Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beware The Clown: Leo Sayer: "The Show Must Go On"

And so, dear reader, we come to the end of 1973; and here is the first hit of Leo Sayer's career, a song that is about...wanting to escape.  That he is a pierrot figure, a scary clown, adds to the unease of the song (as does the banjo somehow).  He has more than had it with the fat cats and their cigars and fancy cars (which reminds me of "Folsom Prison Blues") who are making him perform in front of an audience that wants his blood, that seemingly will not let him out of the theater alive.  He chose this life, he admits, but he has been used and abused, has broken all the rules; he is the misfit, the outsider, on the high wire precariously balanced between freedom and near death, it appears.  Must the show go on?  No, he says.  He won't let the show go on*.  Just how he is going to do this he doesn't say; that he has got down to this point, where he has been pushed and taken advantage of so many times that he has to say it, is the point.  (How many narratives are there from the early 70s of this kind - the lone person standing up and saying no?) 

Sayer's naturally anguished voice suits this song (a #2 on the Radio Luxembourg chart) - he wrote it with David Courtney, and it was produced by Courtney and Adam Faith, who may or may not have suggested the pierrot costume to Sayer as a way for him to stand out from the Glam Slam crowd.  (Just as Gilbert O'Sullivan had dressed as a school boy when he was first seen, for much the same reasons.)  In any case, the "masquerade" is seen as a sham - could that masquerade be the rock scene itself?  I think so.  And while that show went on, it largely continued in the world of albums, as opposed to the increasingly confusing and baffling world of the singles charts - singles which, as I will explain in the next entry, are getting more and more difficult for me to write about.

This song also stands as a kind of one-man strike anthem, a testament to anyone who feels they too have been used and have been wasting time, to make some kind of stand.  And so the three-day-week comes in, the lights dim and The Fog settles in for the foreseeable future.  Sayer won't have any of it, and being dressed as a scary clown emphasizes how he is the fool that speaks the truth, who feels compelled to do something, and it may well be something violent for all we know.  The Fog cometh; the creeping, surrounding, uneasy-making mid-70s are here, and Sayer's is the last voice of defiance before they begin.

Next up:  power, corruption and lies.

*When Three Dog Night covered this they changed the lyric to "the show must go on" which shows the fundamental difference between the UK and US mindsets.  Sayer wasn't too pleased, apparently, but that's American optimism for you, in the face of Watergate.

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