Shirley, Keith, and Reuben, I wonder where you are... Welcome, friends, to another Wodnesdæg and another Song for Odin, which, for today, because yesterday was Danny Bonaduce's birthday, is going to be "Danny Partridge." Despite the fact that this was one of those "signature tunes" going back all the way to the beginning I have yet to run across live video of it in "native form," that is, in the 1986 line-up that originally recorded it. (That tends to be my first choice when doing one of these write-ups, an unofficial criterion.) But, we're still playing it now, so here's the MTX of now, playing it in a Sacramento park a few years back. https://youtu.be/uBCoWvDTbIo Daytime, sweltering heat, and outdoors is not my natural habitat, and the mix is maybe a little weird but nevertheless, here we are doing a thirty-year-old song about a child star grown up. (It's thirty-five years old now, and Danny just turned 60. Getting old is weird, but you gotta say, it's better than the alternative.) This was one of the first shows we did after "getting the band back together" in late 2014 after a ten year "pause." And this was one of the first "real" songs I'd written. And by "real" I mean, it was conceived and composed to be a song for an actual audience (and not just fooling around) with an idea in mind from the beginning that I managed to stick to. And when it was recorded and released it actually did find something of an audience via college radio play, which managed to take our dumb little self-released record into the real world, relatively speaking, and to sell enough to justify three pressings. And it's not too hard to see why it caught on. Those college radio music directors and DJs, like me, grew up with Danny Partridge, the tragic aftermath of the child star is a well-trodden, reliably fascinating trope, and "novelty songs" always tend to do well on radio. ("Novelty songs" = "songs that are about something specific"; that almost works.) Plus, in 1986, this story was still topical. The arrest had happened just the previous year and was still in the news because the National Enquirer bailed him out in exchange for his story. So the moral of the story is, if you want to make your mark, put a novelty song about Danny Bonaduce or the equivalent on your first release. I mean, just kidding, the world where it matters what your songs are about is long past. I have no idea what you have to do to make a mark, beyond being hated for just being yourself by a sufficient number of people. What a world, eh? "Danny Partridge" was my conscious attempt to join a sort of punk rock tradition, most salient to me in the form of the Diodes' song "Child Star," which is about Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on the TV show Family Affair and who died of a drug overdose in 1976, all grown up at the age of eighteen. This story made a big impression on me at the time, and so did the song when I heard it a bit later. I can still remember the feeling, hearing it for the first time when it gradually dawned on me what it was about. "Uncle Bill, Uncle Bill, I took some pills, Mr French, Mr French I'm really tense..." To my thirteen-year-old self this was the epitome of cleverness and coolness, something I never knew people could do with songs. When the Danny Bonaduce story broke, ten years later, I was ready and I pounced on it. "Child Star" is great and still works for me, though I doubt many people think that much about Buffy and Family Affair these days. It is, however, far less specific and concrete than "Danny Partridge." The lyrics are a sketch, allusive, impressionistic... I guess that made the punchline work better on me when I figured it out. There's a lesson there. It's something I've never been all that good at, though for various reasons, inadvertent and deliberate, my lyrics have meandered and free-associated their way to somewhere in that territory. Even though I did it pretty well on one of my first forays, it was still a lesson that was rather hard to learn over the years: songs are better when they are actually about something, and when that something isn't a big secret you are keeping from the audience (and from yourself, like as not.) Of course "Child Star" is a great, great record, a true punk rock classic, and I'm not telling the Diodes how to do their job. Just sorting through my own strengths and foibles, songwriting-wise, and my own weird history. It gets trickier, of course, when the thing you're trying to write about is hard to pin down and you're working out what you mean as you go along. That kind of song is important, probably more important than this or that topical novelty tune, but obviously harder to approach and execute. Anyway, you can't have all your songs be about child stars. At some point, you've got to branch out. The local news broadcast "actuality" in the recording was provided by William Nichols, a.k.a. Last Will, the consummate pop culture archivist, and the only such I knew at the time. He came to our rescue in the way that only pop culture archivists can, many times. I've been listening to that recording quite a bit lately (because of Mtx forever - the remastered version sounds way way better btw.) It's an inept performance in many ways, but it still "has" something, an element thereof being a certain sort of naivety, which is one of those things that can't, by definition, be faked. I have been told that Danny Bonaduce used to play the song on his radio show on occasion, though this has never been confirmed. I imagine he's heard it, and I don't find it surprising that he'd be a good sport about it. He's a funny guy, and, apart from the songs (which were great) he, and his chemistry with Dave "Reuben Kincaid" Madden is what made The Partridge Family TV show work as comedy. The show was about him, at least it was for me. So, from all of us at Song for Odin™, Happy Birthday, chief. Only a day late. See ya next week, I guess. notes: -- MTX - "Danny Partridge" from Everybody's Entitled...: https://youtu.be/UbfJM_eMpGc --The Diodes - "Child Star": https://youtu.be/2ozrmycz1p4 #music #songs #punkrock #minds
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