"Stranger Than Fiction" by Joe Jackson
There isn't anything not to love about this. Besides
getting described as stranger than fiction, romantic love (the star of the song) is compared
to a growing flower and a growing
tumor. We're also told that it disappears and sometimes comes back with a
vengeance. Not content with being poetically precise, the song waxes philosophical
when it also tells us that life is disastrous and bizarre and contradictory and
filled with friction, and, most truly, ever immune to prediction.
far, how is it wrong in any way? I know next to nothing about Joe Jackson other
than he's British (which means something, I guess, what with Shakespeare's record on life and love*), and very talented, and that when you hear him confess that he thinks he's strained
a muscle he didn't know he had after a day in bed with his lover, you know he's
not bullshitting you. He's half nuts with lust and grief and confusion -- he's been asking people on the street where questions in the middle of the
pouring night, and when questions of telephone
operators (he doesn't even know what day it is) -- so feel free to think
that strained muscle is his heart. He knows he has one, but clearly, he
doesn't know it's so, well, strainable. Doesn't change the fact that he's telling us the truth.
then there are all those amplified musical instruments carrying forward the happiness (love may kill you, but it makes you happy and electric) -- the happiness that Joe
Jackson won't quite admit to. The laughing drums (and some other kind of joyously bonked bongo/conga things) and the electric guitar and
bass . . . and a wince-making organ, which, immediately after the bridge, holds one aching note and a
couple of little flourishes for more beats than you're used to, and which puts
the whole thing to bed: the flower and the tumor and God's sense of humour, proof of which is -- what else? -- love. The song continues for a bit, but you've been completely sucked in (that's what fiction does, too) because you're now singing along (you are singing along, aren't you?). If he wasn't the organist himself, Joe Jackson should've paid his colleague more than the other players, at least for this song. All it takes is one organ to convince you that you know nothing about love. It's a valuable lesson.
(*Okay, some other British poets, too.)