Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Has She Got a Friend?" / Nick Lowe

All right, I'll come clean -- most of the time the song in my head is by Nick Lowe. I think about this man morning, noon, and night, and it's been like that for well over a year now. I'm sure there's something I could take for it; but I don't want to be cured. Why give up the joy of thinking about Nick Lowe?

Yes, the same Nick Lowe who founded pub rock with Brinsley Schwartz and midwived the birth of punk as a producer at Stiff Records and played with Dave Edmunds in that high-energy band Rockpile. Me, I like every era of his music, even the relatively mellow country-tinged sound he's been doing lately. This lanky guy with the baggy-eyed smile and unruly thatch of hair (prematurely white for years now) is about the least pretentious rock musician there ever was. His music has a sort of irrepressible passion and joy, as if somehow Nick has preserved access to the adolescent inside him. Plus it just makes me happy to listen to it.

Even though he never has seemed to take himself too seriously, one thing Nick Lowe is serious about: The integrity of writing a Pop Song. Give him two minutes and fifty seconds and he'll knock out a short story in three verses and a bridge, complete with plot twist and punch line; rhymes will rhyme cleverly, cliches will be turned inside out, and somehow some gem of insight into human frailty will be dropped into it somewhere.

This song, for instance, from his 2001 album The Convincer. (And by the way, Nick -- 2001? Could you hurry up the new one, please? I'm dying here, waiting). Anyways, the set-up is two men in a bar, one of them rambling on about his new girlfriend. As the song snaps along cheerfully, with a fill of twanging country guitars, our hero listens with mounting impatience -- "I contrive a tear of joy / For your empty nights now at an end / But what I really want to know / Is -- has she got a friend?" I love hearing that men yearn for love the same way we women do; it's the human condition, after all.

This guy is a lonely loser -- Nick specializes in those guys -- and yet his warm, wry voice catches every once in awhile with genuine desire and hope that redeems the whole deal. "I'm in wonderment and awe / As you tell it all anew / But I've got one eye on the door / Praying someone will walk through..." We've all sat in that bar putting up with that bore, haven't we? But I can tell you one thing; if Nick Lowe is on that barstool waiting, I want to be the next woman who walks in that door.


Jeff Larche said...

I like your blog a lot! Julie introduced me to Nick Lowe years ago, and what set the hook was hearing him live at a small club in Milwaukee. One thing I especially like about Nick's songs is he remind me of the country ballads my parent would play at 3:00 in the morning on a weekend, when they would have friends over for drinks, cigarettes and loud, loud conversation. The songs were singles by Charley Pride ("Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger?"), Ray Price (his cover of Kristoferson's "For the Good Times"), and many other suburban country stars of that era.

At the time they were shear torture. But somehow that beer-soaked, jukebox pop got under my skin, and now I love it -- at least when the lyrics are excellent. Nick's lyrics always are, and no one can sell a song the way he can!

Jeff Larche said...

Another good example of how he performs in this genre is "Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart." How can you hear this song and others ("Let's Stay Home and Make Love") without thinking of slow dancing in some smokey tavern in front of a jukebox (at least if you're my age). But his lyrical brilliance in a ballad ("Smoking I once quite / Now I've got one lit / I just fell into it") is best exemplified in "Lately I've Let Things Slide." Wow!