Monday, April 20, 2009

Charlene - I've Never Been To Me

Okay. Before y'all begin throwing your...whatever it is you throw, sit yerselves down. Yes, I'm quite aware that many websites list this song as among the worst pop songs ever. But these lists were probably made by people who take pop music way too seriously (and who, it seems, never heard anything recorded after 1985). That sin right there ensures that "I've Never Been To Me" belongs at the bottom of the dustbin. For those poor folks.

They also cry out that "I've Never Been To Me" is a manipulative attempt at advancing a conservative agenda and the sanctimony of the family. Well, okay. I'll grant that. The song is basically the parable of a woman who has lived a hedonistic lifestyle for years and wakes from her ecstatic dream to find that it was empty, and she regrets her life of debauchery. Then she spends the song talking to a "discontented mother," trying to convince her that her lifelong bacchanale may have been paradise, but. "You know what paradise is?" she whispers. "It's a lie. A fantasy we create about people and places as we'd like them to be."

A sermon against having too much fun in life. In a pop song. Seriously? Seriously. Like #3 on the pop charts in 1982 seriously.

You have to take "I've Never Been To Me" for what it is - a song that is so earnest, so desperate, it just cries out to be mocked. And if you can do that, you'll recognize the genius this song really is.

To wit: during the opening to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, drag queens were performing it with such fake sincerity while dropping squeaking baby dolls on the ground. They got it. When you see it in this context, it's impossible NOT to recognize its awesomeness.

Seriously, you all know the song and could probably at least sing the chorus in your sleep. (If you were living under a rock during the early 1980s, or weren't born yet, then get educated post-haste below.) The things that elevate this song to genius (or drop it to hell, depending on your view):

1) The way those t's sound when Charlene harmonizes with herself on "won't you share the par...T...of a weary hear...T." Toe-curling. You don't hear such perfect enunciation even from Abba.

2) "I've been to Nice and the isle of Greece." Uh, quick geography lesson here? Greece is actually physically connected to Europe. Unless you're talking about, oh, the 1400 or so Greek islands floating in the Aegean. Such adorable ignorance. Charlene, you're just too pretty for words.

3) That hilarious spoken monologue. Because the rest of the song wasn't serious enough.

4) Charlene's voice throughout. Woman has got to have perfect pitch or something...she treats every note as if it were sacrosanct. She also scores major points for really digging into this song and Wringing. Out. Every. Last. Emotion. from the lyrics. (Listen to how her voice just cracks with sadness as she sings "I spent my life exploring the subtle whoring that COST too much to be free!")

Now, having said that, for all its excessive weepiness, "I've Never Been To Me" does have a side worth considering seriously for a bit. It really epitomizes the hangover the morning after the 1970s. "I've Never Been To Me" actually was first released in 1977 and only got to #97. Makes sense that such a thematically sober song would do so poorly in the midst of the disco era. But what a difference five years makes. This song rang bitterly true for more than a few veterans of Studio 54, or for gay men during the AIDS-filled nightmare that was Reagan's "Morning in America." And although Rolling Stone once dubbed Billy Joel's "My Life" (truly an excellent song, by the way) "a neat epitaph for the Me Decade," really, that honor belongs on this song's sequined and fake-feathered shoulders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yea well I remember this song all to well when it came out - it was standard for its time in terms of general schlockiness and hyper-earnest delivery. But what I remember most of all was that it was especially favored by women who had a "certain zest for living" (Ted Knight's line in Caddyshack in reference to his nympho niece).

Put another way if a woman told you that she "really liked" this song it was an indication that she had probably slept with every guy she could and a few more. They used the song as vehicle to regain some dignity by writing off their sexual escapades in terms of "soul searching" or some such lofty idea. Frankly, it didn't make a bit of difference to me but it did to them.

Put it this way - I met a former adult film actress who had an autographed copy of this single on her living room wall. "It tells my story so perfectly" she would say...