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Richard Thompson: He’s Missing the Stew

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On our way to my son’s preschool one day last week, the boy asked me to turn some music on. So I punched the stereo power, and out blared the Richard Thompson CD I’d been listening to a day earlier, Action Packed: The Best of the Capitol Years. The song was “Cooksferry Queen,” an upbeat tune with a snare drum and bass line that drive the song’s rhythm. The song kicked in at about the middle, just before the musical break, during which my son shouted: Mommy, you know what? This music is is making my heart dance!

Dancing Heart Image

I knew exactly what he meant. Between the drum and bass, my crappy/buzzing minivan speakers, and the volume, my heart was dancing in my chest, too. At the preschool, we sat in the car and listened until the song’s abrupt downbeat end, at which point the poor kid groaned.

I’ve played the tune for him every day since then.

About a year ago, my daughter, then six, had a different response. I my sucked my daughter in the first time with “The Goldilocks Song,” more appropriately known as “The Uninhabited Man.” The refrain:

Who’s been sleeping in my bed?
Who’s been sitting in my chair?
Who’s been sipping my bowl?

She liked it! Then we listened to more songs, and she ultimately came to favor “I Feel So Good,” a song about a recently released inmate who’s on the prowl.

Perhaps that’s not the most appropriate theme for a six-year-old, but sometimes you just have to live on the edge. Of course, living on the edge meant living in fear that she’d one day sing a verse along with Thompson:

Now I’ve got a suitcase full of fifty pound notes,
And a half-naked woman with her tongue down my throat.
I feeeeeel so good. I fee-eeeel so good.

Over time and on many a car ride, my daughter had a chance to hear the album a few times. One night, she had laser focus and asked a lot of questions about the lyrics, mostly because she was hearing different words than Thompson was singing.

Her: Why is he missing the stew?
Me: He’s not saying, “I’m missing the stew.” He’s saying, “I misunderstood.”

So as my daughter asked questions, I’d explain what Thompson was singing about. If you’re not familiar with this collection, let’s just say it’s not the happiest set of songs you’ll ever hear. But the songs are great, nonetheless.

I told her that “1952 Vincent Black Lightening” was about a young miscreant who was shot in the chest by police and who gave his motorcycle to his girlfriend as he died. And that “Waltzing’s For Dreamers” was about a lonely man asking a lonely woman to dance with him. Then of course I had to explain about the stew and what it was Thompson misunderstood (“I thought she was saying good luck, she was saying goodbye”). Finally, during “I Can’t Wake Up to Save My Life,” I explained that Thompson really was singing about a nightmare he couldn’t wake up from. That was apparently the last straw for my girl, who exclaimed: …why does this guy have a problem in every song???

Excellent question. So I thought the songwriter deserved a chance to answer it. I posted it to his Web site, and he eventually did respond:

Dear Lori and Daughter,
You can’t write a Country song if you don’t have a problem, but you can write a Julie Andrews song. I’m normally somewhere in between, but the Capitol compilation obviously highlights my troubled side, something I should have been rather more vigilant about.

Yo, Richard, is that the best you could do?

I guess I should be happy Thompson answered the question at all, but I’ll admit I was hoping for some of his humor in the reply. The Julie Andrews comment has me wondering if he was taking a swipe at my (obviously brilliant) kid, as if she asked her question because all she knows of music is “A Spoonful of Sugar” or some other Mary Poppins-like tunes.

I’ll have Thompson and you know that my daughter is perfectly happy to listen to some depressing adult music, thank you very much.

Maybe Thompson just had an off day when he answered my daughter’s question. Or maybe he just missed the stew.

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About Lori Mortimer

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    What kind of six year old child gets into that dour “Uninhabited Man” stuff? Lord Ayn have mercy.

    Ever spring “The Little Beggar Girl” on your spawn? “Psycho Street” might would be fun for the kiddies, but I suppose that’s several steps of inappropriateness past that half-naked woman in “I Feel So Good.”

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    fantastic. i just love music-meets-real-life stories.

    also love how mom in a mini-van listening to Richard Thompson busts the stereotype of what a mom would be listening to.

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Thanks, Mark! I think maybe that mom-in-minivan stereotype is what threw Thompson off in his response.

    Al, I’m not familiar with the two songs you mention, but as my daughter is getting older, I’m finding that her ear is getting better at discerning the lyrics!

