CK 2014: PAM THURSCHWELL

Song #1: Aztec Camera “Jump”

Written by Pam Thurschwell

I want to talk about ironic and non-ironic covers, and how you can tell the difference, and if it’s possible that not being sure whether or not a cover is ironic or not-ironic might be one way in which a cover becomes great, or maybe terrible.

When I first heard Aztec Camera’s wistful version of this, at least in my hazy memory, Van Halen’s 1983 song had not yet released its ceaseless hold on MTV and Philadelphia “classic rock” radio Classic rock was the “always already” of my adolescence. It was 1985, I had just finished high school, and was attempting to assert some kind of incoherent habitus of my own, by listening to Madonna and The Jam and Bob Dylan. It was a confusing time in pop music (as all times are.) But I knew that I didn’t like Van Halen in twelfth grade. Nobody I knew liked Van Halen in twelfth grade.

This was the first cover version that showed me that an original that I had openly disdained was actually great. Aztec Camera’s cover is superb for many reasons—it brings out the double-edged nature of the categorical imperative masquerading as a nonchalant “might as well” jump. Are we picking up someone at a club? For a dance? (So that we can give in to the abandoned joy of jumping, as in the Pointer Sisters “Jump (for my love)” which also came out in 1983?) Or is this nonchalantly threatened jump a sinister one; will rejection lead to suicide? A jump off a roof? Roddy Frame’s slowed down, mournful, wasted take, brings out the melancholic desperation of the original. “Can’t you see me standing here, I’ve got my back against the record machine. I ain’t the worst that you’ve seen.” That’s beautiful. Roddy Frame’s back against the record machine was not the same as David Lee Roth’s back, and yet Roddy Frame’s back helped me appreciate the subtleties of David Lee Roth’s back. Aztec Camera’s version is pliant, gentle, fed-up perhaps, but I think finally, not parodic. This song brings out the poignancy of the original, by de-snottifying it.

One version of what a great cover song does then, is to make you finally appreciate a debased original, turn back to it with a newfound, if potentially still grudging, respect. Van Halen, it turns out, could write a great song. Was Roddy Frame thinking “this is actually a great mournful twee-80’s band kind of song?” or was he thinking “this is a song I could milk a hit out of?” Does it matter?

Aztec Camera’s “Jump” singlehandedly acted out an MTV battle of the mid ‘80s—those of us (and at that point it seemed we were legion) who were yelling “More Human League! Less Van Halen!”, were momentarily silenced when this song forced us to admit that we were all part of the same project. The record machine was big enough for Eddie Van Halen and Roddy Frame.


Song #2: David Bowie “Let’s Spend the Night Together”

What we have here is a great artist on a great album, covering a great song by a great band. So why does it suck so much? This should have been fantastic; instead this is a cover that manages to make it sound like spending the night with David Bowie would be awkward and embarrassing, maybe even kind of dull. (Um that was very nice, can you take the screechy synths and just leave now please?)

One generous way of reading this would be to see Bowie attempting to ironically queer the boys’ club that is the Stones—deconstructing their hetero-come-on with a combination robotic and camp intervention, but something goes horribly wrong. (Devo would do the mechanical bit perfectly a few years later with “Satisfaction”—another best cover, in some world historical sense.) There’s a grim, grinding determination to Bowie’s “Let’s Spend the Night Together”; he’s just trying too hard in too many different directions. What happens to desire in this song? David doesn’t seem to have any desire in this song, except maybe his desire for Mick, or at least Mick’s chart presence. However, that’s not necessarily a problem—a lot of Bowie’s ostensible love songs are pretty desireless; he traffics in wasted decadent narcissism; come-ons are spent before they even start. My favourite Aladdin Sane song, “Drive-In Saturday”, begins “Let me put my arms around your head/Gee it’s hot, let’s go to bed.” It sounds already pre-exhausted. But this is exhaustion on speed. Bowie attempts to sound eager but it’s an eagerness cut through with irony. He’s trying to be eager but in a really sucky way. I’m still not sure where all the multitudinous failures of this song are located. The piano plinks along nicely with that great Aladdin Sane dissonance; the band sounds fine—there is no one to blame but Bowie: Ziggy Stardust just can’t make a dent in this one.

