Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Inexplicable Essence Of Life (as not explained by Eddie Money)

Eddie Money--"Trinidad" (mp3)

One of the most perplexing aspects of listening to music, especially popular music, is how a lesser, perhaps insignificant, perhaps stereotypical song can achieve pre-eminent status in our brains' internal playlists.

I can't stop listening to Eddie Money's "Trinidad." You probably know it, have heard it a time or two. One of his later, minor hits, it is also his most beautiful song. It begins with the sound of the wind driving soft waves to the shore, and then a mix of 80's style power chords and treble-hyped, aurally-excited lead guitar kicks in and plays the recurring signature after every line:

There once was a story
From a thousand yesterdays
I read it in this ancient book
When the old man passed away

I drifted through the pages
And its magic filled my eyes
I dreamed she once loved me
In the land called Trinidad

By the time the chorus kicks in with its abrupt two-chord announcement, I'm already long-since hooked. I'm ready to go. I'm not even sure where Trinidad is or what is so appealing about it, since the song never makes that clear. Somewhere near Tobago, I'd guess from my elementary school geography days. But there was just a woman there or, really, the dream of a woman. And that seems to make all of the difference. What the book was, who the old man was, what was even in the book are all details that the song doesn't, probably can't, flesh out.

Eddie Money is not Ernest Hemingway; he doesn't keep details that he knows from the listener like the submerged part of an iceberg. It doesn't matter. The song owns me. And I'm not even pining for a woman from a faraway land. Nor does the song connect with some special, emotional time from my past--the reason songs often connect with us.

And yet, the song stirs my soul.

At its best, "Trinidad" is Eddie Money's "Cortez The Killer;" more likely, though, it is inspired by Toto's "Africa," a bland, uninformed representation of an exotic land (or continent!). It is that tale of timeless love outside the boundaries of time, though without "Cortez's" additional weight of social commentary.

No, Mr. Money's song isn't ultimately all that much. But it is one of those songs that makes an uneasy mess of the hard work that "sophisticated" music listeners put in to learn how to tell good from bad. Even semi-regular readers of this blog undoubtedly have a fairly clear sense of the different, sometimes quirky musical preferences of its two writers.

Which is why "Trinidad" demonstrates, at least for me, that however much someone might argue for or try to develop a musical aesthetic, it cannot fully happen. Whatever standards one might try to establish will fall away in the face of a song that inexplicably touches the soul of a listener. It doesn't have to be a good song. The listener does not have to understand why it touches him or her.

By the way, I'm not trying to disparge Mr. Money in any way. This whole thing started because I got ahold of his greatest hits in a library down in Florida last summer, and, it must be said, when you listen to the man's hits, he has a whole lot more of them than many of his predecessors or his contemporaries. In the Eddie Money catalogue, no two songs sound particularly the same, which is one of my high praises for an artist. And he got Ronnie Spector to sing with him. And I'll bet he's still rockin' the casinos in Tunica or Iowa, still giving his all every night. But to call him either a great songwriter or an accomplished lyricist would be overstating the case. A lot. He's more of a "meat and potatoes" guy cranking out musical comfort food. Maybe that's enough. But, oh that Trinidad. Take me there now.


Brian R said...

Trinidad has always been one of my favorite songs on so many levels. The chimey guitar intro, reggae flavored bo diddley beat, harmony laden choruses, but mostly, the clear, singing melodic lead guitar fills and ending solo. Great to read about your connection to it. The Wish is also great from that album. check out She Takes My Breath Away, from about 1991, great rhythm guitar.

Anonymous said...

"more likely, though, it is inspired by Toto's "Africa,"

Good writeup although I'm pretty sure that Trinidad came out in 1980 and "Africa" was issued in 1982.