Thursday, February 14, 2013

Magnetic Fields - The Book of Love

The song “The Book of Love” is a simple one. The structure is simple, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, ending chorus. The rhythm has only two sets, one for the verses and one for the choruses, and they are similar to each other. There is no lead instrument as the melody is done entirely by the vocals. When I reflect on the simple song structure of “The Book of Love” I realize it must be deliberate since the song’s message describes the simplicity of love.

“The Book of Love” was the first single off of Peter Gabriel’s 2010 “Scratch My Back,” an album that is a collection of cover songs. Gabriel is still working on a follow up album called “I’ll Scratch Yours,” where he has various musicians cover his songs. So far the likes of Lou Reed and Bon Iver have already contributed to the project; also Stephin Merritt has committed himself to the effort. Stephin Merritt is significant in this dialogue since he is the man who wrote “The Book of Love.”

Like most people I was introduced to “The Book of Love” through Peter Gabriel and only after some time did I learn that; A) it was a cover song, and B) who wrote the original. The truth of the matter is that “The Book of Love” is a Magnetic Fields’ song from their 1999 album “69 Love Songs.” The pun in Peter Gabriel’s “Scratch My Back” album is intended to suggest that all these cover songs are other musicians helping out Peter Gabriel and with “I’ll Scratch Yours” he is returning the favour by letting others cover his songs. However in the example of The Magnetic Fields, I think by covering “The Book of Love” Peter Gabriel did them more of a favour than the other way around. Peter Gabriel’s version of “The Book of Love” is the best known version and has reignited the popularity of the original, The Magnetic Fields, and “69 Love Songs.”

Peter Gabriel's fantastic cover:

“69 Love Songs” is aptly named, the three disc concept album has exactly sixty-nine songs (twenty-three each disc) all of which are about love. Most of the songs are under the two minute mark, which I suppose is to be expected since there is sixty-nine of them. When creating “69 Love Songs” Stephin Merritt’s original goal was to write one hundred love songs but in the end he settled for sixty-nine, fair enough, most musician would fare no better I am sure. Also the original concept for the album was to be a musical revue, which apparently is a theatrical show of music, dance and sketches. Everything about Merritt’s creative process sounds overly artistic to me, which makes it all the less surprising that he failed to make this original complicated vision of musical love come to fruition. What was accomplished however was a large collection of short, simple, enjoyable songs, all of which are about love. “The Book of Love’s” whole message of simple love is ironically challenged by the very album it is on. Merritt felt the need to dedicate sixty-eight other tracks to the topic. So how simple is love?

This paradoxical message that love is simple and yet an endless topic of discussion is captured in every aspect of the song “The Book of Love” as well as the album “69 Love Songs” as a whole. The majority of the songs on the album are short and to the point but there is so many of them. According to “The Book of Love” love is many simple things; love is a story in a long boring book; love is a study full of facts and figures; love is an embarrassing ordeal; love is a dance; love is music. What does all this fine poetry tells us? I think it tells us that we make a bigger deal about love then what is really going on. We see it everywhere, and selectively, potentially, in anyone, and we’re not wrong, since love is something we create, but it is so ethereal it is almost impossible to pin down, which is probably why Merritt needed to write sixty-nine songs about it.

There is little more else to say. What more is there to say then?

“The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's full of charts and facts and figures
And instructions for dancing
But I, I love it when you read to me
And you, you can read me anything

The book of love has music in it
In fact, that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb, but
I, I love it when you sing to me, and
You, you can sing me anything

The book of love is long and boring
And written very long ago
It's full of flowers and heart-shaped boxes
And things we're all too young to know, but
I, I love it when you give me things
And you, you ought to give me wedding rings”

Until next time, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

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