Friday, August 4, 2017

CRWR 520 (13)

Of the two vehicles I drove this past year, both had CD players. During this time I kept in my work bag between eight and ten CDs, one of which included a downloaded selection of songs left behind by a hitch-hiker. Every song on this CD begins with the letter C, from the Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love” (1964) to Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” (1974); from Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness” (1964) to Todd Rudgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” (1978). Of these songs, many of them begin with women’s names. The first is the Beach Boy’s “Caroline, No” (1966), the last is the Everly Brother’s “Cathy’s Clown” (1960). None of these songs are sung by women. Written on the CD are the words “Karl’s Tape”.

For some reason I never feel like listening to Karl’s Tape while on Hwy 97. Only when I am travelling to Kelowna via Commonage do I reach for it and advance it to the fifth track, where Brian Wilson sings:

Where did your long hair go
Where is the girl I used to know
How could you lose that happy glow
Oh Caroline, no

Who took that look away
I remember how you used to say
You'd never change, but that's not true
Oh Caroline, you

Break my heart
I want to go and cry
It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh Caroline, why

Could I ever find in you again
The things that made me love you so much then
Could we ever bring 'em back once they have gone
Oh Caroline no

Where did your long hair go
Where is the girl I used to know
How could you lose that happy glow
Oh Caroline, no

As sophisticated as this song is, as graciously as it moves through itself, it is difficult to relate to the sentiments of its 23-year-old author Brian Wilson who, according to jingle writer Tony Asher (the song’s co-author), wishes he could return to “simpler days.” Questions about where Caroline’s “long hair” and “glow” went, and “who took that look away,” suggest a woman unable to make her own decisions, and that these decisions bring with them the death of a “sweet thing.”

Another reading of the song is not what Caroline has lost but what she has gained -- a counter-narrative that has her liberated from a gaze that defines her as someone with attributes she is no longer -- or perhaps never was -- interested in. The only thing Caroline has “lost” in pursuing herself is the young man who yearns for who he thinks she is, based on who he thinks she was. Yet even here she is not free of him, for he clings to her in the form of a reductive lyric underscored by a Gershwinian transition of major and minor 6th, 7th and 9th chords.

I am not sure why I listen to this CD while on the Commonage route to Kelowna, though sometimes I wonder if it is related to some of the beach scenes I have seen while passing through Okanagan Centre’s lowest road -- a heavily speed-bumped, 30 km/p/h section that looks at times like those stretches of coastal California I remember as a hitch-hiker in the early 1980s. Or maybe it is related to the way “Caroline, No” so nicely sets up the track that follows it: the Beatles’ surrealistic “Come Together” (1969), where “I know you, you know me” provides the ground on which the union of two subjects recognize the irreducibility of their relational subject position, what it is “to be free.”

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