Monday, January 09, 2012

3. Mott the Hoople, "Ballad of Mott the Hoople (March 26, 1972, Zurich)" (1973)


In one way or another I frequently seem to be writing about one of these last three songs, even as they lean decidedly toward the margins. This is likely the least obscure anyway, a landmark of '70s glam. I spun the name for this blog out of it, and later, to be clear, threw up a clarifying verse when I realized how many people took me for a dedicated fan of the Who. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I'm more a dedicated fan of this particular song, with its many great turns of phrase ("I wish I'd never wanted then what I want now twice as much") and with its luscious mood of weary introspection, its brooding considerations of the various satisfactions and dissatisfactions. It focuses on a rock band touring act but the psychic place it describes could as well be a frazzled Fellini production shot in Italy, a grifting traveling carnival show in the mid-century Midwest, maybe even (a stretch) circuit riders, horseback and camping at night, out saving souls in slave-owning frontier districts of the old South. Or it could be your own interior life, trying to keep it together day to day. It's a place that lives for the extremes of ecstasy and despair, most poignantly at the crack of dawn. It's there in every line, from the highly particular ("Buffin lost his child-like dreams / And Mick lost his guitar") to the most broadly general ("Rock 'n' roll's a loser's game / It mesmerizes and I can't explain"). It calls the whole thing a circus and then calls it a night. Beyond exhaustion and directly into clarity. Out of the mouths of babes. A magic trick. A guide to the construction of one's own life and myths, a place to go get lost for a lifetime, and eternity, all wrapped up into one.

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