The best bad covers are generative; making you turn back to the original’s brilliance to figure out where the cover tripped up. Rolling Stone’s contemporary 1973 review of Aladdin Sane verged on the homophobic, calling Bowie’s version, “campy, butch, brittle and unsatisfying”, suggesting that Bowie was trying to queer the song. It makes me squirm a little to think I may be buying into some similar rhetoric in my own reaction. But I don’t think that Bowie here fails to queer a thrusting hetero anthem. I think the problem is that the original is already pre-queered—his reading seems to slide right off it.

The Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” is obviously just barely interested in the girl it’s ostensibly sung to. Any desire in that song rushes toward the doo-doo-doo moment of terrible parody Beach Boys harmony, when the Stones show us that they are far more interested in their homo-social thing with each other than they are in any girls. It’s a song that is already taking the piss, and I think, doing so rather brilliantly. Can you have a good cover of a song that’s already taking the piss? If the original is already queer, is it somehow painful, or slightly embarrassing to re-queer it? Listen to the cringe-worthy verse that Bowie added (“They said we were too young/Our kind of love was no fun/But our love comes from above? Let’s make love”) “Let’s make love”. Really? This is the song that makes me just say no to David Bowie.

CK 2014: EMILY LORDI

Screen Shot 2014 10 28 at 8 27 36 AM 1

Song #1: Limp Bizkit: “Faith”

Written by Emily Lordi.

< guitar intro >

Perhaps it’s obvious to say that a band whose name makes you feel like an asshole for saying it also makes music that you feel dumb talking about. This is Limp Bizkit.

< I know not everybody has a body like me… >

That word isn’t supposed to be “me,” it’s “you”: “I know not everybody has a body like you.” But the mistake does set us up for the mistake that is this song, a shameless if not exactly narcissistic version of George Michael’s “Faith,” recorded in 1998.

I don’t want to push my aesthetics on anyone but like Carl Wilson I do wonder why the people who like this have such bad taste. Who are the people commenting on Youtube that this is “the best song ever”? Are they here? If so, let’s talk after. Maybe someone can explain this. But for now, I have the mic so I’ll just say, I’m sorry, this is the worst cover ever! Listen to this:

< gotta have faaaaith… >

Is all of Limp Bizkit’s music like this? I admit that this recording didn’t inspire me to look into it. Even before the chorus ripped voice and song apart to spew its vile faith out, there was Fred Durst’s too-drunk-to-care pronunciation and his trying-but-failing approach to intonation. But I guess that’s their aesthetic. And it’s aggressively not for me. Here’s Fred Durst from Wikipedia: “A lot of people [see our name] and go, ‘Limp Bizkit. Oh, they must suck.’ Those are the people that we don’t even want listening to our music.” Got it.

So let’s talk about the video. “Before this river becomes an ocean.” Fred Durst is standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. That makes sense—the Pacific Ocean! What happens next? “Before you pick my heart up off the floor.” Fred Durst is riding a scooter… he’s on stage; he’s backstage; he has a bulldog; he has a concert. Wow, there are a lot of people who like Limp Bizkit! They are really into it. The fans do all look white—but look: Fred has his arm around a black guy. Their close friendship must explain where these white guys learned to scratch records and why one of them can breakdance.

< Get the fuck up! >

Okay so that “get the fuck up” is sort of cool but whatever, let’s talk about George Michael. Did he let them do this? This cover does arouse my fidelity (dare I say faithfulness) to the original. The best-selling U.S. single in 1988. The song that showed us that the word “faith” could and should have two syllables. Listen to that Bo Diddley beat, how Michael’s vocals caress against the twang of the guitar—just enough friction. And then there’s his video: those tight blue jeans, leather jacket with the pearls, and his bouncy little “Footloose” dance with the guitar. He disavowed that straight-ish bad boy image when his video for “Freedom” set these objects on fire: there goes the jacket, there goes the jukebox. But little did he know his song itself would meet a similar fate.


Song #2: Mariah Carey: “Without You”

< piano intro >

Mariah Carey released her third studio album, Music Box, the August before I started high school. In 1993, in my white New England town whose kids were slouching into the grunge era, Mariah was not considered cool. And neither was I. That fall I never wanted to get out of bed and go to school but I would lie in the morning darkness listening to this song on my Discman. Mariah hardly ever covered other people’s songs and I’m not sure why she covered this Harry Nielson folk version of a rock song first released by Badfinger in 1970, the alleged year of her own birth. But it is the perfect cover, because it is a performance about doubling and departure.

