Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Great Title, Iffy Execution

"An Interpretation of, and Pronunciation Guide for, REO Speedwagon's 1980 Hit, 'Keep on Lovin'' You" , by Jamie Allen, in Eyeshot. (If you follow the link be sure to scroll down.)

You gotta love this title, since the song it refers to is not exactly notable for its layers of hidden meaning - how much interpretation can it possibly support? The conceit isn't bad either: the interpretation turns out to be a direct-address cry of anguish from the narrator to his first love, a girlfriend he had in 7th grade. The song, of course, was their song, and the sentiment of the song title is his and not hers. Seems she betrayed him back in 7th grade -- presumably some time around 1980 -- and though he grew up and moved on, he never got over it. What's great about the story is its obssessiveness, the way in which the narrator's pain, so easily dismissed by adult readers, has never dulled:

But even so, sometimes I'll be driving down the highway and I'll come across the song, our song, on the radio, and I'll be in the car with someone and they'll somehow sing it the wrong way.

That passage is a perfect evocation of the emotional detritus we all carry with us from other relationships -- song fragments, articles of clothing, jokes -- artifacts which are, for us, invested with powerful emotion, but which others regard as inconsequential.

Unfortunately, the story is weak -- build thy church on rock, not on REO Speedwagon lyrics -- because it outlasts the charm of its conceit. The narrator's one-note insistence on his seventh-grade betrayal wears on the nerves; poor line editing doesn't help. Advice the author didn't ask us for: cut it in half, tighten it up. It'll pack a bigger punch.

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