In honor of my wife’s birthday today, I tried to come up with a song that would have some sort of resonance. Initially, I thought of songs I associate with her or with our time together, but I've already posted on a few of those; then I thought of songs that she had in some way “selected.” It seemed more appropriate to find a song that she would like to hear rather than a song that simply reminds me of her.
“Songs she likes” immediately sent my thoughts to Linda Ronstadt because I still recall some of the main songs on a tape Mem made in spring of 1979 that, more or less, commemorated the start of our romance. And a romantic tape it was. There are two Ronstadt songs on there, both from Prisoner in Disguise (1975), that I gave some thought to: “Heat Wave”—her remake of the song first made popular by Martha and the Vandellas, and which Ronstadt does a full-throated delivery on—and the bluesier “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up on the Jukebox,” which warbles nicely between pop and country. And that would be fitting since the music Mem has preferred lo these many years is country, and sometimes movie soundtracks.
Which brings us to the song of the day. Somehow I had managed to live through the first decade of the 21st century without hearing Adele. I heard of her somewhere around 2010 or 11, before I heard her music. I’m not sure even which song I first heard, but I know it had a kind of woe-is-me black and white video that went with it. Neither good nor bad, I’d say. It just flowed on past.
Skip ahead to the soundtrack for the movie I Am Number Four (2011), a sci-fi/fantasy/suspense/thriller that Mem got into watching somewhere along the way and which I happened to see this summer. She pointed out how much she liked the song that accompanies some female character blowing up an entire house. According to the credits, that song was “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele. Mem had already heard the song “all over,” but it had escaped my attention.
Now, it so happened that back there in 2011 when I started buying LPs again, often through the mail, one order contained, by mistake, a copy of Adele’s 21. So I actually have this song, though I neither played it nor returned it at the time. And so it sat. Well, I’ve finally heard it, and, while I don’t have much to say about the album—which has the kind of production values that are extremely successful on the radio but which don’t arrest my listening enough to go, “huh”—I felt much better disposed toward Adele after I caught her rendition of Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” live on Letterman, on YouTube. It’s a great vocal, full of interesting shadings. And it’s not a Dylan song I have a lot of regard for, since the lyrics are a bit lacking, thought the tune is nicely meditative. Not seductive, exactly, but it is more so when Adele does it.
She also does a cover of The Cure’s “Lovesong” on 21—from back there on one of their best albums, Disintegration (1989)—and I almost featured that since it carries a lot of lovey thoughts on it (“However long I stay / I will always love you / Whatever words I say / I will always love you”), but then I thought, no. What my wife likes is the rhythm of “Rolling in the Deep,” the way it spikes on that “We could’ve had it all” line, and, what’s more, its “tough enough to survive” lyrics and their brush-off feelings. The song is defiant, and light-years away from either the weepy woe-is-me of Ronstadt’s “Jukebox” or the “I can’t get enough of you” lust of “Heat Wave.” “Rolling in the Deep” is a fuck-you song. It’s a threat—“You’re gonna wish you never had met me”—to some guy who dissed her and, while the recriminations that “you had my heart inside of your hand” sound sorta “so?”, there’s a real conviction that she’s got the means to level this dude if she wants to. “Go ahead and sell me out / And I’ll lay your shit bare.”
It’s not the kind of put-down song I’m familiar with, which usually calls the other on some shitty behavior or attitudes that aren’t left so vague; nor is it the kind of assertion through sex appeal that a lot of our pop chanteuses prefer—going all the way back to Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots.” This is the “hell hath no fury” approach, and, boy, is it coiled in the slow-fuse-burning groove it rides, fueled by the fact that she’s got the goods on this guy and will now make him rue the day. For playing her to the beat.
Yeah, almost, I guess. Anyway, the thought of it sure does fire her up, that and something about turning her sorrow into treasured gold. Which seems to me what all singers do with their sorrow. Certainly this song has scored heavily in the treasured gold department.
Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.