I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but because of a dire mixture of illness, darkness and just a little bit of self-loathing, it’s taken me until now to put pen to paper, or rather fingertips to sticky keyboard buttons. I write in response to a blog post published by Amanda Palmer on her Tumblr, entitled on being free (the new version of THE BED SONG and THE VIDEO). I had been bursting at the seams wishing to write a response, but never quite managed to sign up for a Tumblr, thus I am using the familiar cradle of WordPress to craft my reply. Or I shall do once I have found socks, as my feet are quite cold.
I am now wearing socks.
Amanda Fucking Palmer is a musician whose music I have listened to, internalised and adored for many, many years. Her latest album, Theatre is Evil, contains the Bed Song; a devastatingly beautiful track, which the first time I heard words could not even begin to describe how harrowed and pathetic it made me feel. In short, it is beautiful and infinitely exquisite. Her article on being free discussed her decision to change her song, and also addressed the questions which arose as to whether an artist should be able to change their art in the first place.
I wish to start, ironically in the fourth paragraph down, by addressing an earlier AFP song released while she was in the group the Dresden Dolls. The song is Backstabber. Why I wish to start here may require some explanation… the album version of the song, and the video, and also the video in which they attempt to kill Panic! At the Disco is fucking brilliant- but none of these versions were how I heard the song originally. Back in the day when YouTube wasn’t so well known and I hadn’t the snazzy internet know-how that I possess today *Snaps fingers snazzily*, most of the music I heard came from friends sharing files. The ol’ illegal file sharing, conducted by innocent youngsters with a desire for cabaret punk, you know the sort of thing.
Anyway, this particular version of Backstabber was exactly the same as the album version, apart from the way two little words were said. The words ‘jump around’ in the album version were said just so, ‘I know you want to jump around’… but in the version that I had heard the first time had a slightly different timing, ‘I know you want to jump… around’. There is a tiny, tiny pause between ‘jump’ and ‘around’- a different inflection, a bit of space which means the whole world- it’s so fucking exciting! I cannot hear the album version without hearing that tiny pause in my head. And even though I can’t find my copy of the version I heard originally, it still sticks in my brain and makes me go all gooey whenever I hear the song.
What am I saying here? That is a very good question. I think I am saying that, Amanda Palmer, I agree with your article on being free entirely. An artist should be allowed to change their songs- it is your song, after all, change it how you want. HOWEVER, there are conditions to my agreement. In changing these songs, never remove that which has come before, that which you think is imperfect, because these songs also belong to those who hear them- and to someone the first versions are beautiful too.
This is why I applaud Amanda for stating in her post that she doesn’t want people to disregard the first version of the Bed Song completely. It lives on Theatre is Evil, but she asks that people look at it as a ‘variant’- as evidence that the people who bought the album were ‘there at the start’. This is a beautiful statement, and I believe that the first version of the Bed Song, the one that I fell in love with, has as much right to exist as the second.
For anyone wishing to hear the differences, here is the album version, and here is the revised version. I don’t wish for this to be a review of the song itself, because if it was, I would have to state that the song personifies the darkest reaches of all human relationships. I can’t talk about this now, especially with the song playing in the background, but what I can say, is that the revised version is slower and has a softer emphasis where the lyrics warrant it. Instead of just telling us a story, in the revised version, Amanda painstakingly relives the whole thing- there is so much more feeling. The changes make you feel something different. Towards the end of the song there are a number of lines that grab me by the lapels and scream in my face every time… although I won’t spoil the ending for anyone wishing to hear the music for the first time. I knew what was coming towards the end, but genuinely underestimated how much it would make me cry hearing it in the new way. There is something new there, entirely and not, which makes us feel something different about the same words.
I love the original version, and I love the new. The new version has more feeling in the traditional sense, but I fell so deeply in love with the original, and it lets me get wrapped up in my own feelings about the story. They are both beautiful for different reasons- I am thankful for Amanda’s recognition of her own freedom allowing her to bring us new versions of her own songs.
I am a sucker for new interpretations of old lyrics, anyway, after all I wouldn’t have quite the musical appreciation for lounge music if it wasn’t for the sheer genius of Richard Cheese. Aaand this seems like a good time to end.