Sunday, November 9, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 313): "(SONG FOR MY) SUGAR SPUN SISTER" (1989) The Stone Roses

I’m feeling nostalgic. Nothing like encountering someone you haven’t seen in about 20 years to make you think about time—not so much the time that has passed, but the time that was. So I’m jumping back to a song from my youth—30, to be exact—that I haven’t heard much since that time. Thirty years old is a good target: enough behind you that you could be said to have “a past.” And, for most of us anyway, still quite a bit ahead, and not much of it, one hopes, fully determined . . . yet.

I don’t know much about The Stone Roses, other than the fact that they were a Manchester band associated with what was rather preciously called “Madchester,” a fad of the time, I suppose, alluding to a penchant of bands in the late Eighties to recall bands in the late Sixties. And if you know the late Sixties you know there was a host of forgettable and forgotten bands running about contributing to the general Mod sound that was everywhere. Some remained locked in that time forever and never managed to evolve out of it. Such, it seems, was also the fate of most of the bands associated with Madchester and Paisley Underground trends. They had their flourishing and fading all at once, so to speak.

Today’s song made it on a tape somewhere back there in the days of graduate school—which is where I was as the Eighties ended and the Nineties got underway—and it’s consequently the song I know best by critics’ darlings The Stone Roses. It’s like, before there was Pulp and Oasis and Blur, there was The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. Me, I leaned more toward The Smiths and The Pixies as the Must Have bands of that time, but still. The Stone Roses were a thing, in New Musical Express anyway. Recently I read rock critic Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff and his take on the Roses and Mondays is pretty funny. Reminding me, forcibly, why I was writing-off a lot of my interest in the sound de jour at that time: these guys weren’t exactly savants. I could look up to Jo-Pa-Ge-Ri, well JoPaGe, anyway, and Dylan and Mick’n’Keith, Lou, Neil, and so on, as guys who were working from a grasp of “something.” They had, as we liked to think, “something to say.” By the late Eighties, looking at popsters my age and younger, I was finding that illusion—if that’s what it was—harder to sustain.

And I guess with that goes the question “something to say to whom about what?” Well, to me, primarily, and that’s where we start to cross the bar into the hinterlands, I suppose. All of which is a way of saying that, going back to those days, in memory, doesn’t shape itself into quite the same strong attachment for music. And yet. Today’s song does its job. It takes me back and it takes me back to a feeling, a sense of possibility that is present in the song and is present in my response to the song. There’s a reason—a palpable, emotional crux raison—why this song speaks for une saison.

It’s so sunny, so young, so of its moment while bringing in its train so much of what the Psychedelic Sixties said to me, of my childhood. It jumps backwards and forwards with a nice galvanic zap. Sha-zam!

It opens with that little intro with muttered vocals that put me in mind of mumbling vocalists like Stipe and Mould, but with a bit of the insouciance of Morrissey. Without consulting a lyrics page, I had no idea what he was muttering about, but the part that came through was the last line before the big, sunny spike: “but she gives it all that she’s got.” (Following “I don’t know why she hates all she does”—which is actually a nice characterization: have you ever seen someone giving it her all even when she doesn’t like at all what it is she’s having to do? Yeah.)

“Until the sky turns green / And the grass is several shades of blue / And every member of Parliament trips on glue.”  OK, does it get trippier than that? And, to really share in the smile this would give me, you have to know that I once had an art instructor who said we could paint the sky green and the grass blue if we liked. In other words: fidelity to reality is no basis for art. At Parents/Teachers Night my father asked: “Which of you told my son he could paint the grass blue?”  So, of course this line makes me laugh, but it all just underscores the point the song makes: “It takes all these things and all that time / Till my sugar spun sister’s happy with this love of mine.” Like saying, “hell will freeze over before this chick is mine.”

By why feel so good about that?  I don’t know. I think there’s something in the realization: it’s gonna take a miracle, it’s gonna take a complete reversal of what is, it’s gonna take a really trippy perspective on things, before I even have a ghost of a chance. Which might just be a way of saying: “thank God this is out of my hands.”

And the “all that time” rides a little musical hook that feels buoyant, and chimes with “love of mine.” Then there’s the way it steps back down with “All these things and so-o-o much more.” Now we’re locked into its “what, me worry” vibe. Then, after that weird “hands stuck to my jeans” part, it gets back to the hook, but this time it doesn’t give us the trippy vision so much as the morning after vision:

She wakes up with the sun / She asks me what is all the fuss / As she gave me more than she thought she should / She wakes up with the sun / I think what have I done / As I gave her more than I thought I would

Now, sure, this can be one of those “what did we do last night and what was it worth” kinda moments, and I have no doubt it is. But what I like is the vagueness, so that it can apply to almost anything. It’s almost Jamesian, if you know what I mean. Where “giving” someone something can refer to attention, affection, revelation. She gave away a bit more than she thought she should, and he gave up more than he thought he would. So. Then what?


Well, it will still take “all that time” till she’s happy “with this love of mine.” Lotta time. Decades. A lifetime. Forever.

The candy floss girl

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