“She Was My Sweetheart” – She’s The Queen and Easy Come, Easy Go Disc 2

I keep trying to give this blog up and be done with it already and it keeps coming back.  I’m like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III.  “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”  These songs are demanding.  Now that they’ve got their hooks in me, they are not letting go.  All this time I thought that as the writer, I was in control of this thing.  I was the fisher; the ideas were the fish.  I could see the fish in the muddy depths of these songs and catch them.  But my metaphors were all jumbled up.  I was the fish all along and these songs caught me long ago.  What else can I do now but be pulled along on this line leading me to where ever it is that we are going.

“She Was My Sweetheart” may have been the first hook that got me good.  It was chronologically the third sf59 song I ever heard and the second written by JM. The first sf59 I heard was their cover of Steve Taylor’s “Sin For A Season” on the I Predict A Clone tribute album.  Sonically that song was as thick as clay mud.  I liked the new direction with the song, but it still felt like a song I knew.  I could hear the architecture of Steve Taylor’s writing underneath all the mud piled on top of it in the sf59 cover.  My first sf59 album was the She’s the Queen EP.    The first song, “She’s the Queen”, had all that sonic mud that I expected.  The chord progression was unique and not something Steve Taylor would ever write.  But still, the song was what I expected sf59 to sound like.  

Then “She Was My Sweetheart” walked quietly into the room with its cymbals and bass line.  Now this was something different.  With the exception of being cymbal heavy, the drums were light.  The bass had a groove to it.  The rhythm guitar was muted and chunky, not even close to the muddy or crispy tone I was expecting.  The lead guitar tone was clear and that tremolo made it feel so warm.  It was sweet and pure.   The vocals had that kind of wistful sadness that you have when you speak of a love so far gone.

Even the structure of the song itself was different.  The verse chord progression feels bright with its major chord shuffle.  F – Bb – C.  Then the tension comes in with a D chord as the singer asks how (How?) the sweetheart can be gone.  This D chord is lower than the verse shuffle so it is unexpected; it catches you off guard.  This progression finishes off with the same chords as the verse shuffle making the tension-inducing progression in the song D – Bb – C.

Notice the genius of what happens next (Tell me how).  We get a glimpse of the outro progression where the tension of the D chord gets folded into the bright verse shuffle making the outro progression F – D – Bb – C.  The pain of being left alone and wondering why the relationship ended this way gets blended with the good memories of being together.  In the blending, the jaggedness of the D chord gets smoothed out and things feel right again.  And isn’t that just the way that it is in life?  You find your resolution and peace when you accept and assimilate both what has brought you joy and what has brought you pain.

This song really wants to drive this point home so we a treated to an extended outro of this progression played while the lead guitar ruminates on the surface.  We’ve seen this song template of verse – chorus – verse – chorus – long outro on other songs like “Everyone But Me” and “Cry”.   It’s interesting that these songs with this structure have a similar sound (’50s pop) and a similar theme (being left alone) even though they were written and recorded decades apart.

So “She Was My Sweetheart” got its hook into me decades ago.  It was the first song that taught me to expect the unexpected with sf59.  And that, more than anything, is probably why I have stayed with this band and it has stayed with me.  It’s a relationship that continues to pay off.  This song is a prime example.  It is such a simple song compared other sf59 productions, but here I am still learning new things about it a quarter of a century later.  For example, did you know that the tempo speeds up in the outro?  In all the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song over the years I never noticed a change in the tempo.  Then I play along with my guitar one day and as soon as I get settled into the rhythm of the outro chord progression, I feel the bass pulling away from me as it speeds up.  How is it that I have listened all this time but never heard that before?

Now at this point you might be expecting me to dive into the lyrics and tell the story of some love lost.  I certainly have the stories.  But there is enough heartache in the world right now; I don’t need to bring it here.  And besides, what else could I say?  She’s gone away.  

She’s the Queen

I’m going to break my self-imposed protocol and cover an EP today. I’ve already touched on half of the songs on She’s the Queen in my write up for Silver. The rest of the songs on the EP cover the same ground as what we’ve already seen on Silver and I’m sure we are all ready to move on. The themes of the lyrics fall in line with what we have already seen but beyond pointing out that our dominant girl now has a title (she’s the “queen”), there’s not much else for me add here. But I could not skip She’s the Queen altogether as it has so much significance for me and remains one of my favorites. Plus, it’s been an excuse for me to listen to the EP all day in preparation and that is good enough for me.

She’s the Queen was the first sf59 album I got my hands on. Back in ’95, my mom took me on a day trip to Knoxville, TN. We would take this trip annually on the third weekend of April for the purposes of looking at all the dogwoods in bloom. While on this trek, we stopped at a Christian bookstore on Kingston Pike on the west end of the city. This place was made for the hardened traditional church crowd. It carried an assortment choir robes, packaged communion supplies and biblical tracts that looked like cheap Watchtower knockoffs, all ready to order in bulk. There was literally nothing to interest me while my mom was ruminating over some obscure book she was looking for.

To kill time I rummaged through a large cardboard box of clearance items filled mostly with accompaniment tapes ordered by some well-meaning choir soloist but never purchased. Amidst the tapes of “How Great Thou Art” and “Come Thou Fount”, I found She’s the Queen for $0.50. I was something I could actually afford with my budget at the time so I bought it and listened to it on my Walkman the rest of the day. Now this album always reminds me of springtime road trips.

