15 May 2011

Does The Zombies' "Friends of Mine" feature an unreliable narrator?

The question, from a backbencher: "The album Odessey Oracle contains both works of apparent genius and seemingly trite and unworthy songs. "Friends of Mine" falls into the latter category, and I know PM has thought about this quite often--is it treacle or is it actually genius. So which is it?"

The answer: It is a work of minor genius made great by the brilliance of the narrative setup.

Few songs on Odessey Oracle are as cheerful as they sound. "Care of Cell 44" is written in a major key. "A Rose of Emily" is not, but if you know the story (as I did not, to be honest) it is way too cheerful for the subject matter. And even my favorite track, "This Will Be Our Year" (covered, and alas covered more successfully, by OK Go), invites us to wonder what was so bad about all the years beforehand.

First Things (of all places) makes the argument for "Friends of Mine," and does so convincingly. (I am agnostic about the Straussian reading FT proposes for "Time of the Season," but that would explain why the song is a little bit more layered (why is it so important that the other boy be "rich like me?").) To quote:
Love can be seen as pat—everyday someone “sees someone standing there,” and then it’s on to dates, love songs, wedding invitations, and all the rest. It can be seen this way all the more so for those who, for whatever reason, are not able to pair off in the societally endorsed way. The unwillingly single, the gay, the spurned, the childless, the divorced, and the widowed might all have reasons to feel alienated, at least at times, by society’s (necessary) celebrations of married families. I don’t fit! The one wise about the ways in which love can fail or become deluding, which certainly would apply to a posited overall narrator of Odessey and Oracle, might have further reasons for feeling alienated from the happy feelings.

Um, happy wedding season, everyone.

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