Monday, September 26, 2011

Two Are Better Than One: Val Doonican: "What Would I Be"

"I don't ponder because I don't even see the world without it. It's too big, or buried too deep, with edges that thin out to nothingness, binding itself to everything else."

Julie Powell, Cleaving

Suddenly we are out of the club and have ended up in one of the country variety, or perhaps in a waiting room somewhere. This may be called "easy listening" by some, but any song which has "angry voices raised in vain" and "unspoken thoughts we both regret" could only be called easy by someone who is going through a very tough patch indeed. Jackie Trent wrote this song and while I can't say if it was autobiographical or not (I hope not - she was falling in love with Tony Hatch at this time) it has the ring of authenticity. It is as if the man in the Manfred Mann song is speaking up - the other one - and describing what marriage is really like. There may be irritating things but they are far outweighed by the irresistible ones, the ones that make despair or dismay evaporate, the ones that make thinking of life without the Other impossible. What would he be, he wonders - and he will never know. It is one of those unknowable things, unthinkable, because it is literally beyond the bounds of perception. This is what Powell is saying here, and Doonican as well - that the minor troubles they go through are in reality nothing compared to the much bigger alternative. Adolescents and young folks may sulk after a fight or a bad day, but adults know that there will always be the rough with the smooth and that the balance between the two is what counts; a relationship that lasts takes this well into account and even, so to speak, banks on it. It is a mature song, realistic, perhaps a little sad (Doonican always sounds a bit sad to me, but perhaps that's his Irish accent).

Marriage is a complex thing that requires a lot of attention and care (I am presuming this is a song about marriage, though it could stand for any long-term relationship) and it has always been a fringe subject in pop, since so much music is about crushes, flirting, searching, maybe finding, being dumped, etc. There are songs that celebrate weddings, too, but beyond that, it's up to "easy listening" crooners and the odd star like Kurt Cobain or Biggie Smalls to sing about marriage, as if it was a fringe state and something that happens every day. I am aware that "easy listening" is almost presupposed to be for those who are married, older, who don't go to clubs but don't want to listen to their parents' music all day, either. There is a substantial bloc of listeners in the 60s who like this kind of music and they don't have any interest in pop music unless it speaks to them: and this is exactly what does.

Val Doonican himself was an colorful-sweater and rocking chair-friendly Irish singing star who had his own television show, where he had a regular cast and many guest stars, including American singer-songwriters such as Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne and Laura Nyro, whose first album comes out around this time...and actually born around this time is Sinead O'Connor, who grew up with Val Doonican records and learned to sing "Scarlet Ribbons" - Doonican himself admires her version.

Yes, we are far from the sweaty club, and by the time we get back, things will be far more complex than they were before.

1 comment:

David Belbin said...

Val Doonican is still alive, bless his cotton socks.