With trepidation I clear my voice (wobbly and tending to flatness an it may be) and unveil my entry in the great "Cover a Bobby Lightfoot Song Contest" of 2006. In a magnanimous gesture of farewell, I dedicate it to the outgoing United States Congressional Class of 2006. The lyrics are pretty fuckin' apt, thought of that way. Were I some kind of HTML boffin I'd scroll the names on the screen, each miserable, hellbound name fading tastefully into the background as the song plays: Santorum... Talent... Burns... Fuckin' Macaca...
This Goodbye. (Pops.)
To say I was knocked out by Bobby's song when I first heard it last year is to understate the case a bit. His original is utterly gorgeous, detailed, chewy -- an intimidating thing to approach as a musician with an eye to covering it. But it wasn't until I prepared to record it, tweezing it apart note by note, that the full mastery of Bobby's songcraft became apparent.
The first thing that struck me was how Bobby uses major/minor tension to heighten the effect of his lyrics. The first few lines, the lyrics self-reflective and inwardly directed, are sung over a fairly standard chord progression (E/C#minor/G#minor), but when the lyrics begin to introduce a note of anger at the subject of the song ("Through all these years I burned for you...") he introduces an A minor -- a chord not in the home key -- exquisitely underlining the word "years." Through the song, he uses the tension between A minor and A major to surprise us, keep us on our toes. Building surprise by introducing the minor voicing of a IV chord that "should" be major is a McCartneyism borrowed from jazz; "Blackbird," for one example, employs this trick to great effect.
But there's a second, even more subtle major/minor tension going on in this tune. In the line following the one quoted above -- "You see I've burned myself right out" -- the chords are E major/F#7/A major. Now the A is "correct" -- that is, in keeping with the home key -- but the F# isn't. And oh, hey! Check out the word that's being sung on that "incorrect" chord: myself. Once again, an example of the perfect marriage of unexpected tonality and lyric: You burned yourself out? Really? Are you quite sure someone else isn't actually responsible?
I also fell really hard for the lovely syncopation of the "And all these years" line -- to the extent that I included it during the guitar passage, where Bobby left it out of his version.
As you listen to the song, you'll see that the word "goodbye" ends each of the three verses. But it's sung to different intervals each time. In the first verse, it's a quietly resigned descending major second. The second time it's sung, it's a descending minor second to accommodate the B tonality of that beautiful and disturbing and, I think, quite frightening bridge, which hints at suicide ("And ain't there just a million stars..."). It's in that bridge that we really learn what the song's about: towering rage directed inward that we, the audience, can clearly see should be targeted outward toward a capricious lover. You'd never think such cognitive dissonance could occur to the serene and Earth-touching bodhisattva who writes at Bobby's blog.
Rage directed inward that should be targeted outward: Isn't that a perfect expression of Life Under Bush?
It's the interval given to the the last "goodbye" -- an ascending perfect fourth -- that resolves the whole song. In my current mood, it's an immensely satisfying resolution, a transcendent, orgasmic kissoff to those crooked, bile-rising bastards who have made every morning's approach to the newspaper such a frightening event: Good-byyyyyyye!
Because I can't play keyboards to save my life, I've simplified and, I hope, pared down Bobby's arrangement. Where his piano is all subtle colors and delicacy, my fingerpicked guitar has, I hope, a Lennonistic directness. I also closed my eyes and blindly lurched in the direction of George Harrison in the lead guitar bits, and to my quiet, surprised pride, think I may have actually hit the mark in spots. The twin Harrisonian slides that come up during the fade particularly please me; I'd intended them for the guitar passage following the bridge but they were a bit unprepossessing in a lead setting. Moving them to the fade gave me a pleasant surprise.
One last thing: I've listened to both Bobby's original and my pallid copy of this song about 600,000,000 times now, and it's only just now occurred to me what inspired the genesis of the song! "But it's hard to say/The words get in the way"... Where have I heard that before...?
I would have made this instrumentalRock on, Bobby. Rock on forever.
But the words got in the way
PS: Speaking of surprises, I know it'll come as a major shock to all of you, but Bobby Lightfoot actually did survive the Bush 43 Administration and lived a full and happy life to the end of his days. Here's the proof. Lori Lightfoot took a new name when she converted to Zoroastrianism, but that's her in the pic, all right. What a hottie.