Friday, July 31, 2009

"Nervous Breakdown" / Eddie Cochran

This came blasting out of the car radio yesterday, knocking me completely ass over teakettle. What a hoot this song is! Up to now, the only song of Eddie Cochran's I could identify was "Summertime Blues," and even that I only know from a K-Tel compilation disc called Summer Blast or something dumb like that. Eddie Cochran's one of those guys that 60s British rockers were always citing as one of their heroes, but I regret to say he was before my time. He's just wasn't around that long, either -- tragically, he died at age 21 in a taxi crash in England (Gene Vincent was in the taxi with him but survived). It's amazing that so much of Cochran's music survives. The guy must have been a music-writing machine. A seminal guitar god, too, Wikipedia tells me (what would we do without Wikipedia?), but it's all about how he tuned down his third string and that means absolutely nothing to me -- I'll just take Wikipedia as gospel and run with it.

The minute I heard this song, though, I knew I'd heard it before, in that glorious audial soup of my childhood. I just had no idea it was Eddie Cochran. It's incredibly primitive -- just a chugging guitar line, simple drums, and handclaps, behind Cochran's exitable rockabilly vocals. You've got to love how he camps it up, emitting little squeals and gasps on words like "shiver" and "quiver" and "jitter." (Whoo-wee! Going all Jerry Lee Lewis on us.) "I'm a-havin' a nervous breakdown / A mental shakedown," he moans, vibrating his voice on "nervous." It reminds me of that novelty song from the 60s, "They're Coming To Take Me Away" -- totally tongue in cheek. I can so hear the echoes of this in Roger Daltrey's stutter in the Who's "My Generation."

In the verse, he goes to see his doctor -- still to the same jiving rhythm -- and old doc gives him the word: "Hey, boy, you just gotta slow down / You can't keep a-traipsin' all over town / After givin' you a physical check /I've come to the conclusion you're a total wreck." He plays this like it's woeful news, but the subtext is, Hey, it's medically confirmed -- I'm a total wild man! And that lugubrious tone is all a pose -- he likes being a wild man, that onanistic guitar riff and the knee-jerk handclaps tell you he's still at it. He's pure adolescent id, convinced of his own immortality and self-absorbed to the max.

Oh, yeah, in the third verse, he declares he's going to reform: "I've made up my mind I'd better change my ways / My shattered nerves have seen better days." But how long can it last? "No more girls for a week or two," he promises, getting high on renunciation; "No more runnin' 'round with the usual crew / No more movies or stayin' out late." Yeah, like going to the movies is what's ruining his health. "My baby 'll have to find herself another date," he adds, shaking his head -- the sacrifices I have to make!
What a drama queen.

Wikipedia tells me that this record only became a hit after his death, when I guess they were dredging up everything he'd ever recorded (he only had released one album when he died). This all happened only a year after Buddy Holly and Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died. Early rock 'n' roll sure lived up to its live-fast-die-young image, didn't it? But even now, the irrepressible energy of this song practically burns its way through the speakers. God, rock 'n' roll used to be fun. When did it start taking itself too seriously?

Nervous Breakdown sample


wwolfe said...

I love Eddie Cochran. You can really see how the lyrical details influenced Pete Townsend's early writing. From a non-musical perspective, many years ago I had a wreck when a car ran a red light at an intersection. The collision caused me to bounce up off my seat and bang my head against the roof of my car; as this was happening, I distinctly remember thinking, "This is exactly how Eddie Cochran died!" One of those "Maybe I spend too much time thinking about music" moments.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, at least if you were going to go out, you'd go out cool like Eddie Cochran! That story is too funny.

And hey, there are worse things in life than spending too much time thinking about music.