Someone Left This Song on In My Braaaaain...

I admit it: I live in a cave. I’m not terribly social, and there are tons of things I have barely experienced secondhand (ex. carjackings, wealth, Deadheads) let alone be fully exposed to (bondage fetishists*). But I have no idea how I got to be nearly twenty-six years of age without ever hearing this particular gem of aural torture. If it hadn’t been for a quiet, jigsaw puzzling evening with The Sooz over the New Year’s mini-break, I might yet be spared the refrain that plays every spare second my brain is not fully occupied. The TV was tuned to classics of the 70s, and after ten minutes of Sooz singing along to what could not possibly be the correct lyrics (I thought she was singing a parody, or mashed some syllables a la “Jed & Lionel”), an internet search and my subsequent shock, I came to this point: A Close Reading of MacArthur Park.

[Note: If you haven’t heard this song, please click here to read the lyrics. Then click here to hear the chorus. Obviously, this is one of those things that begs to be shared.]

When I originally intended to rip on deeply analyze this song, I decided to do a little research and see if I was actually making a big deal out of nothing. It’s a good thing I Googled, because not only is this song every bit as ridiculous as I thought it was (more so, really; plenty of ridiculous lyrics enjoy undisputed acceptance when put to music, but in print, they’re so earnest—they try so hard to be serious they end up anything but (AKA the Informer “a licky boom-boom-down” Theory). As an added bonus, I got some bits o’trivia; the best of which is that the song was first recorded by one Richard Harris, noted British actor of Dumbledore fame (I have not heard this version, but I await it with a mixture of anticipation and dread that can only be described as ‘glee’). So: after reading the lyrics once, we should be more than qualified to do a little remedial poetry explication. Shall we?

MacArthur Park
By Jimmy Webb c1968

Spring was never waiting for us, girl
It ran one step ahead

Two lovers, chasing something; pretty typical song fodder.

As we followed in the dance
Between the parted pages and were pressed

Happy, making memories, like leaves pressed in a book. This is all nice imagery.

In love's hot, fevered iron

Um, OK. I can roll with that, except irons don’t press together, but against something; that would argue that the lovers were being acted on something other than themselves, otherwise they would have been pressed by hot tongs, a panini press, or a George Foreman grill—something with two sides. And before you tell me ‘George Foreman grill’ is a weird lyric, hold you on one second…

Like a striped pair of pants

Yeah. Here’s where we see that this song writes its own rules, beats its own drum, makes its own gravy. A perfect lead-up to the chorus, which is no-holds-barred, batshit crazy:

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark

Acid, obviously, but we’ll get to that.

All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Green. Like acid.

Someone left the cake out in the rain

Huh? And… huh? Hang on, it gets better:

I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, no!

OK. OK, now… OK.
Oh, and, hee hee hee, HA!

Aside from that: the cake in the rain is a metaphor for a failed relationship: something beautiful, left out in the rain. “I’m sad (can’t take it), it took a long time to build the foundation (bake it—lazy ass rhyme, by the way), and I’ll never have that same thing with anyone else (that recipe again)”. Fine, good. But… cake. Cake, out in the rain. It’s… it’s so…

And it’s aggravated by the tune, too.

And, of course, recipe. The word ‘recipe’ is the dead giveaway that this song could not be meant in all seriousness—the songwriter wants to see if he can stretch the metaphor until it snaps. Either he laughing at us or us at him, and for his sake, I hope it’s him.

But wait—there’s more.

I recall the yellow cotton dress
Foaming like a wave

Trippy, but desriptive

On the ground around your knees

Sex on the grass! Figuratively! Woo!

The birds, like tender babies in your hands
And the old men playing checkers by the trees

Poetically, I like the juxtaposition of babies against old men, reinforcing the theme of the brevity of life and the memories that sweeten it. Judgmentally, the birds/babies thing creeps me out; it has a weird ‘Ode to Billy Joe’ teenage abortion vibe to it.

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark

OK, I’ll give credit where it’s due: the memories are fading due to excessive drug use.

All the sweet, green icing flowing down

Out of curiosity, has anyone ever had a green cake? Were they vogue in ’68? The color choice is so arbritrary; the only color less likely to be a frosting is blue. I guess if I stretched, I could argue it’s the color of youth: green recruits, salad days, etc. But it’s really about the acid. Or the weed.

Someone left the cake out in the rain

Hee hee. You’re singing it now, aren’t you?

I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it

Baked. I’m just sayin’.

And I'll never have that recipe again

Recipe. Re-ci-pe. Come ON.

Oh, no!

I should mention that in Donna Summer’s version, “Oh, no” is a comically shrill scream that leads into an incongruously upbeat disco break (yes, really), then goes right back into the melancholy cake drivel. [Please listen—I just can’t do it with words.]

There will be another song for me
For I will sing it

Oh, god, please, no.

There will be another dream for me
Someone will bring it

Wait—the first party was catered? Lazy! Waste of a good cake! You could have that cake again—you’re just too stoned to call the caterer! AAARGH!

I will drink the wine while it is warm

Ch’ya, I’ll bet.

And never let you catch me looking at the sun

The… what?

And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life

Yeah, you get around. It’s the sixties; you’re not getting any ribbons.

You'll still be the one

…who left me, and with good right, because my total lack of ability to make you happy is metaphorically evidenced in my treatment of Play-Doh-colored baked goods.

I will take my life into my hands and I will use it

‘User.’ The truth is out there, people.

I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it

Ok, this line is kind of hot. But it changes focus; is he talking about new lovers, or fans?

I will have the things that I desire

Ah. Fans.

And my passion flow like rivers through the sky

A hgher sentence has never been written. There are track marks on my screen.

And after all the loves of my life
After all the loves of my life

‘I have genital herpes.’

I'll be thinking of you
And wondering why

Because you got high. That’s why it ended, that’s why she left, that’s why you got the VD. I think that song is a complement to this one.

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down

You will never get this out of your head, by the way.

Someone left the cake out in the rain

Yeah, you, Tripster McWino.

I don't think that I can take it
'Cause it took so long to bake it

‘… at least that’s what the folks at EZ CAKES 4U said.’ Lazy.

And I'll never have that recipe again

Loser. She’s well rid of him.

Oh, no!
Oh, no
No, no
Oh no!!

Yes, those are the closing lyrics; screams that are equal parts indulgence and hysteria, cementing my theory that the whole thing was written by a teenaged girl who can’t deal with with a breakup so she goes insane like Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass. [Grass! I have to be right.] Yeah, I know this was written in a time when people were either avoiding the draft or doing lines off each other (or both) but come on—nobody noticed? I guess any not-insensible person was too busy listening to Live at Folsom Prison instead.

Someone left the caaaaake… GAH! DAMMIT!

[If you’ve never heard the song, listen to it at least once. At least. You don’t need to develop a sick fascination with it like I have.]

* Yes, I got stories, but I'm not telling them.**
** Certainly not at 2 AM after a bottle of Piesporter. Uhn-uh.


JP said…
I am downloading it for a listen as we speak. One of your best posts, hands down.
JP said…
Okay, I'm sure it's the title song to some obscure B-movie, in which a hooker gets brutally murdered, that would only be seen at 2am. Just has that feel to it. That was the Richard Harris version...the Donna Summer version is well....just messed up.

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