People live and learn but you're still learning

While researching a This Recording post about how Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash’s love affair affected their respective artistic outputs — because, I guess, I have assigned myself to be the Us Weekly of 40 years ago? –   I fell into a YouTube odyssey of Graham Nash’s British Invasion band The Hollies, specifically, an odyssey of iterations of this song, Carrie-Anne.  One of the great things about writing a post on my own blog is that I never need to have a “peg,” but if I were writing for some other publication (“Can you have 1000 words about your longstanding obsession with the song Carrie-Anne by noonish? Ok, cool, make sure to include lots of parentheticals and rambling digressions about your own life!  Here is lots of money”) about this, I would mention that the Hollies will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday.  Ergo, this song is newsworthy.

Of the many versions of this song that exist on YouTube, most are of the band lip-synching to their hit on variety shows, as was standard practice back in the day.   Because the recorded version of the song has a steel drum solo — per Wikipocrypha, it “may have been the first piece of pop music outside the Caribbean genre to feature a solo on steelpan” — there is always a weird moment in these videos when the band members have to stand there and try not to act awkward about the disembodied steelpan that, clearly, no one present is playing.  The version above is of a 1969 live performance (sans Nash, who spread his wings and flew LA-wards in 1968), and it replaces the steelpan solo with a solo by a disembodied string quartet; somehow this is preferable.  It’s still weird, though.  I mean, a lot of things about this song are massively weird.

For starters: it is supposedly about Marianne Faithfull, but if that’s the case it is a bizarre overextended metaphor about schoolboys and girls and teaching, and also contains a very harsh neg — “You lost your charm as you were aging, where is your magic disappearing?” — which, wow, if you think Faithfull’s magic is disappearing in 1968, you know, just wait til she spends  years living on the streets as a homeless heroin addict.

Also — and this is a weird thing that I love about the song — its verses, each sung by a different Holly, do not rhyme and have no set meter (there is probably a musical term for this).  “When we were in school our games were simple/You’d play the janitor I’d be the monitor/then you played with older boys and prefects/what’s the attraction in what they’re doing?”

The lyrical content about school and games might be what originally lodged the song in my consciousness. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was around 8 or 9 years old.  Music with a slight edge of naughtiness that I didn’t quite understand intellectually, but somehow understood viscerally, was just beginning to seem appealing.  I played my parents’ and grandparents’ records and listened to the Oldies station in bed at night, tape-recording songs I liked so I could hear them again later. I didn’t listen to the New Kids or Debbie Gibson or whatever would have been age-appropriate, I think due to nerdiness and not having cable.

That summer I took my first solo plane ride,  joining my grandparents on vacation in northern Maine.  I think I’ve written about this trip before; my memories of it seem predigested in a way that memories can only be when you’ve run them through the meaning-sieve a few too many times already.  I made this into a story, in other words, and now I have to sort out what really happened from the montage-sequence glue I stuck around the memories to glom them together. I remember the taste of the orange Bubble Yum I chewed on the plane to keep my ears from popping and the Maine smell of chamomile crushed underfoot, salt air, and damp clothes.  Also: a sense of constant feverish imaginative life — after all, I spent this trip mostly alone, left to my own devices by my grandparents, away from my parents; I felt like it was the beginning of my adulthood.

There was a boy about my age vacationing there that week with his family too.  This is the part of the story that I’ve told before, to myself at least.  I don’t remember anything about him, not his name or what he looked like; I have the vague impression that we spent rainy afternoons together in the cottage his family was renting, playing card games, and that we ran around on the beach together, but I don’t actually remember doing either of those things.  All the times I’ve played card games bored at the rainy beach in my life blur together and all I have is the familiar impression of antsiness soothed by a series of pointless challenges.  We fell in love, in my mind, obviously.  I had read a lot of books.

There was a wedding at the inn one night, the party held outside in a big white tent.  A misty rain may or may not have been falling, or maybe the sky was clear and every single constellation in the summer sky shone down on us.  The boy and I sat on the stoop of his rented cottage, which was just uphill from the inn, watching the party; the music was loud, mostly songs from the 60s.  And this song floated up the hill to us, the question of it repeated over and over.   I wanted to dance but I didn’t want to seem weird, so we just sat there, I think, unless I asked him to dance and he said no.

