
Today's song starts as if in some gypsy cantina, then goes into the vocal intro with “cathedral bells” and “the spell of Paris” and “the April dawn.” “Who knows if we shall meet again” sets up the main idea and when she dips into “I’ll be seeing you” the familiarity of the tune, with the sax gently tugging our heartstrings in the background, makes some bygone scene congeal for us all. The lyrics tick off a number of locales: a small café, the park across the way, a children’s carousel, a chestnut tree, a wishing well. And Jones exploits each with a kind of constrained wail, as we see her wandering forlornly the spaces now empty that were once filled by companionship.
And then, In every lovely summer’s day / In everything that’s bright and gay / I’ll always think of you that way, and the voice is anything but bright and gay, reaching its mournful paroxysm with “I’ll find you in the morning sun / And when the night is new / I’ll be looking at the moon . . . but . . . I’ll be . . . see-ing . . . you.” She packs a kind of forlorn desperation into “find you in the morning sun,” then lets the view of the moon cool the fever, letting the image of the absent one return like a saving grace right at the end.
It’s a very delicate rendering, not at all schmaltzy to my ear, filled with the pathos of loss and preservation, as only memory makes tangible what no longer is. Very Proustian, I’d say.
And the houses, streets, and avenues are fugitive, alas, as the years.