- Country Pie (1969) part 1: People try and read so much into songs
- Country Pie (1969) part 2: Slap that drummer with a pie that smells
- Country Pie (1969) part 3: I’m your wicked Uncle Ernie
by Jochen Markhorst
IV Sugar and spice and all things nice
Raspberry, strawberry, lemon and lime What do I care? Blueberry, apple, cherry, pumpkin and plum Call me for dinner, honey, I’ll be there
John Cale meets Dennis Wilson and Gilbert O’Sullivan in Twin Peaks and they play Tubular Bells – such a ponderous comparison perhaps remotely approaches the layered beauty of John Grant’s masterpiece Queen Of Denmark. Gordon Lightfoot is also in there somewhere. As are Jacques Brel and Abba. But that still would fall far short of the mark.
The Czars’ ex-frontman’s first solo album is arguably the best record of 2010, and track 2, “I Wanna Go To Marz” (actually just: “Marz”) is arguably the prettiest song of 2010, casually winking at the prettiest song of 1971, Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” Grant’s life story invites one to see in the candy-coated ode more and less disguised references to his unhappy childhood as a lonely gay in a narrow-minded religious family in Colorado, or, easier still, to understand the candy tsunami as metaphors for his disastrous alcohol and drug addictions. And this is how many commentators explain the song. Given the sometimes painful candour of other songs on Queen Of Denmark perfectly understandable, but in this particular case the background is actually more poetic and still a touch more down-to-earth, as Grant explains:
“Marz was a sweet shop from my childhood. It’s now empty and for sale. But I got to visit beforehand, and the woman who served me as a child was still there. They still made all their own candies and ice cream. After it changed owners, I went back again and was given the original menus. In the song, I list all the names of the sundaes and drinks like Green River. The song is about the gateway back to childhood and innocence, when things haven’t become complicated.”
(The Brighton Magazine, 22 January 2011)
Very prosaic then, in fact, the opening couplet – but this personal back-story provides a touching sheen that is more poetic than all the drug and other misery stories suspected by the critics and analytics;
Bittersweet strawberry marshmallow butterscotch Polar Bear cashew dixieland phosphate chocolate Lime tutti frutti special raspberry, leave it to me Three grace scotch lassie cherry smash lemon freeze
I wanna go to Marz Where green rivers flow And your sweet sixteen is waiting for you after the show I wanna go to Marz We'll meet the gold dust twins tonight You'll get your heart's desire, I will meet you under the lights
It has a naive, childlike poignancy, a nursery rhyme-like quality. Which we have been conditioned to since the nineteenth century, since Sugar and spice and all things nice / That’s what little girls are made of. And infectiously revived in 1964 by Smokey Robinson, once jokingly classified by Dylan as a great poet, in “That’s What Love Is Made Of”.
Music-wise, the first bridge of “Country Pie” is a rather old-fashioned, classic bridge. Still, as is common in pop songs, after the second verse, but not, as is common in pop music, a bridge from the verse to the chorus. The bridge of “Country Pie” is the B in an AABA structure, i.e. a bridge from verse 2 to verse 3.
Lyrically, it has the charm of sugar and spice and John Grant’s “Marz” – coincidentally with even the same flavours as in Grant’s little masterpiece (raspberry, strawberry, lemon and lime). But for those interpreters who want to stick to a scabrous interpretation, for whom pie = vagina, it is far from naive and childlike; here, then, the randy protagonist sings of the joys of promiscuity. Sort of like Jan Kiepura’s 1935 classic “Ob blond, ob braun, ich liebe alle Frau’n” (Whether blond or brunette, I love all women), of which the legendary Nina Hagen then makes, some forty years later, a next lesbian sultry, enlarging step, in “Auf’m Bahnhof Zoo” (Ob blond ob schwarz ob braun / Ich liebe alle Frau’n, 1978). And Waylon Jennings somewhere in between doing a witty variant in “Silver Ribbons” (on – what’s in a name – Nashville Rebel, 1966), incidentally a weak song on a weak album, despite support from Chet Atkins and Blonde On Blonde veterans Charlie McCoy and Hargus “Pig” Robbins;
I can't recall my mother she left when I was two Brunets blondes and red heads were the only love I knew Don't ask me where I'm going don't ask me where I've been Those Silver Ribbons will take me there there and back again
And just as Dylan’s narrator doesn’t care either, apparently: whether raspberry, strawberry, lemon or lime, I love all pies.
Not a Dylan, all in all, singing with autobiographical candour his new life’s happiness as a good family man with a lovely wife and children in the Catskills – which is what so many critics and analysts seem so keen to hear in the song, and throughout the album (Scaduto: “down-home country songs”). Marqusee disqualifies it as “deliberate banality”. Heylin, who finds the song “embarrassing”, like most professional Dylanologists. “Over the edge of corniness,” writes Bob Dylan Commentaries. The reddit thread about the song swings back and forth between the supporters of the erotic interpretation and the innocents, who “think that it’s a song about being with your true love and sitting down to a nourishing delicious meal,” who find that it “evokes pure domestic bliss”, it’s “light-weight”, a “lil’ ditty”, it has “such a happy vibe”, “This is a song about pie” … the innocents are, by the way, firmly in the majority.
At the same time, the innocents – miraculously, and without exception – ignore the vast majority of the lyrics, all those fragments of text that, with the best will in the world, do not fit a sweet ode to domestic happiness. One Saxophone Joe getting an archaic whiskey keg on his toes, some neurotic violinist fiddling all night long – it requires quite a bit of mental acrobatics to hear “being with your true love” or “domestic bliss” in it. Not to mention the subsequent verses…
To be continued. Next up Country Pie part 5: It’s weird, man
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978
- Bringing It All Back Home: Bob Dylan’s 2nd Big Bang
- Time Out Of Mind: The Rising of an Old Master
- Crossing The Rubicon: Dylan’s latter-day classic