It’s funny how you can find exactly what you need in the places you least expect it. I would likely never have bought a sf59 album at full price. I knew them from I Predict a Clone and liked them but not enough to spend $10 on them. Even if I did have a financial windfall that would have allowed me to purchase either Gold or Silver, if I had started it out with those albums it is unlikely that I would have continued to follow them because there wasn’t much variation in style on those albums. I would have gotten bored with it. I get restless if I stay with any particular musical genre too long.

She’s the Queen had so much variation in the ways the songs sounded. Since that was my first substantial entry into JM’s work, I was well-equipped for JM’s stylistic changes over the years. I knew that I could expect the unexpected with sf59 and that was enough for me to buy my way into the experience at full price from then on. She’s the Queen was exactly what I needed when I needed it and I got it all for $0.50 at a store that had absolutely nothing to interest me. That’s how the universe works sometimes, bitches, and thank God it does.

“Droned” – Silver and She’s the Queen

Much like my love of the Lounge version of “Monterey”, my favorite version of “Droned” is the In Love version. No hate for the Silver version; it just doesn’t pull at the strings of my heart in the same way.

I fell in love with the In Love version shortly after my 16th birthday. My parents bought me an acoustic guitar and a chord sheet and I set about teaching myself how to play in the most analog way possible. A week after my birthday, a severe snowstorm hit that kept us snowed in for 3 weeks and at least 2 of those weeks were without electricity. But I had my Walkman, plenty of batteries and my She’s the Queen cassette. I did not have a tuner for my guitar but I found the high e at a certain part in “Droned” and I would use it to tune off of. I also tried to figure out how to play the song by ear which just ended in disaster.

On those long, cold days, I would put on my headphones and just melt into the guitars and JM’s whispering and longing vocals. I imagined what it would be like to be in love, having not had the experience yet. I think this was the genesis point with my propensity to be in love with being in love. Turns out that this song is a horrible template to use for learning what being in love is like and it has taken me years to figure this out.

JM sings about how he knows when she’s faking it. I wish I had that kind of discernment but the evidence of past relationships shows that I do not. And there always seems to be a “he” who may or may not be away and who determines my place in the relationship. The “he” may not even be an actual person; it could just be whatever golden idol my partner is focused on at the time. I end up staying in these relationships longer than I should. Maybe it’s because I still believe that they are the best thing, easily. Maybe, like JM, I just don’t know how to let go.

If I think that love should be this way, I will draw people to me who will fulfill the role. So now I’m changing my idea of what I think love should be. We will see if it changes the kind of people who are drawn to me or who I am drawn to.

“Monterey” – Silver & She’s the Queen

I got my hands on She’s the Queen before Silver, so to me the Lounge version is the definitive version of this song. The Silver version has always seemed to me to be a demo of them playing the song before they learned how it should be played. As I write of my fondness of this song, it is mostly for the Lounge version.

One of the distinctive things about the Lounge version is the voices in the background. It sounded like a room where I would belong; a place where people talked about ideas, laughed and enjoyed life. It is a place I desperately wanted to find; a place that was anything but the rural Kentucky wilderness I was living in as a teenager.

In my high school days, I always carried a Walkman and a case of at least 15 cassettes. At the time I thought it was just for my love of music, but now I realize it was a form of self-care. SF59 was a perfect band to play on the Walkman and drown out a harsh and abrasive world. My love of “Monterey” was formed on evening drives in my Mom’s minivan when she chose to play Focus on the Family on the radio. I don’t know if it was on overt attempt to steer me away from the gay and all my independent thinking or if it was just coincidence since it came on at 6 PM when we were always out running errands. I would put on my headphones, sink into that plush Captain’s chair on the passenger side, turn up the volume enough to drown out James Dobson and long for this place where I would belong as I felt the vibration of the tires rumbling over the pavement.

I feel like JM was in a similar place when writing the lyrics for “Monterey”. We can tell that he is around someone who is at least perceived to be better than him. He as at a loss of words around this person. But then a change happens. He says that he’s turning off here to a place that he knows, a place this better person doesn’t know. JM often uses driving as a metaphor in his lyrics. It is usually indicative of him taking a different path or asserting his autonomy or will. That is certainly the case here as we see him moving away from this better person to go to his own place.

I identified with this so much (and still do). In my teenage years, I was beset upon by better people on all sides. I didn’t fit in with the praise and worship, evangelical kids because of my propensity to challenge the church and ask difficult questions. I was too mellow for the metalheads. I was even too weird for the alternateens and non-conformists who, oddly, had very specific criteria for how one should be non-conformist. Professing any love of Christ was the kiss of death with this group and marked you as the enemy. There were no shades of grey allowed.

And so I went about my days, drowning out the better people by playing SF59 and finding worlds within the layers of sound. I always hoped that I would find this place that I both knew and didn’t know. Twenty-five years later, I still have not found that external place where I belong. But I belong in the worlds within and I am mostly at peace with that.

It never occurred to me what this song meant to me, at least in a conscious way, until I started writing this today. It makes me wonder why I am coming back to it at this point in my life. Am I trying to drown out the world? Possibly. There is much going on in the world now that I would prefer to be oblivious to. Is it equal parts love of music and self-care? Probably. I still need it now as much as I ever did.

Maybe I just need to remember how to get back to the place I know.

I know.