Grouches hate love songs
“Grouches hate love songs—except this one kinda really made me angry.” That’s Oscar the Grouch after Billy Joel and Marlee Matlin serenade him with “Just the Way You Are.” Watch that nasty smirk on Oscar’s green face. You can tell he really loved/hated the song. You should have seen my face: this “Sesame Street” moment from 1988 made me want to cry/laugh. Eew. Mushy/nostalgic again. Hate that.
Also on YouTube, I watched the Annie Lennox music video of “Something So Right.” I had loved this song since I was mesmerized by Medusa in 1995, but I never knew Paul Simon provided vocals/guitar support on this track. Heck, I forgot he wrote the song—until, tumblring and googling a few days ago, I found this 1980 clip of him singing it. Lennox, I now realize, changed the sequence of the stanzas. And she turned “lovelight” into “love right.” How could she?
But really, no problem. James Taylor tweaked “Still Crazy After All These Years” (one word added here, another omitted there) and I was like, How dare he do that! And yet … how cool of him to do that! Now the song’s just right for him. JT can change anything he wants and to me he’ll still be perfect. The Grammy nominees for Record of the Year 1970 included both “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and JT’s “Fire and Rain.” The Simon and Garfunkel beauty won (who could beat that?), but JT’s ode to lost days and lost friends will always be one of my favorite heartbreakers.
Today I also listened to Streisand’s “Something So Right.” Now there’s a woman who loves to change lyrics to fit her persona. Sondheim let her alter such classics as “Send in the Clowns” and “I’m Still Here.” And why shouldn’t he? Why can’t we change our tunes to fit our circumstances? Why can’t we be in sync with the voices in our heads, with our body rhythms? Heed “the wisdom of the body,” says Alan Watts in The Wisdom of Insecurity. I finished reading that last week. Loved/hated it for its comforting/disquieting truths. But that’s just me: grouchy and mopey as ever.
And so I’ve been binging on YouTube—my refuge, my cocoon. (On page 79, Watts says: “The principal thing is to understand that there is no safety or security.” Oh please just shoot me now.) There’s this entertaining bit of Paul Simon singing a “partially written” version of “Still Crazy.” Simon admits he doesn’t know where to go after the second stanza. Mighty brave and generous of him. How many poets or painters would dare show anyone something unfinished? How do words and pictures and melodies finally come together?
How does Billy Joel (or one of those great “Sesame Street” writers) fit the words and sentiments of “Just the Way You Are” to Oscar the Grouch? Perfectly. With humor and grace. He makes it look effortless: how lyrics, like life, can bear so many changes, can answer the needs of the moment. Sounds to me like a lifetime’s worth of working and waiting for the right ideas. How do you make sure you’re still there when the good stuff finally kicks in? How much longer do you stick around? Paul Simon has been there for 72 years. Billy Joel almost didn’t survive his twenties. Big Think has posed this question: “Does Depression Go Away on Its Own?”
I think I’m gonna cry/laugh now. Or maybe I won’t. This year’s about to end—perhaps this too will go away on its own. Better days are yet to come. For one thing, Paul Simon and Sting will be “On Stage Together” for a series of concerts early next year. The Battle of the English Majors! Sting graduated from Northern Counties College of Education. Simon earned his English Lit degree from Queens University. Be still, my bookish beating heart!
Yesterday I got worked up even more—How could she!—as I watched Janis Ian singing “At Seventeen” in 2008, when she was 57. How could she have a voice warmer, clearer, stronger, and lovelier 40 years after 17? How could that song about “inventing lovers on the phone, repenting other lives unknown” move me even now? Now I’m really pissed. How dare she hang around for so long and stay perfect after all these years! Hate that. Love her.