Featured Column: Ways of Hearing
A few weeks ago I was at Walgreen’s and the song “Lost in Love” came on. I am not an Air Supply fan, in general, and I wouldn’t have had much to say about this song before that day. However, now and then a Walgreen’s song catches you.
Being a critic and musician, I can choose between a few different perspectives on this song. The standard critical view might be termed the Disapproving Capitalist position. Like most (as far as I know, all) Air Supply songs, “Lost in Love” caters to the apparent demands of the pop marketplace by asserting the view that only success or failure in “love” is a relevant issue and surrounding it with predictable, ceaselessly major-triad-heavy music.
This stands in opposition to the Approving Capitalist position, which, since I am a musician, also flashed through my mind and can be summarized briefly: someone must have made a lot of money off this song.
However, in the critic’s world, there is a market for the Contrarian Musicologist position. Some views of this nature came to mind that afternoon in Walgreen’s. This started with the thought that, although I heard “Lost in Love” a hundred times in the 80’s, this song, unlike the other Air Supply numbers I have heard, holds a bit of mystery. Someone (presumably one of the people making money from the song) must have worked to put a bit of exposition in the lyric, but all I know (or want to know) is a set of snatches: “want to carry on,” “back on my feet.” This leaves a few questions open, such as whether being “lost in love” is an appealing situation or not. Combine that with a few musical events the rather attractive A major C major sequence from the pre-chorus (interesting given the G major tonality) leading to the relatively generic chorus, the bit near the end where the tall, bland, blond vocalist gives way to the obnoxious high-pitched short vocalist.
In some ways, this is not very different from a more recent pop hit, “Losing My Religion.” Perhaps a more committed R.E.M. fan than me has derived a coherent story from these lyrics, but, again, it provides snatches to me: “oh no, I’ve said too much,” “that was just a dream,” “I think I thought I saw you try.” Granted, these snippets from the religiously doubtful Georgian group are a bit more intriguing than the thoughts of the romantically disoriented Australian combo, which is one reason why Out of Time got into my record collection while Air Supply remains a group I encounter only at drugstores or supermarkets. Still, as drugstore music goes, “Lost in Love” achieves a certain grace which, if they had kept up that standard, could have made an Eno collaboration worth considering.
Still more points of view came up recently when a couple friends and I had a discussion about “Honky Tonk Woman,” which I had heard on the radio that morning. The discussion, from what might be called a Transgression-Centric perspective (very common in rock, but present in some reviews of just about every genre), had to do with the theory that the line “I laid a divorcee in New York City” appears in the song. I had never noticed this. (The Stones often employ a strategy of not making all of the lyrics intelligible, though for rather different reasons than those of R.E.M. or Air Supply.) My last listen had been from the Nitpicking Musician perspective (focusing on the fact that this performance is notorious for the gradual tempo increase).
Like many people, my usual view of the Stones falls into the Approving Of The Goals Of The Genre category, disregarding the Disapproving Capitalist (Folk/Rock division) view that the song’s thesis (which, apparently, is that “honky tonk women” exist, and that they are a source of the blues, presumably on a notably consistent basis compared to other types of women) lacks gravitas, even by Air Supply standards. The Stones also gain points for those fond of the Trivia-Minded viewpoint, who might be wondering how long it will be before Keith Richards is certifiably no longer the same person he was in 1969.
Meanwhile, from the Approving Capitalist viewpoint, this song is in the same category as “Lost in Love.” Someone almost certainly made a lot of money off this song.