The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

8 November 2005

Teenage demise as metaphor

Following up on this item, Fritz Schranck says:

I'll bet somewhere someone did a doctoral thesis on the reason why these ditties were so popular — probably suggesting something to do with fatalism and the threat of nuclear war at the time.

I wouldn't be surprised. Rock critic Dave Marsh on "Leader of the Pack," circa 1989:

If the Shangri-Las had recorded [it] three years later [1967], it would have been understood as a Vietnam allegory. And a better one than "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," at that.

We felt so helpless; what could we do?

Which may explain why the genre mostly died after about 1965: with Vietnam a decidedly-unpleasant reality, fantasy deaths like these became superfluous. (The Shangs' actual war song, "Long Live Our Love," stiffed, so to speak.) The heat of battle overshadowed the Cold War; who cares about the Moody River, whose deadliness merely exceeds that of a knife, when the Eastern world, it is explodin'?

Posted at 7:00 AM to Tongue and Groove


Actually, I don't think it has anything to do with the atomic bomb fear. Despite all the duck-and-cover stuff, people don't seem to have totally succumbed to A-Bomb Fear until the Sixties. About when they stopped doing that funny duck-and-cover stuff, because by then it was "no use, only Peace and Love (and pot!) can save us!" At least in the Fifties society still seemed optimistic, in a kind of crackbrained way, about our chances in the Cold War.

I think the teenage love-'n'-death song has a much simpler, and older, explanation. It has to do with the artistic and cultural movement of Romanticism. By the Fifties the Romantic ideals of feelings over reason, love-conquers-all, and so on had permeated society. Classicism was totally dead. The teenage death song was just a simplified version of all those Liebestod dramatic devices in German operas and novels and so on. (The Germans were at the forefront of Romanticism, taking it where even the Rousseau-haunted French wouldn't go; as for the Italians, they kept stopping on the way to dramatic death to eat their huge meals.)

Also, stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando, all overwrought moods and Southern-belle-like "I'm so miserable I could just die!" attitudes were all over the big screen.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:35 PM on 8 November 2005

PS: Dave Marsh is so full of shit, but you knew that. :)

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:36 PM on 8 November 2005

The Marshman and I agree on exactly one thing: that the basic building block of pop, rock and R&B is the three-minute (give or take however many seconds) single, and, by inference, most albums are essentially singles separated by filler.

But I still read his stuff, if only because it gives me something to think about, even if it's just "Jeebus, where did he come up with that?"

I think, for a back-burner project, I'm going to work up a power-pop tune based on Orpheus and Eurydice. "Don't Look Back" is the working title.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:50 PM on 8 November 2005

I think, for a back-burner project, I'm going to work up a power-pop tune based on Orpheus and Eurydice. "Don't Look Back" is the working title.

A little too late for Lot's wife...

Posted by: McGehee at 9:10 PM on 8 November 2005