Sunday, September 02, 2012

Hey Julie / Fountains of Wayne

How perfect for Labor Day -- a song about how mind-numbing work can be. (Yes, people, despite all the cookouts and back-to-school sales, Labor Day was originally conceived as a way to honor America's working people.) And because it's Fountains of Wayne, they give it a special sweet spin, thanking the singer's girlfriend -- the Julie of the title -- for being the one bright spot in his office drone life.

So the idea's not totally original -- I'm pretty sure that FoW, being devotees of classic British pop, know they owe a debt to the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" and the Kinks' "You Make It All Worthwhile." But in the world of modern music, this is hardly an overworked topic. Considering how many music listeners hold, or will someday hold, an office job, you'd think there would be more songs about it. (Compare this to the number of songs about the stresses of being a rock star, an experience just about none of us will ever have.) Fist-bumps to FoW for crafting this perky cha-cha-cha earworm from such mundane material.

That opening verse says it all: "Working all day for a mean little man / With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan / He's got me running round the office like a dog around a track / When I get back home you're always there to rub my back." Now, I've been lucky: I always had good bosses and jobs I enjoyed. But that doesn't matter: I still know exactly how he feels.

In the end, he doesn't really tell us much about Julie -- he's too tangled up in the hassles of office life. He really hates that boss -- in verse three we get another vignette: "Working all day for a mean little guy / With a bad toupee and a soup-stained tie / He's got me running around the office like a gerbil in a wheel / He can tell me what to do but he can't tell me how to feel." Maybe after the back-rub, Julie will come more into focus, but right now his nerves are still jangled and raw.

Like Ray Davies of the Kinks, Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne are born storytellers, homing right in on the telling details, like that soup-stained clip-on tie. They're also more invested in ordinary people's lives than in autobiographical navel-gazing. "Hey Julie" is just the upbeat flipside of the bittersweet song "Hackensack," also on their 2003 album Welcome Interstate Managers.

I have to giggle when I listen to this song, but behind the giggle lies the pathos of an unsung life. Maybe there aren't more pop songs about  photocopying and bookkeeping for the simple reason that most rock stars wouldn't be caught dead doing those things. All the more reason why we need Fountains of Wayne to come along and sing our songs, too.


wwolfe said...

Love, love, love Fountains of Wayne. Each album is a gem. Top-flight hooks, melodies, arrangements, all in the service of empathetic imagination brought home through the use of defining details. This is is a fun video, to boot, and makes me realize this would make a good companion song to Paul's "Another Day" - a not-unrelated look at the workaday office world, from another master of melody and empathy.

Iñaki said...

Great song, I enjoyed your post a lot. One of the highlights of my life:

Holly A Hughes said...

That is so cool!! Look at you there! Gotta love FoW...

Iñaki said...

They asked for "a boy and two girls" to go to the stage and then they realized that most of the public was masculine. I think that's the only time in my life I've been happy there weren't many girls around!