Lyrics

Cigar-chewing Charlies and Femme Fatales

A handful of albums have been regular companions through the last 30 years and more. A year might go by without playing one or two of them but never longer than that. Two of these albums have been on my mind, and on my car stereo, and on various other media, in recent weeks: David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” (which has supplied this month’s Earworm, “Lady Stardust”, and this post) and “The Heart of Saturday Night” by Tom Waits (featuring “Drunk on the Moon”).

I mentioned in that “Lady Stardust” piece that I have been playing some old demo versions of songs from the album, and included this link, and I’ve also been playing live performances by Tom Waits from the mid-1970s. Unfortunately the links to the latter have now been taken down, but you can click here and here for examples of what YouTube displays in such cases, along with the message, “The YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement”.

Thanks to these demo and live recordings (when they were available) a few lines that I had incorrectly sung along with have now become clear to me. The relevant lines from “Lady Stardust” are “Femme fatales emerged from shadows / to watch this creature fair / boys stood upon their chairs / to make their point of view”. “Drunk on the Moon”(here, with lyrics) sings of “cigar-chewing Charlie / in that newspaper nest / grifting hot-horse tips / on who’s running the best”. I had been singing some approximation of these words for over three decades, but never knew what they were. I have a copy of the sheet music (“The Complete Record”) for “Ziggy Stardust”, which cost me more than my vinyl LP and two CD copies put together. I also have the Tom Waits Anthology Songbook, though it doesn’t include “Drunk on the Moon”, and I first looked up lyrics on the web nearly 20 years ago. Back in the late 90s that’s how I finally found out the words to “Trampled Underfoot” and the rest of Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti” (another constant companion since my teenage years). Even so I had never looked up the words to any songs by Bowie or Tom Waits on the web.

As I have noted elsewhere on this Blog, particularly in this piece (“Do you know the words to every pop song?”), some of us know the words to hundreds of songs. Sometimes though, even after playing a song thousands of times, I am still muddling through, like many people do. I heard the phrase “Cigar-chewing Charlie” as “They got you and Charlie” and can’t recall what I sang instead of “Femme fatales emerged”.

Speaking of incorrectly sung lyrics, I recall, as if it were yesterday, a classmate singing along to the Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” (UK #1 on this date in 1980). “Gonna use my style / gonna use my sausage” he sang. “Sausage?” one of my classmates exclaimed. “Sausage? Gonna use my sausage?” The singer challenged him, “Well what is she singing then?” “Sidestep, mate. Gonna use my sidestep.” Sing along with it for yourself here.

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