Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Choice Is Yours: Del Shannon: "Swiss Maid"

As it sometimes happens, there are strange and lovely things to be found in the most unexpected places, places that seem almost innocuous, at first...

So here we are, after a couple of sweaty dances, bumping along in a thump-a-thump way through Switzerland. "One time, a long time ago" a young woman sits/stands atop a mountain and wonders and waits for someone to notice her - her father tells her one day she'll go down to the valley and meet someone; but instead she ups and dies unhappy, pining her heart out. A simple enough story, save for the ending...

And this is where the figurative floor of the swimming pool, if we are walking along it, slips; we are floating; we are still in water, still upright, but the floor of the song is gone...

And it's all because Del (covering a Roger Miller song here, btw), after causing us listeners to care about a fictional woman's death as only he can, sings...

"If she did or not I really don't know...I'd rather think she'd found her love, wouldn't you rather think she did find love, somewhere, someway..."

And thus the fourth wall is not just acknowledged but the regular way of telling a story in a song is casually and deliberately broken down. To say this is extraordinary is putting it mildly; suddenly to turn to his audience and ask them to think of this woman and her story and think of it differently, to in essence ask them to write their own ending - these are not exactly new in storytelling, but it nevertheless feels as if something new - postmodernism? - is in the air. Del's clear compassion for this lonely girl (oddly emphasized by all the girls yodelling behind him) makes us agree with him - it would be better if somehow she had met someone, gone to the valley and found her man.

When I first heard this song it just sounded strange; but this is the point - before I expected it - that a song can in effect double up against itself, that the imaginative power of the songwriter opens up to include his audience. It is practically an invitation for others to write their own songs, which is the big difference in the 60s. And it starts here.

1 comment:

1988orange said...

He does only sing that "some say" she died unhappy - so that ending's hardly canon. It's genuinely open-ended.