The doubling starts with that saccharine two-fingered piano, an introduction preceded in its doubling only by the two-word song title itself: “Without You.” When she sings the second “Well I,” her voice will harmonize to give that lonely “I” company. Likewise, the lyrics keep splitting and restoring the rhymes. “Evening” rhymes with “leaving” but “the story goes” doesn’t rhyme… until the next line hastens meet it, to ensure that “story goes” won’t go without its “sorrow shows.” In the next verse, “tomorrow” and “sorrow” open out onto “let you go”—but that “go” gets bound up into “let you know what you should know.” Release, contract. Can’t let go. The same few words over and over:

< I can’t live, if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give anymore. >

The third verse will be the same as the first.

The synthesized production gives us a sound and its reverb snug within the chamber of a music box. But we watch Mariah take the song—as beautifully as she ever did—out of the box. From her throaty burrowing through the first word to her cries in all the right places, this vocal performance is everything that is great about Mariah. All that passion in her “bruise-tender” voice. All that ability, but not in your face. So you wouldn’t necessarily hear that she sings half of each verse without pausing for breath. But listen:

< Well I can’t forget this evening or your face as you were leaving but I guess that’s just the way the story goes… >

She doesn’t rush the end of that line, even though she’s at her limit. The song is about those limits—about how far you can go and where you end and the other begins. Is it possible to let go? To release that rhyme? I don’t think the song decides whether you can recover an “I” without the “you.” But Mariah’s performance dramatizes how you can outdo or exceed yourself, even when you think you’re spent.

Hence the octave jump. As soon as she starts that first chorus, so beautifully, profoundly low, we know that Mariah the whistle-range queen is going to take it higher. As in so many of Whitney Houston’s pop masterpieces, the pleasure comes in waiting for her to take it to a place where can’t sing along. And she does, so that the lyrics express a lack that the performance begins to defy. Just when it seems you can’t give anymore, what Nathaniel Mackey would call a “fugitive voice” comes in and gives you a voice—except in this case it’s a host of voices, what James Baldwin would call a “cloud of witnesses.”

< No, I can’t live... No, I can’t live… >

We expect the octave jump, but how many people hear that gospel choir coming? To me, anyway, it arrives as a gift, to blow up the song’s careful doubling. Bringing a sound much too large for the music box, the choir just blasts us with the sound of encouragement.

I was going to say that this song marked a career high for Mariah after which she couldn’t give much more. What if that’s what she was telling us? Those album covers were closing in on her face, making her look lighter, shutting out even her hair as if covertly preparing the new body that would never again be covered up from the mid-1990s on. Soon I would see more pictures of Mariah’s new cleavage than I would ever see of my own mother. And yet she still gives, whether we like what she’s giving or not. Refusing the fade-out, singing “no no no no” so that it becomes its mirror image: on and on and on.

CK 2014: ERIC WEISBARD

The Song: Jimi Hendrix’s cover of The Troggs’ “Wild Thing”

Written by Eric Weisbard

So, what exactly am I supposed to do at this point—something with my arms and fingers? I don’t play any damn instrument and when I worked at EMP I hated the idea that Jimi Hendrix was the patron saint of the place: I curated a disco exhibit here and Paul Allen kind of yawned and declined to take a tour. But here’s the thing: Robert Palmer, the great rock critic whose vision still shapes everything in this hollow body edifice, had one hope for what you could do, especially in the instruments interactive space SoundLab upstairs: teach a visitor in 30 minutes to play a power chord. Give them the chance to feel like Hendrix just before he burned his guitar. To rock the fuck out. All these years in the building later, I’ve never made it to the end of the tutorial.

