Friday, 13 October 2017

Michelle in another millenial cafe

I asked for a coffee and a croissant, so I got that I guess. The pastry was a bit tired and the espresso was a portmanteau of the less appealing bits of artisanal north London (machined coffee served in a miniature bed pan).


So, I settled down to browse the Metro (you're getting the idea) and idly reflect on another grey Friday morning. Drive My Car came on the cafe radio, which caught my ear, as did the subsequent Norwegian Wood. Ah, they've got Rubber Soul on Spotify, or something. I considered the picture of Paul McCartney I'd been looking at in Sunday's Observer, a byline image to promote a new Michael Caine documentary, My Generation, about the cultural phenomenon of the 1960s.
“There was a lot of snobbery then. It was terrible. There is a lot now too, but it can’t really hurt anyone because we don’t give a toss any more,” he said.
Then - out of track order - Michelle.

Michelle is one of the greatest (pop) songs ever written.

It just starts, without intro. It's written by a boy - Paul - addressing a girl ('Michelle!'), himself (ooh, 'these are words that go together well') and, last of all, us, telling the story.

He tries again, warming to the theme. Here's the songwriting Beatle, in his bedroom, guitar on lap, as unconcerned by his crush being foreign as he is playing the guitar left-handed. Paul still has the novelty and cosmopolitan funk of a Hamburg basement club still in his nostrils. He's going to try some French, and see what goes together well.

Sod it.

'I love you, I love you, I love you!' he blurts out, the tune suddenly grasping at the home note of his key signature. Frankly, all that studied melodic craftsmanship (a Gitane-tangy tritone between the second and third notes; French) can just wait in line between all he wants to say. And yet, that very line, all he wants to say, sits over the most nonchalant (one even has to use an adopted French term) harmonic sleight of hand. Because he has said it. Hey, Natasha Beddingfield probably paid her mortgage with the same tricolon crescendo in These Words, 40 years later.

And Michelle gets it. It's not the only words he knows that she'll understand. The words don't matter - the learning doesn't matter. He doesn't 'give a toss' in that moment. The worry about education doesn't matter, the pre-grammar-schooling that Michael Caine worries has excluded so many of My Generation from their potential, doesn't matter.

There's no posturing in Michelle: no lengthy introduction, no mansplaining of who Michelle is or what she means. George (is it George?) sits in the other corner of the middle eight spinning a slowhand curl of musical smoke, ruminating.

Middle eight? Nope, until I find a way of talking about this miniature masterpiece that Hugo Wolf would have been quietly pleased with, I will say the only words I know that you'll understand about the bits inbetween verses that have no chorus in the quietest of pop masterpieces.

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