Monday, January 19, 2015

Next Time, How About Some Wings That Aren't Broken?

Like Major Major Major Major from Catch-22, the parents of Mr. Mister had a very cruel sense of humor. Granted, he was mercilessly spared ridicule throughout his childhood, but once he entered adult society, he surely must have had a terrible burden to bare. "What's your last name sir?" "Mister." "Perhaps you misunderstood, I need your last name." "Yes, it's Mister." "I'm sorry, Mr., I don't mean to be rude."

"Broken Wings" is another one of those songs I heard a thousand times as a kid, but for years I never knew the title or the artist's name or anything critical of that nature. I was hanging out with the same friend who clued me in as to the artist and title of "Oh, Sherrie." He added, "You know Mr. Mister, 'Broken Wings'?" "No, what the hell is that?" He pulled it up on YouTube. "Oh yeahhhh, of course I know that one, you think I'm an idiot?" Strangely, the band's "Kyrie" which was also a #1 hit, is one I don't really remember hearing at all. Sometimes, you play the post-'80s soft rock perennial rotation game, and sometimes, it plays you.

When rock critics in the early '70s expressed their concern that technology would inevitably sap popular music of its "soul," they were probably terrified that the future of music was going to sound like "Broken Wings." Its pure synthetic sheen would have given them Woodstockian nightmares. It's like taking a photocopy of a photocopy; you can barely hear the remnants of actual humans in the background. According to Wikipedia, "The song's hissing intro was an effect created by the sound of a crash cymbal played in reverse." So you mean someone actually played an actual cymbal? Yeah, OK, they twisted it around so it sounded alien and inorganic, but still, I'm kind of impressed.

And what's with the chorus? Is that supposed to be some kind of Beatles reference? Just to refresh you: "Blackbird," from the White Album, features the lyrics, "Blackbird singing in the dead of night/Take these broken wings and learn to fly." Any intended homage would have completely escaped my Beatles-ignorant six-year-old self. But "Blackbird," at least according to later McCartney interviews, was an allegory about the Civil Rights movement. Maybe "Broken Wings" was an allegory about yuppies being oppressed by "the man," AKA ... themselves?

For a song that practically blasts "1985" from an airhorn, the video for "Broken Wings" has aged impressively well. Looks like Mr. Mister went the "Boys of Summer" route and brought out the black & white film stock for this baby. Let's just face it, the video is a Yuppie's wet dream. Lead vocalist (and bassist!) wearing a strategically unbuttoned denim shirt? Check. And sunglasses? Check. Driving a convertible? Check. Down an endless, nondescript California highway? Check. With random shots of birds? Check. With a scene of the singer sitting in an empty church, praying for the salvation of his broken Yuppie soul? Check and check. I like the part at 2:12 where he flings the map out of the car. Yeah! You show that road map who's boss! Oh, and soak in that white trenchcoat thing he's wearing while the band "performs" in their spotless desert home. Honestly, is that Mr. Mister's real lead singer, or did they just hire a model? I mean, for a guy who looks like he just popped out of an Eddie Bauer catalog, he sure can hit the high notes.

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