Wednesday, 4 August 2010

So good they named it twice

Having a long standing interest (see eg here, here and here) in the way that cover versions of songs or artworks stand in dialogue to originals, I must add a link to the much discussed Welsh cover of the Jay-Z song and the Guardian article that drew my attention to it.

What, however, strikes me most about this instance is not so much general aspects of the relation of the original to the cover (although see the post script) but something specific about these particular relata. The original is a straight hymn of praise to New York (“where dreams are made of”, sadly). It is a city where “There’s nothing you can’t do, Now you’re in New York”. Of course that is deeply implausible of the city’s substantial underclass and thus simply asserting it is naive and even rather vulgar. But would it ever be possible to sing so simply the praises of any city, even one in a Scandinavian social democracy which had taken The Spirit Level to heart?

The cover (although its authors are not from the town) sings the praises of Newport in an altogether more realistic, nuanced way. Newport isn’t entirely good but despite that, all things considered, it is to be praised. That seems a more convincing sentiment. Putting it like that, though, isn’t quite right either. It is the localness of the singer’s (fictional) relation to the town which frames his take on the details that make up the song and which do not even need to be weighed for a positive view. So even though Newport is a ‘concrete jungle, [with] nothing in order’ this does not matter because:

And I’ll be Port forever
Yes it is my lifeblood
These streets they are a part of me
The yin to my yang
The Craig to my Bellamy

Whilst there is something sometimes worrying about such localism (an us and them opposition scary near exiting football matches) it allows for the rest of the cover to make gentle fun of the local details. The indirection of the sentiment is summarised nowhere better then in the way the song knows that it is not without surprise simply to repeat the town’s name in the chorus. We have to be enjoined:

Let’s say some more Newports, Newports, Newports

Returning to the simple tone of the original is rather a disappointing experience, a bit like Mozart’s apparently accidental dismissal of the lack of flair in Saleri’s gifted tune in Amadeus.

PS: Interestingly, mentioning this to Gloria over a glass of wine last night, she reported that she’d been presented with the cover without any refence to an original. She had, in Wittgenstein’s analogy, then happily played along at trains with no knowledge of what a train was, and still took some intrinsic pleasure in the game/song.