Imitation Of Life

This one was the title of a Douglas Sirk melodramatic movie, starred by Lana Turner, a favorite actress of mine. It was a great movie, indeed, as many other Sirk’s works.

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I will add that Lana Turner is also one of Bob Dylan’s favorite actresses, which I mention on a mere whim, as it allows me to include the name of my favorite performing artist. Something that will be a hallmark of my production in this blog.

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The film was dealing with racism and other crucial subjects such as class and gender issues. Anyway, not my intention to talk about the movie here, but the R.E.M. song I’m sharing:

Imitation Of Life

Charades, pop skill
Water hyacinth, named by a poet
Imitation of life
Like a koi in a frozen pond
Like a goldfish in a bowl
I don’t want to hear you cry

That’s sugarcane that tasted good
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood
C’mon, c’mon no one can see you try

You want the greatest thing
The greatest thing since bread came sliced
You’ve got it all, you’ve got it sized
Like a Friday fashion show teenager
Freezing in the corner
Trying to look like you don’t try

That’s sugarcane that tasted good
That’s cinnamon, that’s Hollywood
C’mon, c’mon no one can see you try

No one can see you cry

That sugarcane that tasted good
That freezing rain, that’s what you could
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry

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Sugarcane

This sugarcane
This lemonade
This hurricane, I’m not afraid
C’mon, c’mon no one can see me cry

This lightning storm
This tidal wave
This avalanche, I’m not afraid
C’mon, c’mon no one can see me cry

That sugarcane that tasted good
That’s who you are, that’s what you could
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry

That sugarcane that tasted good
That’s who you are, that’s what you could
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry

Written by Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

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R.E.M.

Isn’t it a fascinating song? Don’t even know what it is all about, but suggests a lot. A huge flow of feelings and emotions. Looks like there’s something happening between the two characters, the singer/songwriter (as it is written in first person again) and the one he describes as “a Friday fashion show teenager freezing in the corner.” What a startling description. We can trace the between-the-lines relationship which seems to be broken or impaired, but still no one can see any of them cry. Hiding emotions, showing mettle trying to appear normal.

Metaphors are incredible, “like a koi in a frozen pond,” so powerful. Their relationship looks like crumbling down and, as he replays the past, “this sugarcane, this lemonade,” he can foresee the “lightning storm, this tidal wave” destroying what was left. The firmness in his attitude allows him to face the facts without fear, “this avalanche, I’m not afraid,” even if he has to bite the bullet to hide the tears.

While facing the storm he can still have a few words to say to his partner about how he felt, what his partner meant to him, what the other one could have done or avoided. That’s why I love the repeated chorus lines in the end:

That sugar cane that tasted good

That’s who you are, that’s what you could
C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry

As the other did not, the performer sings as if meaning something like “you better don’t cry, save your tears now” when saying “no one can see you cry.” The clever notion in the structure turns out to be the comparison between the two of them, since both apparently are equally suffering. It undoubtedly means an equally heartbreaking outcome for both partners, both of them must hide the tears.

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Whatever the reason, how the lyrics are constructed or the impact of a stirring string of chords, I can’t help but feel moved by the way Michael Stipe sings this song. Every time he intones the chorus I have to remind myself: “C’mon, c’mon on no one can see you cry.

The Hypnotist Collector

R.E.M. black & white picture retrieved from http://pitchfork.com/features/interview/8712-rem/