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    West End Girl

    If you (1) majored in poetry and (2) are a Madonna fan, life can be very cruel. It’s not just that she sometimes produces lines that could have been written while she was waiting for a bus. (Imagine Madonna waiting for a bus! I’ll wait for your peals of laughter to die down.) I actually don’t mind the sort of time-honored placeholders that rhyme “burning fire” with “my desire” and the like. They’ve become conventions, and every art or craft form needs conventions.

    Thing with Madge is, she’s often ten times worse when she actually seems to want to say something of importance. I think my favorite thing on the new album is “Jump,” which is one of her always-charming songs about navigating through life with pluck and determination. There’s one on every Madonna album somewhere, and she always pours feeling into it.

    This is the second verse of this year’s model:

    We learned our lesson from the start
    My sisters and me
    The only thing you can depend on
    Is your family
    Life’s gonna drop you down
    Like the limbs of a tree
    It sways and it swings and it bends
    until it makes you see

    The top four lines are fine. Unimaginative, but sincere-sounding.

    The bottom four? I just…I don’t…I have this thing, okay? I can’t read a poem or listen to lyrics without trying to interpret them, and I am getting a serious cognitive short circuit here. It sounds as if “life” is what’s supposed to be parallel with “the limbs of a tree,” but it could be “you” instead. Is she comparing you to dead limbs being dropped by the tree? Dead leaves? The latter would be nicely seasonal, but they don’t have a whole lot of the life force she’s obviously trying to project. Maybe she’s telling her fans we’re all fruits (as if we didn’t already know)?

    Or maybe we’re supposed to be kitty cats who have climed up the tree and have to take the risk of jumping off even though the…uh…wind is blowing? That would make sense given the chorus–but what would the tree be making you see by swaying, of all things? Does swaying make trees more instructive, somehow? You’d think that would have stuck in the memory during life science class in eighth grade. And how much bending around does the poor tree have to do until you see whatever it is you’re supposed to see? I guess the other possibility is that the verse is supposed to work as a whole, so it’s a family tree we’re dealing with. Do family trees sway? I thought she just said family was the only thing that was stable.

    This song is going to be so much easier to handle in a disco while surrounded by cute boys, fueled by a vodka or two, and moving it under seizure-inducing colored lights.

    8 Responses to “West End Girl”

    1. Alice says:

      I actually spent five minutes staring at these lyrics. Must be the iterary background, yeah. (Although I am softening towards Madonna since reading some recent interviews. Got a sense that she Does Her Best, which always impresses me.)

      Still staring, still no idea what she’s on about.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      It’s…I mean, there are things that trees do, and there are things that trees do not do. Is it so unreasonable to expect her to get metaphorical about a tree whose behavior is comprehensible?

    3. 1bodyand2faces says:

      Funny, that. The latter lines don’t bother me at all. I have no problem letting nonsense lyrics sail by, without trying to interpret them – come on, I was raised on Duran Duran. I tend to *prefer* it when I don’t understand what a pop singer is going on about.

      It’s clunky, literal, see-the-rhyme-coming-a-mile-away, banality-smacks-you-in-the-face lyrics like the first four lines there, that I cannot deal with. If she’d followed them up instead with, let’s say,

      ‘Cause sisters love each other

      As anyone can see

      We’ve got to stick together

      It’s the way that it should be

      the CD would be flying across the room before she got to the end of the verse.

    4. 1bodyand2faces says:

      Whoa, mercy, I hadn’t yet gotten to your “I Love New York” post when I submitted the above. (Yeah, sorry, fell behind on my blogreading this week.) You know, you’re not exactly convincing me to run out and acquire this album.

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, the music is great, especially if you’re a New Order fan and can play “guess which bassline is being ripped off here.” Seriously, the lyrics look stupid written down, but they don’t sound bad, which is the important thing. And the two passages I’ve been grousing about are unusually bad.

      BTW, that’s some scary facility with doggerel you’ve got there. You may want to, you know, watch yourself. Or work it to the max and get a job at Hallmark. : )

    6. Alice says:

      I figured it out: the lyric is incomprehensible because the tree she is talking about is actually the Kabbalistic tree of life, which is supposed to be incomprehensible!

      Except it also doesn’t sway around, would be more not less reliable than your family, and basically doesn’t fit into this song at all.

      I think the trouble is unconscious free-associative tree-confusion. Lot of it about.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      “I think the trouble is unconscious free-associative tree-confusion. Lot of it about.”

      Yes, that is one of the sad pitfalls of our excessively mechanized modern life. Only, you’d think that if she were talking about the Kabbalistic tree of life, she’d have to say something like “limbs of the Sacred Tree (may its roots never go thirsty).” Maybe it was hard to find a slant rhyme.

    8. Alice says:

      Well, she’d have said that if she knew what she was talking about… but also I don’t think she wanted to admit in public that the mystical Tree of Life threw her off.

      Or did she mean to say “horse” instead of tree?

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