Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday PSTSS: "Booker"

Harry Connick, Jr.'s 1994 album, She, was a departure for him; up until then, he'd been the new Frank Sinatra, a sexy big band crooner, tailor-made for the new romantics of the When Harry Met Sally crowd. This album was a return to his New Orleans roots (and not his last return, as things turned out); it's a stew of jazz, rock and roll, blues and funk, with many fine songs. This Good Friday however, I'm drawn to the final, most sober track on the album, "Booker." The lyrics were written by New Orleans lyricist and musician Ramsey McLean, and nominally Connick is turning McLean's words into a very personal tribute to one of his own teachers, the New Orleans piano legend James Booker, with Connick playing every instrument on the recording, often borrowing from Booker's style. Yet there's something more going on there, something spooky, something spiritual. It is a song about death, about endings; the otherwise nameless "Booker" of the lyrics is damned, dying, in prison--or is he? In any case, he cannot escape his fate, though those who would succor and heal and free him are all readily at hand. There is no let up from the sense of something terrible and unavoidable closing in. Most of the words are spoken rather than sung, backed up usually by only a single drum and some monotonous piano chords, and even when, following the second stanza, the tune explodes into a wild boogie-woogie rhythm, something haunting still lurks: the piano drives (hammers?) forward harshly, ever faster, almost hysterically, like someone dancing madly (on their grave?), ending with a glissando into a minor key that brings us back to the lyrics feeling shaken, not exhilarated. And then the crushing drum beat begins again, this time backed by a softly wailing bass line, and we are carried (like a body?) through the final stanza to the end.

I've not the slightest idea if any of this would make sense to McLean or Connick, and I certainly have no idea what their religious feelings about this song or anything else may be. But this particular Friday, I wonder if anyone can grow up in New Orleans and not have some deep sense of sin, pain, regret, and other broken things.

Have a blessed Easter, everyone.

And the warden said,
"He won't need a cell:
he has the key.
There's no harsher sentence--
the man's doing life
in the first degree."

Some people seek to set blame.
Some just accept their part.
And now you know why Booker
of a broken heart.

And the priest said,
"I can take confession:
but not the sin.
The church is a shelter--
not the faith, son,
that's within."

Some people pray for fortune and fame.
Some just play a part.
And now you know why Booker
of a broken heart.

And the doctor said,
"I can see you're hurt
just by looking at you.
Pain we can help,
but for hurt?
There's nothing we can do."

Some people pick up the pieces.
Some just leave them apart.
And now you know why Booker...
now you know why Booker...
now you know why Booker...
of a broken heart.

1 comment:

Rob said...

There goes, well there goes
The second-liners and the flambeaux!
I'm feelin' even better than the day I was made!
Here comes, here comes, here comes
The Big Parade!

There tried to conquer the world with guns, like a horde of huns, that had to be removed. We used a secret weapon. We did it with a groove...

I set my shoulders straight / Took a deep breath / This meeting I anticipate / unlike impending death / I strode onto the platform / And there you stood. / At worst, between us, it's good.

music just never left my brain / lyrics burned like a firebrand's pain / such are the works of Harry Connick / and the words of Ramsey McLean

(last two couplets are my doggerel)

...and with that I get reminded of my old Jazz Band teacher, Don Cammack, whose soul swam in that stuff. May he rest in peace.