One of things I love about my band (I mean, besides the fact that we get to play B-52’s songs all the time) is that we’re all, more or less, coming from the same cultural perspective. We pretty much have the same encyclopedic knowledge of popular music.
Last night, we took a mid-rehearsal break and somehow the conversation turned to Christopher Cross. If you were around in the early Eighties, chances are very good that you’ve got you some Christopher Cross ineradicably scorched onto your hippocampus. Dude was lord-god-king of soft rock from 1979 to about 1983. Listen – I won’t front: I had the “Think of Laura” single. I’m not one of these people who insist they listened to nothing even remotely mainstream in the Eighties.
There was a very specific kind of pop song that flourished in the first couple of years of that decade. Air Supply. Rupert Holmes. Robbie Dupree. Dan Fogelberg. And at the risk of drawing ire from any fans of the aforementioned, that specific kind of pop song can best be described as “schmaltz.” Slick, sentimental schmaltz. Because you’re talking about a period of “prosperity” and excess interwoven with the fear of nuclear annihilation. The Top 40 charts reflected this. The music that hung onto the top spots for weeks and weeks at a stretch were soft, comforting, sweet things…the aural equivalent of coffee cake. And Christopher Cross was everyone’s favorite coffee cake.
This morning, my bandmate Josh sent me a link to an interview with Robyn Hitchcock, in which he takes apart “Arthur’s Theme,” one of Cross’s biggest hits. Hitchcock touched upon the very things we talked about last night at rehearsal – that the socioeconomic climate at that time set the stage for what was essentially the “dawn of the power ballad.” It really is a great interview, perfectly illustrating why I love Robyn Hitchcock so, but I DID take issue with one thing he said, in the context of the film itself:
(The song) is applied to this sentimental early-’80s film with Dudley Moore—may his soul rest in Elysium—but his working partner Peter Cook was a terrible alcoholic, and it always amazed me that Dudley Moore did what struck me as a rather goofy, sentimental characterization of a really serious problem.
I disagree. I frequently recommend Moore’s turn as Arthur Bach as one of the better, more heartbreaking portrayals of an active alcoholic. Perhaps that’s because I see the layers in it now that I’m sober; there is a very palpable pain under the clowning and cackling. There’s a scene in particular that gets me every time, about a minute and a half into this clip:
He’s on the floor, completely scuttered, and trying to reassemble this mail holder at stupid o’clock in the morning. It’s agonizing to watch, because I know that feeling: you’re too fucked up to fix the simplest thing. Audiences laughed at Arthur Bach, because alcoholic sad sack millionaires lolling drunkenly in their limousines are funny. This is not to say that people SHOULDN’T laugh; it’s a comedy, after all. But there are moments throughout the film where those “in the know” recognize the exhaustion beneath the façade of being the life of the party. Too, there is Arthur’s deep ambivalence about coming into himself as an adult.
One of Hitchcock’s many problems with “Arthur’s Theme” also has to do with the feeling of it, that of a “combination of defeat and indifference.” In this way, it really is the perfect song for the story.