Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters by Elton John

One of the challenges of being an immigrant to the United States is the holidays. When my parents who came from Taiwan, raised my brother and I, they made an effort to participate in the major holidays in order to provide an “American” childhood. Some holidays made more sense then others. My parents understood Valentine’s Day, which correlated with a similar Taiwanese holiday, but others like Halloween were a little bit more mystifying. Seriously, why do you dress up as characters in our popular culture and beg for candy from complete strangers?”

Thanksgiving made a little bit more sense. The stories of the pilgrims and Native Americans did not mean much to my family, but the idea of coming together as a family and sharing a meal did.

One Thanksgiving when I was young, we went over to a family friend’s house and before we ate, we went around the table and said what we were thankful for. As I pondered the yam dish in front of me that for some reason had marshmallows in it, Thanksgiving started to make sense.

The true meaning of thanksgiving is for families to take a moment out of their lives to share a meal together and reflect on what they are thankful for in their lives. When I think back on my Thanksgiving experience I think about the times with my family, the three Thanksgivings I spent with college friends and the current tradition I now have of sharing that day with my wife’s family. What I am most thankful for in all of that are the people I shared those times with. As Elton John sang, “I thank the Lord for the people I have found” from his song “Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters.”

There was an Elton John before The Lion King and after “Your Song.” A daring, compassionate and audacious artist, Elton John not only revealed himself but also reflected the world around him. From 1969 to 1979 Elton John released thirteen albums including the double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The pace and quality of his albums is something rarely seen in popular music. Elton John released Honky Chateau his fifth solo album in 1972. “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters” was the second to last track on Honkey Chateau, an album that included other popular songs like “Honky Cat” and “Rocket Man.” Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist, wrote these lyrics after hearing a gun go off in New York City. Elton John considers this one of his must underrated songs and plays it frequently to describe his love for New York City.

There is a balance in lyrics between keeping them specific enough so that they connect to peoples feelings but ambiguous enough that they relate to different peoples’ lives. Bernie Taupin is a master of expressing themes and emotions through his lyrics while maintaining this balance. This song is about looking back at an experience and realizing truths about the world and the way people live their lives. Along with these realizations comes thanksgiving for the people in our lives. Sometimes it is in our struggles that remind us of the beautiful people in our lives.

Elton John carries on the tradition of popular piano players from artists like Little Richard. From a young age, Elton John trained as a classical pianist. This foundation allowed Elton to explore different types of music including, Jazz, Country, Blues and Rock music. “Mona LisasAnd Mad Hatters” features subtle and skillful piano playing. Elton varies the background creating motion between the vocal phrases with rising and falling shapes while outlines the chords of the song. The piano line seems organic and natural but is also deliberate and intentional providing a foundation for the emotional setting of the song.

From the affirmation of the melodic leaps to the longing of the held notes, Elton John creates a melody that is introspective and honest. Not often thought of as a great vocalist, Elton John demonstrates his ability to sing in an effortless way, clearly expressing the lyrics while drawing us in like a master storyteller. The clarity of his voice has slight edges and tension, which reflects a worldliness and understanding of the deepest levels of our humanity.

This is one of my favorite, if not my favorite song of all time. I first heard this song when Elton John performed it on a televised concert after the attacks on the World Trade Centers on 9/11 to honor the work of the firefighters, policemen and other heroes. It seemed so fitting. Here was a song about New York City, about a loss of innocence but more then that, a song of thanksgiving. I had always enjoyed Elton John’s music but never thought of him as master musician until I bought Honkey Chateau and delved in to the vast catalog of the music he recorded.

My wife and I featured this song during our wedding ceremony. We wrestled with the idea of having a pop song performed at the wedding. What we came to was that the genre of the song was irrelevant. This song is a musical statement that reflects our lives growing up. But more important it expresses how thankful we are for the people in our lives. After all that that was said and done, it really was the people in our lives that made our wedding day so meaningful.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if it really matters that we recognize the original intention of Thanksgiving. If the personal meaning that we get Thanksgiving relates to the pilgrims, fantastic. If it’s not, no big loss. My parents found great meaning in the simple act of breaking bread with people we care about and I hope that you all do too.

