In the Words of Sparks




In the Words of Sparks by Ron and Russell Mael

July 4th, 2013 reset - +

WHY AM I SO lucky in life? The good luck started in 1974 when I picked up the album Kimono My House by Sparks at a local record store in Woodland Hills, California. Buying that LP and hearing it that day changed things for the better; Sparks became a necessary soundtrack to my life. Their look (Pre-war flair meets 1970s glam) made a huge impression on me, and based on the fact that visuals are very much part of the pop music world (at least to me), I just knew the album would have to be at the very least interesting. By the time the needle hit the vinyl groove on the last track of side two, I’d become addicted to their sound. Who could have imagined at the time that 39 years later I would write my first book, Sparks-Tastic (a memoir about seeing all 21 nights of Sparks performing their entire oeuvre in London in 2008), or that I would work with Ron and Russell Mael on their own book, In The Words Of Sparks... Selected Lyrics, for my press TamTam Books.

That book started when my wife Lun*na, for whom English is a second language, wanted to study the lyrics of Sparks, because she was a fan. She went through the internet and listened to their albums and wrote the lyrics down as she heard them. She compiled a small selection of their work, and made a homemade scrapbook she could take on the road with her or read in bed. When she was finished, I picked up her one-of-a-kind edition and really appreciated reading the lyrics without the music. That was the “aha” moment when I decided to pitch an idea to the Mael brothers about doing a book of their lyrics for my press.

There are lyrics that only make sense when placed to music, but then there are the lyrics of people like Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Serge Gainsbourg, Lorenz Hart, and Stephen Sondheim that also read well on a page, and the songs of Ron and Russell work on that level: one gets another texture or layer of the works by reading them on the page. A single line can shift the song's meaning, but it’s easy to miss that small, important information simply listening to the records alone — Sparks’ songs need to be read as well as listened to.

Ron and Russell went over 300 of their songs, and chose 76 lyrics for the book. For whatever reasons they found mistakes that were on the internet and even on their own inner-record sleeves, so all the lyrics have been corrected and edited by them with the help of Emmi Joutsi. On top of that Morrissey wrote a beautiful and brilliant introduction to this book, focusing on the nature and beauty of Sparks’ writing.

The following three lyrics are from In the Words of Sparks and are a good example of Ron and Russell’s combination of narration, word play, and satire in the pop music format. A certain amount of poison makes them work, giving significance to their view of the world and its inhabitants. And the music remains seductively danceable. Readers are allowed to tap their feet as they read.

— Tosh Berman

¤

I Thought I Told You to Wait in the Car

"I thought I told you to wait in the car”
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
 
What’s she doing now?
Has the encore come yet
And the bravas and bouquets
Don’t tell me, don’t tell me
Someday I’ll find a mind of my own
‘Til then, I’m content to hear her say
 
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”

What’s she doing now?
What’s she doing now?
What’s she doing now?

Autographing autobiographies
Adding to discographies
Don’t tell me, don’t tell me
There’s no such thing as a perfect situation
That’s what I say when I hear her scream

“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”

I’ll turn on the radio
And look at myself in the rearview mirror
I know she has an image to protect
I know she’s not just being mean when she screams

“I thought I told you to wait in the car”

What’s she doing now?
Meeting leaders of the Free World
She’s dressed in black, she’s their poster girl
Don’t tell me, don’t tell me
I know she has an image to protect
I know she’s not just being mean when she screams

“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
 
Just a glimpse of it all
Just a taste of it all
Just one foot in the door
In the door of dreamland
In the door of dreamland
 
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
 
Walking in on an afternoon tryst
Can be a source of embarrassment
Embarrassment for all concerned
Don’t tell me, don’t tell me
In my wildest dreams
I never thought of Warren Beatty as a rival
 
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”
“I thought I told you to wait in the car”

¤

Let's Go Surfing
 

Rain is pouring down
In our land-locked town
Skies are always gray
Let’s go surfing, babe
Somewhere there is hope
Somewhere there are dreams
Far from soot and smoke
Let’s go surfing, babe
 
Tonight as we look at the moon and the stars
From our room with security bars
There’s a westerly wind that is blowing
both our minds and
Both our feet walk through sand that’s as white
as the snow
Past the people named Kelley and Joe
Who have nothing in common with anyone we
know, we know they’re
 
Too Wagnerian
Too Shakespearian
Too impossible
Let’s go surfing, babe
Somewhere there is hope
Far from everything
Far from misanthropes
Let’s go surfing, babe
 
Tonight, from a room only Dickens could love
Wearing moth-eaten sweaters and gloves
We will open the window and feel an on-shore
wind a-blowing in
 
Grab our boards from the back of our van
Paddle out ‘til we can’t see the sand
Spin around and drop into the wave we hope
will never end
 
Somewhere there is hope
Somewhere there are dreams
Far from everything
Let’s go surfing, babe
 
Tonight, grab our boards from the back of our van
Paddle out ‘til we can’t see the sand
Spin around and drop into the wave we hope
will never end
 
Catch a wave, a wave, a wave
Catch a wave, a wave, a wave
 
Somewhere there is hope
Somewhere there are dreams
Far from everything
 
Let’s go surfing, babe

¤

Tits
 

Harry, it’s good of you to stay
Hear every word I say
And not just duck away
 
God, these drinks are something warm and watered down
Barkeep, how ‘bout some ice
Hey, Harry sit back down
Say, that little thing there’s fine from behind
 
They all look good after three or four
So drink Harry, drink Harry, drink ‘til you can’t
see no more
Of anything, no more of anything
Drink Harry, drink Harry, drink ‘til you can’t see no more
 
For months, for years,
Tits were once a source of fun and games at home
And now she says, tits are only there to feed our little Joe
So that he’ll grow
 
Harry, it’s really rough at home
I’ve caught her on the phone
Hey, who’s that on the phone?
Oh, that’s no one dear,
The standard sort of line
Harry, you know me well,
You know that I’m not blind
Hey, you ain’t been drinking
Don’t you know I’m buying?
 
They all taste good after three or four
So drink Harry, drink Harry, drink ‘til you can’t
drink no more
 
Of anything, no more of anything
Drink Harry, drink ‘til you can’t drink no more
 
How well I know
Tits were once a source of fun and games at home
And now she says, tits are only there to feed our
little Joe
So that he’ll grow
 
God, the room is spinning round
Hey, drive me home old pal
God, you sure get around
Harry, I know it’s you who’s breaking up my home
Harry, don’t say a word, just drop me off at home
Harry, forgive me Harry, let’s have just one more
 
It’s all so good after three or four
It’s all so good after three or four
It’s all so good after three or four
 
So let’s drink Harry, drink ‘til we can’t drink no more
Of anything, no more of anything
Drink Harry, drink Harry, drink ‘til we can’t drink no more
 
How well I know
Tits were once a source of fun and games at home
And now she says, tits are only there to feed our
little Joe
So that he’ll grow into a man
 
So let’s drink Harry, drink ‘til we can’t see no more

¤

Tosh Berman is the founder of TamTam Books and the author of Sparks-Tastic: Twenty-One Nights with Sparks in London.

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