The Beautiful South, Calgary at Detroit, and Death of A President

Tonight, one of my favourite Britpop bands, The Beautiful South is playing in Toronto.  They're a piano-based group who write melodies like Burt Bacharach but lyrics like Elvis Costello (or somebody even more sarcastic and bitter.) 

I'd thought about going but between all the work I'm trying to get done (even though it's research week) and an early morning meeting tomorrow, that's not going to happen.  The Calgary Flames are in Detroit, a couple hours down the road (and a place where it's likely easier to get tickets than the ACC in Toronto) and long, long ago, in a headspace far far away, I'd even marked that as a possibility knowing this week wouldn't have any classes scheduled (except I did end up with two make-up classes this week in addition to meetings every single day for Academic Rep stuff, Student Council stuff, group assignment stuff and “meet the distance course instructor” stuff.) 

Oh well, at least there's always YouTube.  This is a link to a semi-crappy fan cam clip of them singing “Prettiest Eyes” but I picked this song instead of one they've made a video for because it has a personal connection. 

When Shea and I were having our reception in her hometown after getting married in Mexico earlier that same year, we debated what to do about the “first dance.”  Neither of us are big dancers but I came across a great idea while surfing wedding sites on the Net that would get us out of the spotlight.  I can't remember which song the site recommended but they suggested a “removal dance” for non-dancing newlyweds where you get every married couple on the dance floor for the first dance and then, after every verse, your MC asks people to leave the dance floor based on how long they've been married. When they leave the dance floor, they form a circle around those who remain dancing.

Of course, this means the bride and groom leave immediately and are followed by their younger friends, then all the people who are their parents' age and finally, in a nice moment, only the longest lasting couples are left on the dance floor.  (One funny moment was when a couple comprised of two 80+ year olds left at the “Five years or less” verse.  Turns out they were a local couple who'd only recently married after losing their first spouses.) 

“Prettiest Eyes” was the song we used and except for one typically dark Beautiful South line about “And I only wrote this down, just in case that you die”, the song does a wonderful job of capturing the progression of a relationship through early courtship, blossoming romance and into old age with the chorus “Just take a look at these crow's feet, just look/Sitting on the prettiest eyes/Sixty 25th of Decembers/Fifty-nine 4th of Julys”

We didn't really count too closely (other than knowing that there were no couples present who were past their 50th anniversary) so we had our MC do the final removal for anyone past their 40th anniversary and ended up with one couple from my side and one from Shea's.  This was perfect – we joined them back on the dance floor to finish the song in what was really a special moment.  (Lyrics below if you want to sing along)

Line one is the time

That you, you first stayed over at mine
And we drank our first bottle of wine
And we cried

Line two we're away
And we both, we both had nowhere to stay
Well the bus shelter's always ok
When you're young

Now you're older and I look at your face
Every wrinkle is so easy to place
And I only write them down just in case
That you die

Let's take a look at these crow's feet, just look
Sitting on the prettiest eyes
Sixty 25th of Decembers
Fifty-nine 4th of Julys

Not through the age or the failure, children

Not through the hate or despise
Take a good look at these crow's feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes

Line three I forget
But I think, I think it was our first ever bet
And the horse we backed was short of a leg
Never mind

Line four in a park
And the things, the things that people do in the dark
I could hear the faintest beat of your heart
Then we did

Now you're older and I look at your face
Every wrinkle is so easy to place
And I only write them down just in case
You should die

Let's take a look at these crow's feet, just look
Sitting on the prettiest eyes
Sixty 25th of Decembers
Fifty-nine 4th of Julys

You can't have too many good times, children

You can't have too many lines
Take a good look at these crow's feet
Sitting on the prettiest eyes

Well my eyes look like a map of the town
And my teeth are either yellow or they're brown
But you'll never hear the crack of a frown
When you are here
You'll never hear the crack
Of a frown

Comments 10

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    loved the song.

    Posted 02 Nov 2006 at 1:12 pm
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    that song is pretty nice. The line about death keeps it floating on the good side of cheesy, so it works. I should check out more of their stuff, you're right…
    The boy and I have been joking around about what song we would use as our “first dance” and we've been joking about Peter Cetera's “the Glory of Love” because I think it's just ironic enough to capture us…and I can't think of another song we've laughed about more together….but maybe something a little more serious would be good.
    I would say “our” song is Angel by Massive Attack, but that's also not at all appropriate. So my serious picks are either “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys, or “In My Life” by the Beatles.
    Do you and Shea have a “song”? Did you have other choices for the first dance? I figure people who are into music must spend time thinking about this. I know I've wasted lots of time in my mind over the years mulling it over, and I'm not wearing a ring of any kind….
    and you didn't talk about Death of a President….

    Posted 02 Nov 2006 at 2:40 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    Sorry, I just kicked myself.
    Had I known they were playing in Toronto, it's definitely something I would have pursued. Like you, I don't think my schedule would have permitted it though. That's a little consoling.
    God, I love this band. I've always thought of Paul Heaton as sort of a second-tier Morrissey. That IS a compliment, by the way. So many great and better things come from England and it's unfortunate that their popularity usually stays there. Also, fabulous song choice. I can honestly say that I love the look of crow's feet and that line always makes me smile. Have I just said too much?
    Moving on…
    I went to Boston a few weeks back, visited A LOT of used book and record stores, and was lucky enough to find a used Housemartins CD – Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway's old band. It's kind of hard to believe, but Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) was their bassist. If you haven't heard them before, they are definitely worth a listen and their videos are a riot. I'm sure some are on YouTube.
    Thanks for posting that song.

