As an overly romantic kid, I spent a good portion of my youth wearing bulbous headphones, analyzing the lyrical content of pop music. I once passed an entire family vacation listening to “Bennie and the Jets,” trying desperately to both memorize the lyrics and comprehend their meaning. The weird and the wonderful.
Religious leaders were scaring kids with stories of Satan-controlled rock stars and a nefarious tool called backmasking. Ironically, this made me certain the prophets of pop had access to deeper understanding. All I had to do was decode the hidden messages!
The influence of my sweet satan seemingly made me vulnerable to overwrought orchestrations of infatuation. Songs were my education in love. Imagine my joy when dad drove home in a new Chevy van! The things I imagined.
Over time, I began to develop a bullshit meter. For example, was there really a Mandy in Mr. Manilow’s life. I had my doubts.
How Much Do You Feel?
Ambrosia is the fabled food of Gods, famously used by Athena to affix beer-goggles on the suitors of Penelope. I knew nothing of Homer as a pre-teen. For me, Ambrosia was simply a band who understood true love and heartbreak, just like me. I bought all their singles.
Years later, I happened upon those 45’s, inserted the required yellow adapter (a satanic symbol for man on man on man love action) and began anew to analyze the lyrical content of their hit “How Much I Feel.” It’s widely counted as a beautiful blue-eyed soul love song. Even Casey Kasem thought so. But, is it?
Less than thirty-seconds in, the bullshit meter lurched full red. I grabbed the needle so quickly it sounded like tires screeching round Dead Man’s Curve. How Much I Feel? This guy was a lying, cheating bastard. Let’s break it down.
[Note: each lyrical section of the song is presented in a short audio clip. Click on the triangle next to the title to play it.]
I don’t know how this whole business started
Of you thinkin’ that I had been untrue
So, his girlfriend (wife?) suspects infidelity and confronts him. His response is classic misdirection: turn the accusation back on the accuser. The question is shifted from whether he cheated to why she doesn’t trust him. See how that works?
Diamond Life: Heaven Help Him, When He Falls
October 1984 | 2:30 am | Provo, Utah
Lying across a sturdy sofa, empty lobby of a dormitory, Brigham Young University.
Eyes smudged with eyeliner, highlighted hair tousled, bleached white 501s.
I’d been at The Star Palace, a refuge from the adjustment of moving out of Seattle and into Pleasantville. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” I danced. Hard.
My best friend back home was black. We frequented black clubs, listened to black music. There’s no “black” in Provo. I adapted; rather than rock steady to the Whispers, I swayed to Swing Out Sister.
In a malaise of misfit and dried sweat, I was watching Night Tracks, a late night music video show.
He’s laughing with another girl,
playing with another heart.
Placing high stakes making hearts ache.
He’s loved in seven languages.
Jewel Box life, diamond nights and ruby lights,
high in the sky.
Sight: red lips, black hair, freckled brown skin.
Sound: delicate piano, driving bass, salvific sax; creating structure to protect, wings to carry a voice soft and soaring, mysterious and familiar.
Heaven help him, when he falls.
And fall I did. No help from Heaven.
I’m leaning against a bar, swirling Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks and reading Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” when a woman approaches with a scowl and purpose. “Empty that bag and prove to me that you need to carry everything in it” she demands, handbag slung defiantly over her shoulder, arms crossed. “You should not be carrying a bag; men don’t wear purses.”
One might expect such a confrontation would catch me off-guard, but this interrogation is common. For the past 15 years, I’ve carried what is derisively referred to as a man bag.
More frequently than it should, this accessory elicits stares, comments, scorn and on rare occasion, compliments. In the seeming view of many, my bag further erodes the lost beacon of masculinity, the fall of the Western World.
For me? It’s just a bag. I’ve come to see it as a Rorschach Test that reveals more about others than me.
With deliberate movement, I take another swallow of scotch, set the tumbler down slowly, and ceremoniously two-hand lift my black Ferragamo onto the counter, exhibit A in this darkened courtroom drama.