Welcome back to our song-by-song commentary on Get Happy, penned by our always prolific band leader, Thomas M. Lauderdale. This week Thomas discusses the long history behind “Je ne t’aime plus” and explains “Oooooowh…BIG ONE!” Enjoy!
Track 6: “Je ne t’aime plus”
In 1996, my college friend Alex Marashian, who was editor-in-chief of Colors magazine and who produced our fourth album Splendor in the Grass with me, introduced me to the French songwriting genius Philippe Katerine. We flew Katerine and his band to Portland from France for a couple performances, one at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland and one in San Francisco. We hadn’t even released Sympathique, our first album, yet. During this adventure, he and China started writing a song called “Je ne t’aime plus”, (I don’t love you anymore). I always liked the song. Since then, he’s become huge in France. He’s the most likely heir to the throne of Serge Gainsbourg. Provocative and really funny, he has a bunch of different projects, he has an unmistakable voice and he is wonderful. Earlier this year he and China finally finished writing the song.
The premise of the song is, “I’m very angry with you tonight because you said that I am yours … I think that you are fat, And I know that you are bald, And I think I don’t love you anymore”. That’s China’s opening gambit. And then he says, “Even if my hair grows back one day, I still don’t think you would love me, why don’t you love me anymore?”
The strings and swirling harp accompanying the back and forth bossa nova discussion make the whole song feels like ice skating music from 1962. It sounds like vaguely like the theme to “A Summer Place” … just at that cusp when you knew that Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower were on the way out and the Kennedys were coming in; that sort of hope and optimism.
Track 7: “Zundoko bushi”
“Zundoko bushi” is a devastating song. The author is actually unknown. It is assumed that he was a soldier in the 1940s who died in battle. The text is, “Saying goodbye at the train station, there were tears, but I was really thinking about the (other) girl sobbing in the shadows.”
In 1969 the Japanese group The Drifters had a variety show which was the equivalent of Laugh In in Japan. At the top of the show, there’s a little dance that the five hosts did while singing “Zundoko bushi.” We drew inspiration from this version, though we returned to the original lyrics from the 1940s and then added a wild instrument called the flexatone, a weird metal instrument whose pitch is controlled by the way you hold it and how fast you shake it.
“Zundoko bushi” is sung by Timothy Nishimoto who, during the recording, really came to life in a different kind a way than any of us had ever seen before. At one point during the instrumental section, he exclaims “Ooowhh … BIG ONE!” This is a reference to his uncle Hiro, who, in the 1960s in Los Angeles, didn’t speak very much English, but was very secure with the words “big” and “one”. And so at Christmas time, or whenever there were presents on the premises, as the presents were opened he would say: “Ooowhh … BIG ONE!” Now Uncle Hiro’s phrase is forever memorialized.
We also decided we needed a Japanese chorus behind Timothy, so we flew his father Torao Nishimoto from Long Beach, and enlisted some leaders of the Japanese business community from Portland, Oregon: Sho Dozono, who ran for mayor a couple of years ago, Vern Naito of Naito Parkway, Mas Yatabe and his son Mark, and Yoshio Oda. They became the Japanese chorus. Japanese businessmen know how to sing because everybody in Japan does karaoke. If you were to put American businessmen on this assignment it would not work out, because American men generally don’t dance and they don’t sing. But the Japanese guys do. They drink a lot of sake, and then they do karaoke. Everybody knew exactly what to do in the studio and they were remarkable. That’s “Zundoko bushi” … maybe the most uplifting moment of the album. It’s certainly the zaniest. Nothing adds up. What’s a sitar doing in the middle of this Japanese song? And why is there a flexatone? What does that have to do with anything? It doesn’t. It’s totally random. Which is the story my life at this point. Just a series of random moments.
Track 8: “Până când nu te iubeam”
We have visited Romania often and every time we go I always promise that we’ll sing a Romanian song. By the sixth time I felt that I really needed to deliver. So I went through all of my Maria Tanase records. Maria Tanase is the Edith Piaf of Romania. I listened to hundreds of songs, and the most beautiful was this one, with the most devastating text: “Since I fell in love with you, my love, I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, when I leave my house I do not know what direction I am going, my poor heart, do not break it.” I think that this is one of emotional cornerstones of the record. Sung by Storm Large, it’s totally astonishing and staggeringly beautiful. It has beautiful strings, minimal percussion, mandolin, a little bit of guitar. Dave Friedlander, our engineer, made a super trippy, other-worldly final mix with incredible reverse loops. Somehow it reminds me of those photographs taken by Hubble of outer space and all the stuff that’s there. It feels apocalyptic.
Come back next week to learn all about Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart’s painfully beautiful “She was too good to me” and the fun, uplifiting “Üsküdar”. ‘Till then!