Saturday, August 16, 2008
It Can Be Yours: Nat King Cole: "Pretend"
There is a genial toughness to Nat King Cole; an elegance that is almost too good to be true, a beneficence, a gentle nudging that may sound sweet to our ears and more than a little escapist, but there are ironies as well as comforts to this song. “Pretend” is about how the world “can be yours” if you pretend – if you see the world as you wish it was, a fine and noble place where you have a girlfriend/wife, where you have all you want…as a ballad it is pretty, lilting back and forth like a gentle tide, but to see him perform it with his Buddha-like smile only is to miss some of the import of the song; here is a black man singing about the joys of pretending to be happy (“it isn’t hard to do”), pretending the world around him is far more gracious and accepting of who he is than it actually is. In the YouTube clip available from 1957, he calls the song one of his favorites, which makes me think he a) really did like the song and b) perhaps understood that merely pretending was beautiful and fine, but there were realities to be faced – perhaps by pretending, such realities could be dealt with in a more imaginative way. We will return to Cole soon enough, but it should be noted that this is the first black number two on the chart (the first black number one was going to be a little while in arriving).