But I can relate to some of what I think was behind this moment, at the Monterey, yes, Pop Festival in 1967, when Hendrix covered the Troggs for an audience of hippies covering hipsters, then set the night on fire. I can empathize with Mailer’s version of the white Negro, the psychopathic hipster looking for kicks, not with that stupid jazz as orgasm trope but with the spirit that co-founded the Village Voice and put David Johanssen in drag on the stage of a crumbling building I never made it to singing about trash, gonna pick it up. In other words, still with Mailer’s “art of the primitive.” Or Lester Bangs, in his manifesto “James Taylor Marked for Death,” using those Troggs, troglodytes, lowlifes of teenage kicks all through the night, to talk about the communal politics of “groin thunder” and “caressing Math Class Judy in his highschool “pube punk fantasy,” helped by the copy of Dharma Bums in his backpack. That was all a big cliché when I came of Bangs and Mailer reading age, or maybe it wasn’t: now the band X, John Doe and Exene Cervenka, remade “Wild Thing” one more time, looking to dumb down their never commercially viable Beat Generation punk rock cabaret act with the one thing that surely heavy metal America on the Sunset Strip and KROQ could agree on: BUM diddy BUM BUM BUM. Somewhere in this room, the Pop Conference spirit of Ned Sublette still resides, explaining how the song is a Cuban cha-cha-cha. Wild Thing, I can’t stop loving you, though that’s Ray Charles covering Don Gibson. I get my references mixed up.

But here’s the coda. When I teach music, and music writing, my students don’t get “Wild Thing,” at least not in the way that ran Mailer to Bangs to indie punk. They struggle with a horny-brainy teen boy, white Negro fantasy of cultural release. They know hipster is a term of insult. They really don’t see what James Taylor ever did to anybody, especially now that it’s Taylor Swift who’s 22, like Bangs when he wrote his opus, and it’s she, Math Class Judy, who packs the arenas, not Grand Funk Railroad. To them, “Wild Thing” is Freddie Wong on YouTube rocking Guitar Hero. It’s karaoke, not counterculture. To them, Susan Sontag makes far more sense than Norman Mailer. In my Cultural Criticism course this semester, the student who’s going on to MA work hated the hipster article and wanted to write about camp, specifically Rocky Horror Picture Show. The A-plus student who’s going on to PhD work wanted to write about Kanye West’s Yeezus as what he called “racial camp.”

Only the student who never spoke up, who broke two ribs in a car accident toward the end of the semester, wanted to write about Jim Morrison’s poetry and excess. So so long “Wild Thing,” it’s been good to know you, you been a good American Studies myth and symbol but you done broke down.

CK 2014: KAREN TONGSON

Jose and Nao

The Song: Nao Bustamante’s cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”

Written by Karen Tongson

{Guitar Intro}

When is karaoke a cover, and when is a cover merely—as Simon Cowell likes to complain—karaoke?

“That’s how it starts?” – she murmurs into the mic, unaware she’s being recorded by our jolly KJ.

Karaoke crosses into covering—into the best cover ever, as we are tasked to argue here—when the legendary performance artist, Nao Bustamante Creeps-out as Crystal Törly, her karaoke alter-ego, christened after the cheap bottle of bubbly we downed earlier that day on the banks of the Hudson in Troy, NY. June, 2011.

{When you were here before}

We were never there before: me, Lynne Chan, Josh Thorson, John Andrews, and our resident karaoke voyeur, and ringleader in the consumption of vodka and chicken tenders, José Esteban Muñoz. We squeezed ourselves around an indoor picnic table for 4, most likely hand-carved by one of the woodsmen hanging out, waiting for his turn at a Billy Joel tune from the bottom of his heart, or a Creed anthem from the bottom of his girded loins.

{ …in a beautiful world… }

Floating like feathers in a beautiful world, escaping the city heat on our weirdo’s retreat in Watervliet, NY, we found ourselves in a beautiful world that wasn’t meant to be ours: Muddy’s Too, a sports tavern dubbed T-O-O, because the first Muddy’s burned down a number of years back.

{You’re so very special}

We felt pretty damn special…so we attacked the stage. I pandered to the crowd with a Kings of Leon hit (well before their Seattle bed bug scandal), while John covered Carly Simon, Lynne, aka “JJ Chinois” crooned Paula Abdul’s “Rush, Rush” and Josh (who, following Nao’s lead, dubbed himself “Bill” for the evening), wowed the crowd with the retro-est of jams, “King of the Road.”

{What the hell am I doing here?}

José, as usual, didn’t sign up for anything and elected to sway, gigglesnort and clap along, as he obsessively texted freshly downloaded Emojis to all of his friends.

{I don’t belong here..}

We really didn’t belong there… and someone—a friendly, plump, pretty girl actually asked if “we were part of some kind of show or something.”

We ran with that idea and tried to convince our interlocutor that we were all part of the “gender neutral regional touring production of Guys and Dolls.” Our repertoire that evening—mostly gender dysphoric, or at least deeply confused—corroborated these bold claims. Then Nao—nay, Crystal—ratcheted things up to another level when she dove into Radiohead’s “Creep,” her and Jose’s self-appointed “theme song.”

