|Day 129: The The (This Is The Day)
September 2, 2020
Who in their right mind decides to feature the accordion as a song's central instrument? Pete Townsend appropriately utilized it for his dirty-minded figure of speech, "Squeeze Box" ("Mama's got a squeeze box she wears on her chest, and when Daddy comes home he never gets no rest"); Bruce Springsteen leverages it for the carnival-type atmosphere at the center of "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)". When Paul Simon used it for "Boy In The Bubble," it sounded like an appropriate death march applicable to his bleak lyrics, the accordion playing the lugubrious airs Frank Norris associated with its cousin, the concertina, in his great novel McTeague.
However, what The The does with the accordion seems counter-intuitive.
Up front, I should more accurately state that I am talking about Matt Johnson, who is, for all intents and purposes, the entire article. He is the "The."
(I can tell this is going to be a difficult blog to write. "Be specific, use concrete language, use active voice," I used to say over and over to students when I taught. Now I find myself trying to write about The The's "This Is The Day," where "day" is the only word that doesn't break Strunk & White.)
One is foolish to predict or anticipate Johnson and The The. Much like Anton Fier of The Golden Palominos, as discussed four days ago, Johnson filled in his band song by song. He recruited Jools Holland from Squeeze for the awe-inspiring piano of "Uncertain Smile." Sometimes he needed little help, as was to some degree the case with "This Is The Day," where he played all the traditional rock band instruments, but brought in an accordion player and a fiddler to play the two instruments that provide the song's emotional pull.
"This Is The Day" already has a lyrical emotional pull. Perhaps Johnson purposefully casts his narrative within the irony of a hymn, as its title, "This Is The Day" has a spiritual girding: Psalm 118:24 says, "this is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Yet our central character is not necessarily feeling the joy after a rough night:
"You didn't wake up this morning/
'Cause you didn't go to bed/
You were watching the whites/
Of your eyes turn red."
Our hero, if I may, is contemplative, reflective, perhaps a little depressed, falling back on "old letters" and "how much [he or she has] changed." Sun through opened curtains blinding him, he is left alone with "memories that hold your life together like glue."
I think we've all been here in our younger days. A long night of partying or cramming for a test or playing video games. Groggy we sit by the window with some saltines and some herbal tea and try to determine how today will be the day "that things will surely change."
And into that reflection, we insert . . . the freaking accordion. Something that bellows because of forced hot air.
Based upon the music, I imagine our central figure, bleary-eyed, watching the sun come up as the song takes ten seconds or so to get started, the faint emergence of a keyboard intro that feels like the musical equivalent of dawn, light barely coming over the horizon before the sun fully emerges, drum beat and accordion, pounding away at this poor dude's headache like the morning-person-neighbor who can't wait to start her jazzercise. The only worse air attack would be bagpipes.
Oh, and then there are the hand claps in the chorus.
All of this almost certain to break his reverie.
"This Is The Day" provides quiet rumination on one's place in life. Those kinds of moments can be both euphoric and morose. The music, even with the accordion, ironically, tends to want to make me soar, but those lyrics, "you could have done anything," pull me back down for a life unlived.
So I come back to that accordion. Tom Waits once said that "a gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn't." In the case of "This Is The Day" that so-called gentleman is someone called Wix, who, if you believe Wikipedia, played the accordion on Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Bon Jovi, Edie Brickell, Status Quo, Paul Young, and Tommy Shaw songs. Boy, Wix got around. Was he the only accordion player available, at least until Weird Al Yankovik could fill the bill?
In the end, Wix, whether with Johnson's urging, or on his own volition, uses his accordion for a sense of tension not texture, like Springsteen, nor temper, like Simon. I suppose like The The's other best-known song of that time, in the end, "This Is The Day," and that accordion, produce in me an uncertain smile.
"This Is The Day." The The. Soul Mining. Epic. 1983. Link here.
Day 128: Cher. "Half-Breed."
Day 130: The Archies "Sugar Sugar."->
See full unfinished list here.