28 DAYS OF LOVE SONGS
My blog buddy Betty over at And So Forth got me started recently, thinking again about Graham Parker’s Squeezing Out
Even though this is one of the slower songs on the album, you could hardly call it a ballad – there’s no crooning, no storytelling, just a moan of frustration. Between the emphatic drum track and those clangy guitar riffs, there’s not a trace of softness or sweetness, and Parker’s gritty vocals attack the lyrics with outright hostility. (Those micro-lags behind the beat, the sarcastic little quavers on key words -- genius.)
The title tells you straight off that his outlook is jaundiced, and Parker works that title phrase relentlessly, repeating it thirteen times and matching it with such rhyming phrases as “the hearts are enlisted” and “I knew that it existed.” We get hardly any details -- no who, what, where, or when – it’s just like he’s visiting the Love Doctor and describing his symptoms, probing every wound. Graham means “twisted” not as in “sick” (“that is just so twisted”), but literally, physically twisted, with your guts in a knot and your spine hunched and your neck kinked up from too many anxious glances over your shoulder. “I try to straighten out, but I’m too wrapped up to see” he complains, and “When she’s in my arms I get tangled up, it’s true.” He's not blaming her -- why should he? It's the inevitable consequence of this thing called love.
So does Graham Parker have any solution? In the bridge, he prescribes his own medicine: “Screw yourself up / Screw yourself up / Screw yourself, screw yourself up.” The way he slides into that “scrrreeew” makes the double meaning painfully clear – screwing up your courage is one thing, but in the process you just get screwed up even further. It’s a losing battle.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately -- about how the music you listen to at certain ages can scuttle your love life. My generation was spoon-fed the true love dreams of Ricky Nelson and Stevie Wonder, and even (god love him) Paul McCartney -- but then some of us in our twenties veered off and developed a taste for the bitterer brew of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. (The Kinks addiction should have been a warning sign, I see in retrospect.) It satisfied some inner craving, I'm sure, but I'm still hung up, oscillating between that and my stubborn longing for happily-ever-after. Which is gonna win out? I still have no idea.