I always try to be very careful about trying to feel like a person felt in the
year 1900. I think it's very condescending to say that they were sentimental
in all their actions, that they were naive from our point of view. This was a
pretty tough bunch of people. They were up against a lot of things that the
average American today doesn't even think about. Infant death, typhoid, war,
and they had a lot of personal tragedy that certainly was magnified way beyond
what we experience today in the average American family. So when we look at
these old songs and they seem so square and they seem so terribly sentimental
and so terribly simple, I have to think, "Wait a minute. This was their
entertainment. This may have expressed at several levels ideals or myths, but
let's not think that they believed it."|
It's very difficult to take a simple-minded lyric, and I say that in the best
sense of the word, a simple, sentimental lyric that, from our point of view,
"Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Let's say that was a big hit in 1900.
And it's tempting to say, "Gosh, weren't our grandparents pretty stodgy, pretty
naive? Come on." And, again, I can't believe that. I think that, in the
first place, you have to go back -- forgive me, but you have to go back to the
merchandising and a lot of people bought a lot of songs and thought, "Boy, this
is a real stinker, Maude. Get rid of that one," and yet it might have sold a
million copies. But, they expressed perhaps the views of a simpler time in
certain ways, religion being the main one.
One of the things you can certainly say about those songs at the turn of the
century and later is that they do accurately reflect a lot of the no longer
acceptable positions of women in the society. The woman is always, in the
first place, pursued. The woman is always impassive. The woman is often put
in a compromising situation when she leaves the village and goes to the city
and becomes a "fallen woman", as they used to say. The woman is not able to
support herself and, therefore, if she marries for money and it ruins her life,
she should have known better. We all know the situation in a hundred years for
women in this society has changed in such radical ways that no one could even
believe it at that time, much even 50 years ago.
There's another song, which was, I think, in '97, and it was a big hit. And
the cover shows a young woman going like this and rejecting this lover and the
title of that song is "Take Back Your Gold, for Gold Will Never Buy Me". Ah,
"Take back your gold and promise you'll be true."
"Daisy, Daisy" is another type of song. "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer
true. I'm half crazy" -- it's a sweet little love song in three, is a little
waltz. I don't think it tells us anything. I think it tells us that, ah, "The
Bicycle Built for Two" has arrived on the scene, ah, a few years earlier and
that it was a wonderful thing to take your girl in the park and ride a bicycle
built for two. And the melody was very attractive and easy to harmonize on.
There were strictures on those days. You couldn't use the four-letter words in
songs. You could not do that. You couldn't say "damn" in a popular song, much
less talk about sex in any specific way. Forget it. They were not once
removed, they were ten times removed from that. That as the convention of the
time. And, by the way, there's a lot to be said for it. Specificity is not
always a great thing in a song lyric.
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