David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 10: Van Morrison (Wonderful Remark)

May 6, 2020

The King of Comedy was a relatively forgettable 1982 movie by Martin Scorsese starring Robert DeNiro and Jerry Lewis.  If you're thinking, "well, that's a strange combination," then you are not alone. The film addresses celebrity worship in dark ways relatively soon after Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon.

I have actually only seen it once. I only knew about it upon release because I had bought the soundtrack. A musical obsession from my youth caused me to buy the soundtrack to a movie about celebrity obsession. I should have been the obvious target audience. I didn't see it anytime soon after its release, as I just wanted one Ric Ocasek song.

In 1982, The Cars meant everything to me, so when I heard that Ocasek had a previously unreleased song ("Steal The Night") on this soundtrack, I was going to buy it no matter what. Much like the eclectic casting for the movie (which beyond DeNiro and Lewis also had Tony Randall, Sandra Bernhard, Victor Borge and Joyce Brothers), the soundtrack was an eclectic mix of jazz, pop and new wave artists.  While it had a few other new wave acts I already adored (Pretenders and Talking Heads), it also featured artists I had never listened to in much depth: Rickie Lee Jones, David Sanborn, Robbie Robertson (I had yet to appreciate The Band) and Van Morrison.

I knew Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Moondance."  They were lovely songs, but I found Morrison himself annoying.  Visually he was hard to watch, and I questioned how people could sit through a whole concert by either him or Joe Cocker? Trust me, I get the hypocrisy in saying this and still sitting through a concert with tall, gangly Ric Ocasek in leather pants.  This is all about my youth. Bear with me. "Wonderful Remark," Morrison's original track for King Of Comedy, though, caught my attention and led me to exploring his body of work in more depth.

Morrison's strength has always been his passionate voice, which is in its finest form on"Wonderful Remark."  Additionally he is supported by some of the finest musicians of the time: Nicky Hopkins, famous for playing with The Stones, The Who, and The Kinks, sounds like he is creating an entire brass section through his synthesizer; Jim Keltner, famous for playing with everybody, even as the sixth, and least known, Wilbury, provides his always steady drumming, and Robbie Robertson, famous for being Robbie Robertson, lattices throughout the song some fantastic guitarwork. Probably the least known musician is the one who supplies the song's underlying beauty (beyond Morrison's voice), Richard Tee playing the piano.

Lyrically, "Wonderful Remark" glistens with some of Morrison's best lyrics, focusing on the film's theme on celebrity worship.  The verses challenge our worship through their interrogatory modes:

"How can you stand the silence that pervades when we all cry? How can you watch the violence that erupts before your eyes? How can you tell us something just to keep us hanging on?  How can we listen to you when we know your talk is cheap? How can we ever question why we give more and you keep? How can your empty laughter fill a room like ours with joy when you're only playing with us like a child plays with a toy?"

The two verses build to the triumphant chorus that devastatingly cuts us to our knees in terms of answering all these questions. We put up with the actor playing with us, bringing us manufactured joy because "That was a wonderful remark/I had my eyes closed in the dark/I sighed a million sighs/I told a million lies to myself." The chorus' imagery brings to mind someone sitting in a darkened movie theater, but as I got older, I realized he could have been talking to me sitting in a dark living room listening to my favorite records. When his voice draws out the "to myyyyyself" in the final seconds, I feel it within myself.

"Wonderful Remark" stands out as a stunning indictment of a cult of personality.  So much so that even 30 years later I can still get sucked into it. "Wonderful Remark" is a wonderful remark from a famous person who may or may not care about my personal well-being. We all cling to "some other's rainbow," another key line from the song, not our own. I leave it to others to determine if the song, and thus maybe even the movie, are more relevant than ever. Then again the folks who most need to understand are probably out in the street right now protesting.

"Wonderful Remark." Van Morrison. The King of Comedy. Warner Brothers. 1983. Link here.

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Day 11: The Traveling Wilburys "Handle With Care." ->

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