{I want you to notice}
Everyone noticed.

{When I’m not around}
Especially José, who finally looked up from his phone.

{You’re so bloody special}
She was that bloody special.

{I wish I was special…}
It was all, really fucking special.

{But I’m a Creep…}

Each of us may have felt like precious, pretentious little weirdos that night, but the two of them—muse and scholar, inspiration and intellectual; queer, brown badass soul mates—they were a special species of creep together.

And it is no wonder that in a world they dreamed into being through disidentifications sometimes deliberate, at others arbitrary, that this pasty, anemic British rock tune became their anthem…

{Nao screams}

In Jose’s presence, Nao felt free to unleash her upper register, laying bare the Wagnerian drama always rumbling beneath the surface of her cheeky, yet also vulnerable performances. She was emboldened whenever her co-conspirator in crimes against normativity watched her improvise. They egged each other on.

It broke me when I heard her sing this song again without him there, with just her ukulele for accompaniment at his memorial in L.A. this January. Every lyric, every tortuous screech felt retrospectively prescient. Freighted with meaning. Soaked in pathos. Readymade for reminiscence.

We didn’t know then that we’d be so fucking glad the KJ, a bit of a creep himself, recorded all of our performances without permission. He burned a disc for all of us to share, with the words, “The Gang” scrawled in sharpie across its shiny surface.

{Whatever makes you happy…}

Crystal, nay Nao’s, cover of “Creep” is an interpretation, not simply a copy; and as such it happens to be karaoke and not just a cover: karaoke as the infusion of one’s outsized soul into someone else’s music; karaoke as your own voice, no matter how strange or strained, guiding the empty orchestra in a dirge for a lost love, our lost leader.

{But I’m a creep….}
This song became a memento of an evening we never expected to remember so fondly and poignantly. Just another night of song with fully loaded potato skins, and fistfulls of emojis. A queer utopia evaporating into the horizon as Jose—our angel, our creep—left this world.

You were too fucking special, my friend.

You didn’t belong here.

CK 2014: GUS STADLER

Song: Prince’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”

Written by Gus Stadler

I guess I should have known by the way everyone loves the song so ardently that Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” is something of a panty jam. I’ve always thought of the album it first appeared on, 1971’s Blue, as a deceptively funky record dressed in Laurel Canyon fineries. But I never consciously thought of Mitchell’s song that way until I heard Prince’s cover—not because his version is a panty jam, but because it’s not, and that’s despite its use of the falsetto traditionally associated with that “genre.” Prince’s spare version is so perfect, so airtight, that its sexiness comes from a wholly different place, a place no one has ever been except while listening to Prince’s music. I think that’s key to why he starts his version in the second verse, a cruel choice because it means that we don’t get to hear Prince sing the phrase “Oh, Canada.” But that map name, which for Mitchell is also a place to draw her lover’s face, just wouldn’t work at all for Prince. It makes more sense that he open by telling us that he’s a lonely painter who lives in a box of paints. In the original, Joni is singing to a lover, a specific girl or boy like you or me, or maybe even James Taylor sitting next to her in the studio accompanying her on guitar—but it’s definitely a person who can take visual form on a map of her northern native land. Prince, however, sings to everyone and no one, from no where you’ve been to exactly wherever you are. For someone who’s so sexy, Prince as a working musician can seem weirdly disembodied. What do you think Prince wore while he was recording this? If I were his girlfriend, would he let me dress him? I guess I might be dumb, but I, at least, don’t believe such questions have answers.

And yet, there is one possible way to read specificity into this cover, and that’s the possibility that the song is for Joni. This song revivifies what we knew from the stunning moment in “Ballad of Dorothy Parker” from Sign o the Times, where Dorothy turns on the radio and Joni sings the first line of “Help Me”—all in Prince’s voice, of course—it’s actually one of the shortest and most brilliant cover versions of all time, and it’s actually a double cover, because he’s actually singing back to her, essentially, “You Turn Me on I’m a Radio.” As Prince constructs it, this relationship is so completely mediated by songs that I think it makes the most sense to say the cover of “A Case of You” is a love song from Prince’s music to Joni’s music. That’s the protracted act of swallowing that’s taking place, but there will be no slurring or staggering, no bodily fluids or disheveled undergarments or even used Trojans either—just ecstatic incorporation into the purple haze.

