Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vain and Careless

Vain and Careless (from the album Leave Your Sleep; words by Robert Graves)

Lady, lovely lady,
Careless and gay!
Once, when a beggar called,
She gave her child away.

The beggar took the baby,
Wrapped it in a shawl—
‘Bring her back,’ the lady said,
‘Next time you call.’

Hard by lived a vain man,
So vain and so proud
He would walk on stilts
To be seen by the crowd,

Up above the chimney pots,
Tall as a mast—
And all the people ran about
Shouting till he passed.

‘A splendid match surely,’
Neighbours saw it plain,
‘Although she is so careless,
Although he is so vain.’

But the lady played bobcherry,
Did not see or care,
As the vain man went by her,
Aloft in the air.

This gentle-born couple
Lived and died apart—
Water will not mix with oil,
Nor vain with careless heart.



I'm not the most visual person. Conjuring up a strong mental image takes a lot of effort for me. When I read works of fiction, I often realize halfway through the book that I've failed to create a face for my main character. I tend to envision my character's appearance through a thick haze, like I'm watching one of those cop shows that try to protect people's identity by blurring out their image. If I feel a strong need to create a face for them, I always have to pick a face I've seen in real life. I just can't make up my own.

Lack of vivid mental imagery is not where it ends for me. I am often likely to miss concrete details that are staring me right in the face. This deficiency caused me to spend fifteen minutes tearing my house apart last week looking for a pair of pants that I later discovered were already being worn...by me. It's the reason why I frequently have exchanges with my loved ones that go something like this:

"Annie! Why didn't you tell me I had food on my face?!"

"Uh...Sorry. I didn't notice."

"But it was an entire slice of pizza!"

I try to point out to them that on the flip side, I am an ideal person to be around if you are having a bad hair day, have recently put on a lot of weight, or are recovering from a face transplant. You'll look just as beautiful as ever to me!

All of this is not to suggest that I don't appreciate art and beauty in the visual realm. It's just that I might need to have it pointed out to me. As I've mentioned in the past on this blog, Natalie Merchant's music usually creates a feeling for me more often than it creates an image. But Vain and Careless (with words written by the poet Robert Graves) is an exception. Even I can't help but be swept away into the imagery of this wonderfully cinematic story. Here is how Natalie summarizes the visual appeal of the poem in the liner notes to Leave Your Sleep:

"The style of language and the imagery that Graves used to tell the story is reminiscent of a fairy tale. I love the image of the lady blindfolded, mouth open and laughing to bite the cherry dangling on a string, while the man who could be her lover passes by on stilts."

The music Natalie wrote to accompany this poem is so beautiful that it took me a few listens to fully appreciate that this poem is really quite humorous. Albeit dark at times. I love how the poet saw fit to show us right from the beginning just how careless this woman really was. I mean, it would be pretty shocking for her to have given her baby away to, say, her neighbor or her distant relative, but to give it away to a beggar? That's cold, sister.

But maybe this was the type of woman that the poet was attracted to. There are some completely outlandish stories out there about the character of Robert Graves' second wife, fellow poet Laura Riding. I'm not sure just how truthful all these stories are, but to give you a brief overview I will mention the following biographical highlights: at least one failed suicide attempt, psychological torture of a female rival, flying leaps out of third story windows, and a whole heaping load of adultery. Their marriage did not last a very long time.

So while some may have thought the careless woman and the vain man would have been "a splendid match surely," I would venture to say that this would have been a fairly disastrous coupling. You need look no further than the many examples of failed celebrity marriages to see that Vain and Careless don't make for long-term success. Sure, the flame would've burned bright in the beginning. Vain would proclaim his undying love for Careless while jumping up and down on Oprah's couch. Careless would have Vain's name tattooed on a prominent body part. There would be a massive amount of public snogging, and the paparazzi would be there to catch every moment of it. The media would give them a hybrid name, like...Vainless. But it would end abruptly and catastrophically, for alas, "Water will not mix with oil, nor vain with careless heart."

Click here to see a video from Natalie's official site of the rehearsing and recording of Vain and Careless.

Download Vain and Careless from Itunes - Vain and Careless - Leave Your Sleep

Before I wrap up, I have something only loosely Natalie-related to mention: Not too long ago I downloaded a song called Order 1081 from an album called Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. I downloaded that song in particular because Natalie provides vocals on the track and the sample sounded pretty interesting. It was a style of music I've never heard Natalie sing to before, but it sounded great. So a few days later I downloaded some more songs...and then some more...and then some more. Here Lies Love is a concept album based on the life of Imelda Marcos and the woman who raised her, Estrella Cumpas. It features various (primarily) female vocalists and I am officially in love with the album. If you like music that is danceable and funky, but with lyrics that won't make you hemorrhage IQ points, I highly recommend you check out the album. In addition to Order 1081, I would suggest the title track Here Lies Love (with gorgeous vocals by Florence Welch), Every Drop of Rain, How Are You, and Pretty Face, but really you can't go wrong with hardly anything on this album. The fact that Nonesuch Records released both Here Lies Love and Leave Your Sleep in the same year makes me seriously think I need to just start buying everything they produce.

Download Here Lies Love on Itunes - Here Lies Love - David Byrne & Fatboy Slim

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

1 comment:

  1. they call me NammaniacJanuary 10, 2011 at 10:33 PM

    Cottonalley is one of my Favorite songs

    ReplyDelete