“What’s your game now, can anybody play?”

17 comments to People live and learn but you’re still learning

  • ow a paper cut

    You may have seen this live version from 1968 with Graham Nash (does he seem less than enthusiastic?).
    Includes disembodied steelpan solo.

  • emily

    Ha, yes, totally.

  • emily

    Oh, that is the one where Tony Hicks looks really cute!

  • Mamy

    Needs more Stevie Nicks.

  • Signed D.C.

    He looks really cute in pretty much every video he’s in! Should you decide to venture into Hollies territory beyond this one song, and I highly recommend that you do, be careful or you might succumb to a major case of Hicksmania!

  • Andrew Field

    I read this first to mean you piloted the plane yourself which at 8 or 9 is crazy rebellious insane, but impressive! My comprehension corrected itself at Bubble Yum.

  • [...] perhaps not quite as hoity-toity as I may have previously indicated, wrote this week about “Carrie Anne,” one of my favorite British Invasion songs (and one that featured on a very early Mixtape [...]

  • kt

    ugh. i LOVE your writing. can’t wait for your book (that i won’t be able to afford until it’s in paperback, but STILL). most of my young-person music memories revolve around sweaty slow dance clutching to “Don’t Let Go Love” by En Vogue and i am pretty much unable to construct a memory involving that song that doesn’t make me cringe. although i did love The Wallflowers to an unusual degree and had a fantastic imaginary life with Jakob Dylan, so, that’s slightly better.

    i used to listen to Carrie-Ann in my perfect college bar over pitchers of PBR. that jukebox was the greatest, and i believe i fell in love over that song too, only, i think it might’ve been not-love.

  • emily

    @kt lucky for you, my book is a paperback original – you can preorder it on Amazon right now for like $10. If you really can’t afford a $10 book I will send you a copy, and some food.

  • “the Us Weekly of 40 years ago” lol yes

  • kt

    unfortunately my yearly stipend in grad school is equivalent to what i used to spend yearly on rent so as we speak i am eating my one weekly meal. fortunately, i am recently made wealthy by my yearly tax return and “$10 pre-ordered paperback” are the magic words. thanks for the tip. i will purchase it imminently. and you know, in RE: to that one review: fuck the haters. i mean, that’s easy to say: book reviews are rarely helpful to me as a reader, but i still compulsively read the amazon comments for the one anthology i was ever published in. but still: your quiet internet fan club is cheering you on. i feel like sometimes i should send YOU a baked good of some kind, for morale. only one though, flour’s expensive.

  • emily

    @kt yay!! Let’s make a deal now: if you like it, write a nice Amazon review, and I will seriously send you cookies (though I am a better cook than baker).

  • I’m glad you are blogging again at Emily Magazine (sort of). Can we expect more of these posts or is it over?

  • emily

    @TF huh? I plan to keep to my whenever-the-mood strikes posting schedule, as usual …

  • (another) Emily

    Have you read Marianne Faithful’s autobiography? If not, I highly recommend it. The part when she talks about knowing that she and Mick Jagger need to break up because the Stones come back from their first US tour and he suggests she start using ice cream flavored douche is amazing. I can’t remember if there is much mention of Graham Nash but I’m willing to bet there is.

  • emily

    @(another) Emily, I haven’t but you’re the second person to recommend it to me! Also recently I put it on hold at the library and then forgot to go pick it up. :( It sounds spectacular.

  • Wow, a friend linked me to your blog a few minutes ago and I’m already engrossed. Talk of Graham Nash on the first page: winner. Although I’m not such a big Nash fan. He has the stench of over-pleasy, cheesy pop star to me. I’d always take David Crosby over Nash (no, not ‘take’ like that, ugh); just as I’d always take Lennon over McCartney. (That kind of take I might, in this instance, consider.)

    Massive respect to him for pulling Joni at the height of her game, though. He must’ve been alright, really.

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