Brighton Rock

Queen

Oh, Rock of Ages do not crumble, love is breathing still

Got to love the fairground noises! It’s karaoke time here at Hotlips House – time to strut your stuff in the kitchen while using the mop as the mike stand. In early live performances Freddy Mercury wore stage clothes made from Zandra Rhodes bedsheets (allegedly) – so you can do that too if you want the full experience.

As far as I can tell, this song has no connection with the Graham Greene novel of the same name, except they both portray a blighted romance and the funfair noises at the start hint at the Brighton Pier arcades, scene of some of the action in the book. It’s interesting to note that when the song came out in 1974, Greene was only 70 years old (he lived until 1991). I wonder if he heard it and made the connection? But I digress.

This song is a gorgeous vignette of a story – boy meets girls, love ensues, there is guilt, they part, she pines, there is betrayal. It’s a masterpiece of compressed narrative, almost like Shakespeare. In fact there is some playful use of theatrical language – “Jenny will you stay, tarry with me pray, Nothing e’er need come between us, tell me love what do you say?” And the lines “It’s so good to know there’s still a little magic in the air. I’ll weave my spell” reminds me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where a magic juice is administered in the moonlight.

Although the song is short, its structure is operatic. The ‘narrator’ tells the story in the first two couplets, followed by a duet between the male and female characters, Jimmy and Jenny, with Freddy singing both parts using high and low register voicing. Then the ‘chorus ensemble’ rejoin with an emotional response. The long instrumental section lets us settle into our feelings, when a final dramatic reveal brings a shocking climax.

For me, the other stand-out musical feature is more subtle, in the melody. The line “Oh, Rock of Ages do not crumble, love is breathing still” seems to have some deep emotional effect on me. It’s like a gospel choir, bringing both a plea and a reassurance.

‘Rock of Ages’ is a a pun on Brighton Rock (the confectionery) but it comes from a phrase used in a famous Christian hymn to refer poetically to God, by describing the divine properties of eternal stability and permanence. In these uncertain lockdown days, this is a prayer I can offer up. Let’s sing it together. Now, where’s the mop?

Oh, Rock of Ages do not crumble, love is breathing still

Rock of Ages hymn – Wikipedia
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – play by William Shakespeare – Wikipedia
Brighton Rock – novel by Graham Greene – Wikipedia
Brighton Rock – Queen live at ‘A Night At The Odeon’ 1975 (10:54)
Brighton Rock – Queen live at Earls Court 1977 (13:32)

Take It Easy

Eagles

Don’t know about you, but this just makes me want to grow my hair long again and get some flares. There are a few versions of the Eagles playing this song on YouTube, but I picked this one because it is a live performance and seemed to capture the spirit of the times as well as the sentiment in the song. What a contrast with Britain, as The Sex Pistols were singing Anarchy In The UK in the same year.

As usual, we can’t be too analytical about the lyrics, but the message of the chorus seems to speak to me on two levels. One is simply about relaxing, living in the moment, enjoying life while we can and taking opportunities that come along.

Lighten up while you still can
Don’t even try to understand
Just find a place make your stand
Take it easy

Of course this is not a comprehensive treatise on how to live a good life! But on a second level as a Christian, I find definite pointers towards the encouragement in the words of Jesus: “If you are tired, come to me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28-30).

Boys Don’t Cry

The Cure

Don’t they look so young in this video ? Oh, wait a minute …

Boys don’t cry? Sung ironically, of course, because, yes boys DO cry. This one does, anyway. So here is a song with an almost timeless message of lost romance and yearning “I would do ‘most anything to get you back by my side”- followed by the stoic response that has traditionally been expected of men , at least in the England of 1979: “I try to laugh about it, hiding the tears in my eyes.”

Slight aside – it’s worth mentioning the award-winning 1999 film ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, which makes use of this song. It dramatises the real-life story of a trans-man in America who was looking for love but was brutally raped and murdered.

There are only a few primary human emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger and surprise. Four out of six are ‘negative’ – too bad – your fault for being a human! Some lists add other emotions such as shame and pride. Part of being human and being alive is feeling and expressing emotions. We write love letters, sing songs, tweet in anger, shout in the streets. Our faces usually show our emotions and sometimes our bodies just give the game away for us, and then we cry.

So crying in the Bible? Actually there’s plenty of it, all over. But there is an account of Jesus crying – not because of some cosmic disaster or over the plight of humankind. He cried because his friend had died. So you can cry too, if you want to.