CK 2014: JESSICA HOPPER

Song: Minor Threat’s cover of the Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone.”

Written by Jessica Hopper

This instance of “Steppin’ Stone” is a Minor Threat cover of the Monkees 1966 cover of the song originally performed by Paul Revere and the Raiders in 1966.

What in the Monkees’ hands was a tense un-anthem sung by the group’s Mickey Dolenz, a song of impotent rage against ostensibly some Valley Girl groupie type who wanted entree in their Hollywood world via Dolenz’ cock–reading simply by the level of disdain Dolenz heaps on her ersatz “ambitions”.

Excising intervening versions including the likely inspirations of this cover, The Sex Pistols, here “Steppin’ Stone” is remade and recontextualized in the world of nascent DC straight edge punk scene, re-oriented entirely and firmly in macho grip of boy band Minor Threat. Meaning is transmogrified here by who was in the audience. It becomes a febrile rebuke–like most all of their songs were–to the scene which, given the scope of hardcore’s limited subject matter, was evidently rank with posers. It could no longer be about girls because this was American hardcore at the dawn of the eighties, and hardcore’s worldview did not yet include girls or women, it was about boys, territory, dominance, regionalism and realness–it becomes a terror anthem of importance of guarding the clubhouse and keeping it pure. Asserting that this was the province of real (male) punks doing real work, the important work of yelling their feelings to one another.

CK 2014: PETER COVIELLO

The Song: Chrissie Hynde’s cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”

Written by Peter Coviello

We all know the pleasure of trading songs back and forth – especially, I think, cover songs – with new lovers; how they acquire in the exchange something of the bright atmosphere of romance’s beginning; how, later, when you encounter them again, they can seem to shimmer with all that dreaminess and erotic captivation. It makes sense. If you’re not 16, all your love affairs are covers – repetitions, with a difference. And this can make the inclusion of covers in those early mixes especially sweet. Just this summer, at the outset of a steep and sudden and unworkable love, my new friend and I passed back and forth versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You,” and each iteration, from Joni to Prince to Lloyd Cole, seemed to entwine itself around one of those small new discoveries that make the commencing of the affair so intoxicating. You know, before anybody’s love gets lost.

But not all exchanges come from these radiant moments, these scenes of plenty. Sometimes you’re given a song in the midst of a passage of great devastation. And sometimes it’s a cover.

Listen, I can take or leave Radiohead, and I feel a like indifference to this early hit, from before they became the next Only Band That Matters. But if you wanted to hate Radiohead – which, god bless – this song can help you. “Creep” is song of overweaning male narcissism pretending to be abjection. When the singer says “You’re so fucking special,” you can feel the weight of all his bitchy contempt, how much the singer resents this person who, by being hurt by whatever shitty thing the singer’s done, has made him feel so bad. The whole song is a fake mea-culpa, behind which is an aria of extravagant male self-pity.

Chrissie Hynde’s cover fucking demolishes the original. And it does so by leaching out every least suggestion of self-pity, note by harrowing note, so that what you’re left with is a pure and chrystalline and almost unendurable self-contempt. This singer knows the lover she’s hurt is maybe actually special, that she has done genuine harm, that something ugly and raw and maybe incurable in her own intractable self has once more turned love to wretchedness. It’s like Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up,” but in the first-person. Or Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” tuned to the note of an intimate self-made misery. Think of it as an inside-narrative of the wretched life of a lonely heart: a song of anguished self-horror.

I only know this version because years ago it was sent to me by a person who, after some months of quite ordinary intimate human harm – haphazard cruelty, ruinous deceit, etc. – emailed it to me more or less out of the blue. I’d suffered a lot, over those familiar dark days and nights, this person’s utter inarticulacy, a wholesale incapacity to, as the shrinks say, take responsibility for what aspects of the wreckage were hers to own. It was, as such encounters with obdurate refusal can be, crazy-making. But then from out of that blank wall of speechlessness came this song.

And I know – oh, I know – it might be nothing more than my own wounded male narcissism talking here, my own expansive and impressive capacities for self-pity. But believe me when I tell you: I think it was maybe the best I’m sorry I’ve ever received, or am likely to receive. Not adequate or curative, of course. But something. It helped. It helps.