Sunday, March 7, 2021

How Many Days In Paradise Are We Talking About Here? AKA David Crosby, Vegas Bad Luck Charm

But it's not just another day in paradise at all. Because there are homeless people! Oh man. Feel the burn. Irony so thick you could stick a fork in it.

In the long and lengthy history of sappy charity rock, perhaps the easiest target for critical scorn that has ever been produced - easier than "Ebony and Ivory," "We Are the World," even Elton's "Princess Diana" remake of "Candle in the Wind," for crying out loud - would be "Another Day In Paradise." You want to know why? I'll tell you why:


There, I said it. I feel better now. OK. Take a breath.

Here's how I'm guessing this went down: One festive evening, in between caviar dinners and red carpet ceremonies, Phil happened to notice some scraggly-looking ruffian living in a box and eating out of a leftover Chinese take-out container, and thought to himself, "Oh, this is terrible. Hasn't anybody noticed all these homeless people around? You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to write a song about it. And then I'm going to bring in David Crosby, patron saint of old hippies who love telling everybody how badly they should feel about stuff (even though he's probably just a couple of late royalty payments away from being homeless himself), to sing backing vocals." Cloying. Obnoxious. Sanctimonious.

And yet.

Do you know how many views the video for "Another Day in Paradise" has on YouTube? 370 million. Sweet Jesus. "In the Air Tonight" only has 219 million. Do you know why so many people, including your humble '80s blogger, enjoy listening to the hypocritical guilt-fest known as "Another Day in Paradise"? Because the man ... just had a gift.

That keyboard hook. Whoa nelly. It's gentle, but insistent. At this point Phil was farting out keyboard hooks like a man who'd eaten five "keyboard hook" burritos the night before. And the chorus - so hypnotic, so relaxing. Phil and David's harmonizing really lulls your ears into that sweet, arrogant, middle-class complacency the lyrics are apparently trying to warn you against. Reclining in your Cape Cod hammock, you slip into a sedate, comforting junkie nod as you think to yourself, "Yes, Phil, it is another day in paradise ... wait, what's this song about again?" It's like a soft, velvetty pillow of shame. Select instrumental highlights:
  • Throughout the first half, the entirety of the track's percussion appears to be supplied by a drum machine (thwacking slightly louder during the keyboard hook than during either the verse or the chorus) until the 2:47 mark, when His Gated-Reverbed Majesty makes his grand entrance on the skins. Sometimes the best tricks ... are the oldest tricks.
  • Phil lays off the drums during the third verse, giving ample room for a tasty flamenco guitar flourish to steal the spotlight at 3:45, only to come crashing back in on the final chorus, his anger at the cosmic injustice he's been forced to witness between limo rides clearly boiling over.
  • I feel like the outro goes on just long enough; with Phil now inventively singing the chorus lyric over the previously unaccompanied keyboard hook, you really get a chance to wallow in your privileged indifference for a good extra minute or so.
But here's the funniest part. I don't merely admire the song on its musical merits alone. I think some twisted, confused portion of me actually likes the lyrics. They're just so ... unapologetically sarcastic. He's really throwing your apathy in your face, gleefully getting off while watching you squirm. And the details are spot-on - give or take a bit of dramatic embellishment. For instance, anyone else find it pretty convenient that the homeless lady in the first verse happens to speak in rhyme? Also, "Starts to whistle as he crosses the street"? How many businessmen whistled as they crossed the street ... in 1989? Plus, Phil left out the most important detail: what was the man whistling? I'm going to go with "The Colonel Bogey March."

At least Phil doesn't pretend to have a solution. It's not like the lyrics are, "If we all just worked together, we could end homelessness forever, la la la la." Instead, he's merely painting the scene, then offering a wry joke about how "wonderful" everything is. "No answers here, folks." In fact, on the bridge, he outright asks, "Oh Lord, is there nothing more that anybody can do?," before adding desperately, "Oh Lord, there must be something you can say." But God doesn't seem to be telling Phil Collins jack squat. Besides, I don't think "Another Day in Paradise" is asking the listener to "solve" homelessness anyway; it's just asking the listener to "think about it." And, you know what? For five minutes and twenty-three seconds of my precious existence, I think I can do that.

It's still the cheesiest piece of cheese that any Yuppie Rocker ever cheesed, of course. I like how the video features shocking "facts," rendered in big bold letters, such as "ONE BILLION PEOPLE HAVE INADEQUATE SHELTER." Define "inadequate." I mean, you should see some of the apartments I've lived in. I also like the shot of the homeless guy wearing a "Don't Worry Be Happy" beanie. Take that, Bobby McFerrin.

Surprisingly, at least according to Phil, the initial inspiration for the track stemmed from an incident far removed from the plight of the street dweller. From In The Air Tonight:
Common misconception: I can understand why people thought I was talking about "paradise," you know, like an ironic reference to heaven or something in relation to the whole homelessness issue, but actually, when I wrote the demo back in the mid-'80s, I was talking about Paradise, Nevada. See, when you think of "Las Vegas," what do you think of? You think of the Las Vegas Strip, right? But what most people don't realize is that the majority of the Las Vegas Strip technically resides in the unincorporated census-designated community of Paradise, Nevada, and that Las Vegas proper is to the north. For demographic purposes, it's probably best to think of Vegas as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Anyway. So it was about 1986, fresh off No Jacket Required, and I'd just gotten back to my room at Harrah's at 3:00am, returning from my favorite Vegas strip club, Cutie Pie's, when the phone rings. Crosby's in town. You know shit's about to get crazy.

So we meet over at Caesar's and head to the blackjack table. He's high on a mixture of ... I want to say PCP and Robitussin? Given that he'd just gotten out of Texas State Prison for drugs and weapons possession charges, you'd think he would've been taking it a bit easy, but then you don't know Croz. And of course I'd just injected a couple of kilos of horsie juice laced with some WD-40 (for that extra kick).

So we're in a pretty good mood. I get on a bit of a roll, and suddenly I'm dealt a 10 and a 6. "I think I'm gonna go for it."

Crosby looks at me, with a clarity belying his mental state. "You sure about that Phil? Think twice."

So I respond, just off the cuff, you know, "Cause it's another day for you and me in Paradise." And we both emit these enormous, Cheshire Cat grins. Anyway, I go for it. "Hit me!" I get a 7. I tell you, Crosby's energy is just unlucky all around, that's what I think. I guess I probably saw some homeless bloke standing on the corner as I stumbled back to Harrah's but ... didn't really feel that bad about it, honestly.