iTunes catch of the day: Cassandra’s Dream and “The River in Reverse”

Few have ventured to see the new Woody Allen movie, so most are unaware that Allen has, for one of the few times in his career, commissioned a score for his soundtrack, from an actual living composer, Philip Glass, no less. And what a corker! I buy all of Glass’s soundtracks whether I’ve seen the movies they’re in or not, and this one has quickly vaulted to the top of my list of favorites. Stormy, melancholy, brooding and propulsive. If you like Glass or have an abiding interest in soundtrack music, this is a real treat. Can’t say I like the cover. You can listen to little bits of it either at iTunes or Amazon.

Meanwhile, Elvis Costello has knocked off a handful of his songs in solo settings for the iTunes market. I enjoy all of these renditions, they are some of my favorites of his songs, but the new recording of “The River in Reverse” is just stunning. I enjoyed the album of the same title when it came out, but to hear Costello snarl his way through this searing, scathing reading is a remarkable experience, even coming from this longtime snarler. His insistent, plangent solo guitar sets lyrics like “In the name of the father and the son/in the name of gasoline and a gun” in bold relief and elevates this song to a classic to stand with “Pills and Soap” in its withering social criticism.

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A teeny bit more about The Lady Eve

Where does hyper-literate punker Elvis Costello get his vicious, intricate hyper-literacy? Why, from Preston Sturges, of course. There is a line from his 1981 song “White Knuckles” (from the album Trust) that had always baffled me, and, before Al Gore invented the internet, it was impossible to verify just what the hell he was singing, what with his strangled delivery and the clattering racket behind him. The song is about (what else) a couple with marital problems and for years I could have sworn there was a line in the bridge that went “She needs a lock, the ass needs a turn-key,” which seemed to make enough sense, even though it seemed like kind of a lame line from such a, you know, hyper-literate lyricist.

So, as The Lady Eve unspooled last night, imagine my surprise when, out of nowhere, the great Barbara Stanwyck suddenly announces, regarding Henry Fonda, “I need him like the axe needs the turkey,” which Costello adapted (slightly) to “He needs her like the axe needs a turkey.”  And yet another mystery of my youth was solved.

Is this a common phrase that Costello picked up, or was he inspired to thieve from Sturges?  A cursory Google search could unearth no other occurrence of the phrase, and I can imagine the young Costello at a revival house somewhere in London, or camped out in front of the telly, watching The Lady Eve with a pen and paper in his lap, furiously scribbling down the dense wit that flies thick and fast in Sturges’s masterpiece.

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Elvis vs. Elvis

These two songs came up on iTunes today, two of my favorite music stars ever, illustrating two approaches to writing songs about women.

Elvis C’s description of his subject is bitter, multi-layered, multi-dimensional and hyper-literate:

“So you began to recognize the well-dressed man that everybody loves
It started when you chopped off all the fingers on your pony skin gloves
Then you cut a hole out where your love-light used to shine
Your tears of pleasure equal measure crocodile and brine
You tried to laugh it all off saying “I knew all the time…
But it’s starting to come to me”

— Elvis Costello, “Starting to Come to Me”

While Elvis P’s view is more practical, topical and down-to-earth.

“And when I pick up a sandwich to munch
A crunch-a-crunchity-a-crunchity-crunch
I never ever get to finish my lunch
Because there’s always bound to be a bunch of girls”

Elvis Presley, “Girls!  Girls!  Girls!”
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