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    “The Little Beggar Girl” is from the Richard and Linda album I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, which you badly need. It is generally rated one of Thompson’s three or four best albums.

    “Psycho Street” is the freaky closing number of the Rumour and Sigh album, certainly one of his couple best. It was the original source for “I Misunderstood” and “Vincent” and “I Feel So Good” among others.

    For point of consideration of appropriateness, the most objectionable line would probably be, “Dear Sir, I don’t know if you’re interested, but your wife is a whore.”

  • godo

    I bet the tot will also enjoy having “Backlash Love Affair” explained. Another problem song, I’m afraid.

  • ggo

    Sorry, omitted my Christian name above.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Excellent stuff Lori !

  • http://www.educateddoubt.com lori

    Thanks, Eric!

    godo, you’re not kidding about “Backlash Love Affair”:

    She said “Left, right, right, left. Come on Joe don’t be slow.
    Up, down, down, up. Come on Joe, time to go.
    In, out, out, in. Do it if you love me Joe”
    I know it’s art for art’s sake but how much more can I take?
    What’s my share of this backlash love affair?

    lol…

    Gotta love Thompson’s web site and its Song-o-Matic search page.

  • http://www.mattlargo.com Matt Largo

    Great post Lori! Richard Thompson is one of my guitar/songwriting heroes. Too Much Information: I used to do Richard Thompson at Karaoke.

  • http://www.crowscry.blogspot.com John Spivey

    All the Richard Thompson fans come out. Good stuff. Both the music and your post.

  • Jo D.

    Lori — I enjoyed your piece! My 19 month old rocks out to most of Mock Tudor as well — and I was almost frightened by his delighted response to RT’s cover of Plastic Bertrand on the new box set! [He sort of body slammed in his baby car seat, laughing and shrieking.] But I have to tell you — that WAS RT’s famous humor in his reply to you. He wasn’t being waspish at all. Try re-reading the words with a sort of dry, very selfdeprecating British voice and see if you can’t get the reply to sound funny to your ears rather than serious/condescending. best, Jo

  • sal m

    good stuff…i’ve always felt that you should play real music for kids for the most part and not the kiddie stuff that you might hear on barney or some other show…

    as to thompson’s comments, maybe he just has something against happy and well-adjusted mini-van dwellers enjoying his music! i wonder how he would respond if you wrote another note and told him you were a down and out single mom who plays his music in your beat up volkswagen bus… ;)

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Excellent post! There’s some great children’s music out there, but I’ve always thought kids should be exposed to adult music too – especially with their parents, who can explain it to them (finessing when necessary).

  • Peter

    Jo D. (Feb 11 2006) was right, Lori.
    He’s a ruefully self-deprecating kind of guy and that’s what was showing in his characterisation of himself and his music as stuck somewhere between yore cheatin heart and doe a deer, a female deer; likewise the self-mockery of his most un-British lapse in vigilance about allowing his more troubled side to be excessively displayed on Action Packed. Tsk tsk.

    But I guess we could all lighten up a little sometimes, wouldn’t you say?

  • http://gratefuldread.net NR Davis

    Why? Just be honest, which is what he apparently was in his reply. Can’t fault someone for that.

    I’ve met Richard on a couple of occasions (we have a few mutual friends) and yes, he is quite self-deprecating (as am I, which is probably part of why we got on pretty well), but he is a lovely,intelligent artist (which should indicate the strong possibility of inordinate emotionality, heightened sensitivity and perhaps a wee bit of self-loathing being involved) who can be quite funny in a most British sense of the term.

    My kid – 10 years old two days ago – is a HUGE Richard Thompson fan. He especially likes the inappropriate ones (the ones about which we have long, thoughtful parent-child discussions), though his two faves are “Bathesheba Smiles” and “Wall of Death.”

    VERY cool that your daughter likes him. Speaks to Mom’s excellent musical taste and parenting abilities.

  • http://www.tresbleu/blogspot.com Sister Ray

    Jo D.: “RT’s cover of Plastic Bertrand…”

    Does Richard cover “Ca Plane Pour Moi”? Cool!

    Unfortunately, the phrase “minivan-driving mom” doesn’t bode well for musical taste. Sounds like Lori is a great exception to the rule, and her kids sound charming.