1 comment:

  1. 英國歌手Elton John是我最喜歡的少數搖滾歌星之一。他有幾百首暢銷歌曲,經常在不同電臺播放,很多人對他的歌是耳熟能詳。Elton John 能作曲,彈鋼琴,自彈自唱。他歌曲的特色在其旋律與合音諸多變化,旋律與歌詞之間的對接通常滑溜多變而不通俗,所以他的歌一般也比較難讓人學著唱。他的歌曲中有一首并非最出名,也不是人人皆曉的歌曲,叫做"Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters",倒是我的最愛。這首歌怎么聽過來聽過去,都是我個人排行的第一名。平常我用iPod播放歌曲時,它會自動記錄聽了那首歌,所以整個電腦音樂庫裡,包括古典與現代搖滾,每首曲子都記錄著被聆聽過了幾次。買了iPod至今多年,這首"Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters"被我選播的次數,遙遙領先在所有樂曲的首位。我對喜愛的音樂,喜歡頑固的一聽再聽而不膩。我自己估計聽這首歌,可能已超過一千次。

    Mona Lisa 蒙娜麗莎。Mad Hatter 是愛麗絲夢遊仙境故事里的瘋帽子角色 (這還是陳大師以前指點后才知道的)。這兩個名字被用來作為歌名,隱喻式的描述紐約城里的形形色色人物。紐約的雜與亂讓人心煩氣躁,但居在其中,卻從對城市里各式各樣小人物的觀察與接觸,讓人感到這城市的可愛,美麗,人情與溫暖。

    今天早上心血來潮,到網上去查這歌的吉他和旋,想看看有否可能自學摸出一條可以自彈自唱的途徑。搜尋當中無意間看到另一個合唱團,叫做Heart樂隊,他們唱了Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters 一個不同版。這是2002年西雅圖現場錄在YouTube上的一個表演。點擊一聽,歡喜興奮之極,讓我差點抓狂死去。

    Heart是兩個姐妹來自西雅圖與溫哥華,從60年嬉皮時代開始,跨越了40年的一個非常不通俗的搖滾樂團。它之不通俗,在於它是兩個長髮美女,拿著電吉他跟男生一樣彈硬搖滾,而他們的吉他技術卻遠遠超過許多男生樂團。他們的音樂風格涵蓋甚廣,從硬搖滾,酸搖滾(Acid Rock),到慢板抒情搖滾都有。他們琴彈得好,歌喉響亮好聽又迷人。他們雖然成就不比搖滾界霸主例如英國的Led Zeppelin,但其作品,歌聲,音樂成就,跟舞臺上的表演,說他們是女性的Zeppelin絕對不為過。

    他們唱Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters,在節拍跟吉他敲打上用的是中規中距的拍子,而不是硬搖滾常用的狂亂放縱節拍,所以從頭至尾給人的情緒感受是柔和,溫馨,跟被擁抱的。但雖然柔和,他們卻使用木吉他,電吉他,貝斯吉他,加上兩人迷人的歌喉,綜合一起彈奏出從強低音到強高音中間一個非常廣闊的音域。姐妹Nancy Wilson 和 Ann Wilson 兩人又和諧無縫的在許多句子的尾端以兩部和聲唱出,將Elton John 這首樂曲更多樣的發揮出來。Elton John 的原版是他一人自彈鋼琴自唱,合音用的是鋼琴。Heart 這版用的是幾種不同吉他加上兩人之間的合音,合音效果比Elton John版要強上幾倍。這首歌原本旋律就很美。在這吉他版里,Nancy Wilson 的吉他技術,生化妙手在許多地方用solo 彈奏出伴奏式的旋律,更勝原版鋼琴的成就。

    年紀漸長,越來越有一種感動,就是當偶爾碰見一個美的出奇的東西時,會很知足的想到,這世界可能是個罪惡醜陋充斥的世界,但一生一世有幸能夠遇見此一美麗東西,只要一次,我心當足矣。今天無心撞見Heart這一Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters的至美, 感激又感動,一股衝動,正像傻子在零下40度北極曬到太陽,舒服得非把陽光獻給好朋友共享。

    準備好了嗎?有個小條件,請帶上耳機,最好用頭機 (headphone), 能用Bose 頭機就最佳。忘情享受一次靈魂之旅。希望你跟我一樣陶醉。

    Heart :Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters