Wrapping the Sharp in Sweet

I don’t know this kid from Adam, but, it doesn’t matter. As cute as he is, he’s not important. What is important is the song he’s dancing to. It’s a pretty silly song by Elizabeth Cook. If you listen for five seconds, you get the gist–it’s about a snake in the bed. You kind of want it to be a euphemism, but it never quite gels into one.

The snake is just a snake.

But the little kid dances to the razor blade in this particular apple, which is why I included the video.

My pocketbook was sittin by the slidin glass door

The one I thought didn’t work no more

I set it side me on the pull-out couch

The one I’d been sleepin on to get the bugs out

And Big Mama Thornton was singing along

With pretty young Elvis and the old hound dog

Heaven turned to big deceit when something slithered down my leg

And between my feet

This is a stupid song. But this part is brilliant. You know so much about the singer–she’s in a run-down bug infested place where bad things happen when you let your pocketbook out of your sight. But she’s also in this place where Big Mama Thornton is singing with Elvis.

Now, obviously Thornton didn’t sing along with Elvis in any place but Mythic America. It’s like here we are, just listening to this silly song and through it we’re transported to that Other America, as good as if we’d gone through a magical wardrobe.

I want to think about those lyrics for a million years, just those two lines. Because you know Cook knows, if anything, in real life, Elvis was singing along with Big Mama Thornton. But something about the way she positions Thornton as the singer, Elvis reduced to the same level as the dog they share in common, that is more important than “singing along with.”

I mean, you could, judging by Cook’s line break, read it as “Big Mama Thornton was singing along” and “with pretty young Elvis and the old hound dog” trailing behind. Heaven, then, is her singing with the big deceit coming with Elvis.

But it’s not just an anti-Elvis dig, right? “Pretty young Elvis.” I feel like that’s another way that Cook puts you in the position of looking from Thornton’s perspective. Yes, it is “young Elvis” who recorded “Hound Dog” but he would have also been young to Thornton.

And I love the ambiguity of it. The suggestion that Thornton has been displaced while at the same time an acknowledgment of Elvis’s appeal.

It’s weird. It’s like a Gillian Welch song almost breaks out in the middle of Cook’s little ditty about a snake.

Speaking of snakes, man it’s hard not to wonder what’s going on in Elvis’s pants-al area every time they cut away.

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