Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Marie Provost" / Nick Lowe

Today is the anniversary of the death of silent movie queen Marie Prevost -- an event probably remembered nowadays only because of Nick Lowe's admittedly sick and gruesome pop song about her death.

I don't find much to say about this song -- it's the novelty song side of Nick Lowe, which is mischievous and fun indeed, but not the main reason I love Nick. I do admire its Sunset Boulevard quality, though -- that sense of faded glamour, loneliness, and ghoulish decrepitude. Compare this to "Eleanor Rigby" and you'll see how the Beatles' (or rather McCartney's) romantic streak cooked up something very different from Nick's ironic treatment. While I'd like to believe that Nick saw Prevost's obscure death as a metaphor for the fickleness of fame -- which is how Ray Davies might have handled it -- in 1977 Nick Lowe had no such artsy pretensions. He was just whipping out the tunes for Jesus of Cool, looking for arch, offbeat material to cement his quirky image.

Of course Nick got the date wrong -- Marie Prevost died on January 21, 1937. "January twenty-one" would have scanned as well as "July twenty-nine," so I have to wonder why he changed it. Or maybe he just misremembered the date and never bothered to look it up. That would be like Nick. He also got the spelling of her name wrong, titling his song "Marie Provost." Ah, well -- details, details.

The crowning detail of course -- the line that everybody remembers (who could forget it?) -- is the bit about Marie's pet dachshund eating her while she lay dead in her shabby Hollywood hotel room. In real life the dog didn't devour her, merely nipped at her legs to rouse her (probably because he needed feeding). As someone who grew up with a pet dachshund -- and therefore knows what noble, fiercely loyal dogs they are -- I am glad to report that dachshunds were unfairly maligned in this song. However, who could pass up a couplet like "She was a winner / Who became the doggie's dinner"? Once Nick had thought up that line he just HAD to use it, methinks.

Godspeed, Miss Prevost. And even though the dog didn't eat you, you became food anyway -- food for Nick Lowe's impish sense of humour. . . .

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