|Day 49: The Rolling Stones (Dead Flowers)
June 14, 2020
How do I even begin to choose a song off of The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers album? It is one of those albums that features no weak songs, even the cover "You Gotta Move," which moves in and off the album in barely 2 1/2 minutes. Would I go with "Bitch," my favorite Stones' song of all time, driving brass and perfect guitar lick? Would I go with "Sway," the bluesy, hard-to-decipher song that shows us that "Brown Sugar" may have kicked off the album, but it sure as hell ain't going to define it? Would it be "Moonlight Mile," one of the loveliest closing songs on any album ever?
In the end I choose "Dead Flowers" because it is so simply devilish within a group of songs that are intricately devilish.
Mick Jagger has admitted that this foray into country music, like "Far Away Eyes" from Some Girls, is tongue in cheek. The tongue may be forked, the cheek may be chock full of sores, but Jagger clearly milks the drama that defines country music for all its worth. If you look at a site like Songfacts, a ton of fans offer theories in the comments about the song's meaning: it's about the murder of a fan at their infamous Altamont concert; it's about Gram Parsons' wife sending Keith dead flowers; it's about Anita Pallenberg's trysts with three of the band members. At what point do any of those fit the tongue-in-cheek that Jagger confesses to?
The song is unabashedly country, from Jagger's vocal drawl to the guitar licks, to Watts' tap of the cymbal at the end of the song. The lyrics are all good-old-boy country: "I hope you won't see me with my ragged company." The chorus is all chest-thumping one-upmanship: "you can send me dead flowers every morning/you can send me dead flowers by the mail/you can send me dead flowers to my wedding/but I won't forget to put roses on your grave." All the lyrics are missing is references to guns: the alcohol being replaced by the much more Stone-appropriate allusion to heroin usage: "I'll be in my basement room/with a needle and a spoon/and another girl to take my pain away." We are barely a half step away from "I'll be in my double wide/with a pinch and a Budweiser/and another girl to take my pain away."
The country/rockabilly twang evokes the Suzie named in the song. Instead of "Wake Up, Little Susie" of The Everly Brothers, we get the exact opposite "take me down little Suzie, take me down." The Everly Brothers' song was banned in the 1950's in Boston, probably because of the suggestion of a boy and girl waking up at 4:00AM in the abandoned parking lot of a drive-in. What would the 50's censors have thought of Suzie "as the queen of the underground"? That twist seems all the evidence we need for where Jagger's famous tongue starts and ends with "Dead Flowers."
"Dead Flowers" is the kind of song that carries myth with it wherever it goes. We see that with the crazy fan theories mentioned above. However, my favorite myth is the suggestion that The Stones' manager, incensed that the song was included during the final credits of The Big Lebowski, backed away from demanding a big chunk of royalty money because at one point in the film, the Dude says, "I hate the f*#^ing Eagles, man!" I am sure there are rows and rows of roses at the Hotel California, perhaps courtesy of Mick.
"Dead Flowers." Sticky Fingers. The Rolling Stones. Rolling Stones Records. 1971. Link Here.
Day 48: Walter Egan "Magnet And Steel."
Day 50: Weezer "Undone--The Sweater Song." ->
See full unfinished list here.