    Posted 03 Nov 2006 at 3:49 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    If I ever find a man, and marry him, I am forcing him to learn to swing so we can do a big dance routine for the first song. (and my daddy too)
    I now have a vision of a big band and wood dance floor, and opening the later reception up to all my swing dancing friends :p
    But of course, I shouldn't put the cart ahead of the horse!

    Posted 03 Nov 2006 at 6:22 pm
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    “Glory of Love” is pretty brave!
    I like both of your other “serious” choices, especially the Beatles (no surprise there) but always wondered about the first line of the Beach Boys song (“I may not always love you”). Lots of songs have that though where the melody is great but sometimes the lyrics have a different meaning. REM's “The One I Love” is a great example – “a perfect prop, to occupy my time” – yikes!
    Our song? Hmmm, we sort of have a few that fit but if pushed, would probably say “Heavenly Angel” by Spirit of the West because it's a beautiful song, Canadian, celtic, a bit obscure and was played by the band at a Folk Fest workshop right around the time we officially started dating (we were roommates before that so the line is a bit murky.)
    That was one of our potential songs for our “first dance”. Since it wasn't our “real” wedding and only a reception, we wanted to keep it light or funny or unique. A Spanish-language Beatles song (which is what Shea came down the “aisle” to on the beach in Mexico) was a possibility as was “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow since that was the name of the hotel we stayed at.
    As well as our first dance, We did up also doing a “final dance” to John Prine & Iris Dement's “In Spite of Ourselves”.
    I couldn't find the original online but recommend downloading it. Here's a cover version that gives you a sense of it:
    And here's the lyrics to Heavenly Angel:

    Posted 03 Nov 2006 at 9:01 pm
  6. Anonymous wrote:

    Oh, and I got sidetracked with the long-winded first dance story but the “Death of a President” reference was just that this was the movie we ended up seeing instead of either concerts or hockey games. Not much of a plot (it's all right there in the title, folks!) but interesting as an artistic statement – just a bit controversial but also a pretty amazing achievement to make everything going on in the world merge so seemlessly with the SF-esque “What if?” A pretty obvious related work would be Nicholson Baker's “Checkpoint”.

    Posted 03 Nov 2006 at 9:06 pm
  7. Anonymous wrote:

    Yep, “second tier Morrissey” is a good analogy. Part of me is glad that a lot of the best UK stuff stays there because it lets me a bit elitist with my music tastes (which is so much a part of music fandom! )
    I ended up watching the video for “Happy Hour” while buzzing around YouTube looking at Beautiful South clips.

    What a great song from a great band. One of those songs that can't help make you feel happier about life no matter when you hear it. (I didn't realise Fatboy Slim was their bassist though!)

    Posted 03 Nov 2006 at 9:18 pm
  8. Anonymous wrote:

    yeah, the “I may not always love you” thing is a bit crappy, but I think it's more “things may sometimes get crappy, but you should never doubt that I love you and god only knows what I'd be without you”. What do want from a guy who lived in a sandbox for ten years? We're lucky there's even a logical sentence structure at all…
    Yeah, I'll listen to those songs you listed.
    Copacabana is pretty funny…her name was Shea, she was a showgirl?
    I have a friend who used “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, so I suppose it's just a matter of taste. I can't really see my grandparents getting into that somehow…

    Posted 04 Nov 2006 at 6:33 am
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    I probably should be able to analyze poetry a bit better given my supposed English degree background so thanks for the explanation of the Beach Boys thing (and the sandbox line made me spit proverbial beverage over even more proverbial keyboard.)
    My favourite Beach Boys song of all-time? “Don't Worry Baby”. Why? It's such a perfect fit for the closing scene of the “going to the summer beach house” episode of The Simpsons.
    “Closer”, eh? The problem with being a big music fan is there are literally so many awesome choices for moments like weddings (or funerals) or births of babies or going on road trips or whatever that it's impossible to pick just one.
    Have you seen Endless time wasting possibilities there. I only ever uploaded a few of my mixes but they're at: if you're curious.
    I also had favourited one called “Quiet – this is a library!”

    Posted 04 Nov 2006 at 7:40 am
  10. Anonymous wrote:

    I stole this from Wikipedia, about “God Only Knows”, and its odd first line. Tony Asher, as I just learned wrote most of Pet Sounds, with Brian Wilson:
    Tony Asher felt confident when writing the song that it would be a big hit. As he explains, “This is the one [song] that I thought would be a hit record, because it was so incredibly beautiful. I was concerned that maybe the lyrics weren't up to the same level as the music: how many love songs start off with the line, 'I may not always love you'? I liked that twist, and fought to start the song that way. Working with Brian, I didn't have a whole lot of fighting to do, but I was certainly willing to fight to the end for that. I was probably saying to myself, 'God, I hope I'm right about this,' because you're never quite sure. But I knew that it would work, because by the second part, the real meaning of the song has come out: 'I'll love you till the sun burns out, then I'm gone,' ergo 'I'm gonna love you forever.' I guess that in the end, 'God Only Knows' is the song that most people remember, and love the most.”
    Just as Tony Asher said, Brian “hated the opening line” of the song as “it was too negative.” He eventually gave in after hearing the following lines in the song.

    Posted 04 Nov 2006 at 4:23 pm
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