Eric Mayer

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Lyrics and Libraries
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Although our Byzantine mysteries aren’t bestsellers, they have gone out into the world and I’d like to think they will continue to find readers as the years go by. It’s nice to imagine that a half century from now somebody somewhere might send a librarian to retrieve Five For Silver from the stacks in the basement, just as I used to dispatch librarians to the underworld in search of dusty volumes by Wolcott Gibbs and Lucius Beebe. (Who, of course had plenty of readers in their time) And who knows, we may find more readers than we have today.

The idea occurred to me when I stopped by Dave Emlen's Unofficial Kinks Web Site and saw that that AdWeek has awarded Campaign of the Year to Hewlett-Packard for its digital photography ads using the 1968 Kinks song Picture Book. Considering HP spent a total of around $260 million in the US for advertising in 2004, it is a safe bet that more people heard the song in 2004 than then heard it 36 years ago when it appeared on the Village Green Preservation Society Album, an artistic success which reputedly failed to sell even 10,000 copies in the states.

I had the album. I've listened to Picture Book innumerable times while it waited for its fifteen minutes of fame. The article describes the song as "upbeat" and the music certainly is. But what makes the song so interesting is the contrast between the music and the melancholy tinged lyrics. Here they are, leaving out the exuberant na na na choruses:

Picture yourself when you're getting old,
Sat by the fireside a-pondering on[?].
Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago.

A picture of you in your birthday suit,
You sat in the sun on a hot afternoon.
Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old Uncle Charlie out boozing with their friends.
Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend.
Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago.

How an HP ad campaign ties in with my wondering if anyone will be reading about John the Eunuch in fifty years or if he'll find a larger readership, I don't know. Maybe someboy will come along who'll take from the books something they can use and never mind the rest.

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