By Tony Hidalgo
So I am a single man, never married, already forty-five years old, getting older by the minute. Yellow flags are going up in your head. I know. Presumably as a means of flattery, my good friend, slightly younger, slightly more married, with plenty of kids, asked me for his blog series to write about a song from “my time”, a song for me to muse upon, “All By Myself”. Sure, that’s a nice one for me. I am perhaps less flattered than the jazz-loving leper in his writing group he had reflect on Kenny Loggins’s Footloose and less charmed than the pretty fourth-grader he had wax lyrical on Only the Good Die Young between treatments in the oncology wing. Still, I should feel honored.
This is one of those songs that goes on for-EVER. I remember that. I can hear the singer. It was Nilsson or O’Sullivan. No, it was Eric Carmen, formerly of the Raspberries. I visualize him on the high-contrast album sleeve, pouting, or on the fuzzy Panasonic set, lip synching (it was accepted then). I can still see his open shirt, his smushed facial features with a huge coif cherry on top, a bouffant so baroque you would expect to see it on a bust in the back of a woman’s wig shop, accumulating dust more than admiring glances. Yep, way too long. I think why I recall the record’s epic length is the false fade of a verse where you think it’s finally over, followed suddenly with more drums and that maudlin chorus all over again. If you’ve never heard it, you have missed out. But you ought to thank me for the well-arranged, bombastic schmaltz I have saved you from. You really should.
In its demure, seven-minute run time, there is slack between sad-sack confessions of “all by myself” for an instrumental interlude. How about two? I always thought there was something cutting-room Beatles in this recording. Was it the seventies-era McCartney lyrical cheese? No, it was this first interlude at 1:50, the bridge with the pleasant slide guitar solo which you hope only sounds like George Harrison making a little session money. I’ll look it up later. A chorus more and at 2:54 you are confusingly entering another, grossly longer interlude which transports you this time into the Romantic era of piano, tinkling like Rachmaninoff never would, then weaving in wispy violins to try to jerk the tears out of your lonesome self one last time. Apparently the Sergei similarity I noticed is worth 12% royalties. If you need to take a nap during the song, this is the time to do it. You have two and a half minutes. Make a sandwich, brew some iced tea, then return after the pregnant pause for those slow drum taps ushering in the sweeping chorus of agony again. It’s a beautiful thing. If you hear the song in your vehicle, you’re really not respecting Eric Carmen’s memory. The radio edit crushes the histrionic voyage down to a flimsy travel guide, a 4:22, 7-inch butchering better laid to rest between drinks and tabletops. I’ve just learned Eric Carmen is alive. So that’s nice.
You can watch the song if you like. YouTube is littered with jittery videos from ’76 of Carmen in aforementioned “do” and wide-open collar behind the scuffed baby grand of a long-forgotten variety show, brooding at a fixed mike, crawling through, one chorus at a time. Before seeing it in close up, I didn’t realize how much his lower lip and underbite played into how he belts out the aforementioned “by” and “my-“. He looks too young and famous to be so blue. And those audiences. Reverse shot. It’s not exactly a song they can rock their heads to. They just sit there, glassy-eyed, largely inanimate, as most Eric Carmen fans must be, like mannequins waiting for someone to put that wig on them. They can’t even be fans. This is the general lot who wanted to get into a variety show taping. Hey, there’s that slide guitar. And the beefy dude in the green suede jacket playing it doesn’t look a thing like George Harrison. The videos are full of such subverted expectations. The microphone isn’t even a dummy. It really works. In another video, on Bandstand, Dick Clark has our hero at the extreme, pantomiming and unzipped to the navel. I am redeemed but subverted again!
You can buy this song if you want. I don’t think anyone does that anymore. Buy music, I mean. But if you did, it comes in a package called “The Essential Eric Carmen”. I would not call this Tear Fest “essential” to anyone–well maybe you if you’re the kind that stays at home alone Saturday nights and you are wont to don over-the-ear Sennheisers while dreaming up ways to romantically die. Why? ‘Cause the love of your life really doesn’t care for you. You don’t know that either because you never told her how you feel. She doesn’t really know you. The evening news has finished. Perhaps it is “essential” to this guy’s memory. I can’t imagine any other song in that collection. You are lying on the rug with a curly cable nudging your ribs and those bulky cans gripping your head and shedding sponge. You are soaking it in. You watch the title counter tick up to its ethereal 7:15, blubbering in private with quiet dignity. You’re not even dressed well. Tom-tom drums are stomping up. Violins are sailing in. The best work of this singer-songwriter is floating repeatedly into your ears and the Essential Eric Carmen is an EP of one song and you’re not even sleepy.
I guess what I am saying is that you are missing out if you don’t know the music of when I grew up, the music my friend Andy seems to think resonates with me. “All by Myself” is blessed with nice chords. But it has its flaws. Its lyrics are too simple when you read them. Its orchestration is too ambitious for its modest writing. It may, like a gastrointestinal incident, make you want to walk out of the room for a bit. But it will provide you something that the current, snide song factory cannot: a glimpse of a lost age–a soft, yearning style of love song retired in English-speaking nations and a crooner whose best hair days are behind us but whose melodious, melancholic machinations refuse to leave your belfry. They transcend quality and haunt us uncomfortably. The sadness and loss shamelessly evoked through bathos repercuss within a tender side of us which we never show the crowd. So if you’ve never heard it and no one is looking, sample this ready-made recipe on the shelf. Open your heart to this track written and recorded by little Eric Carmen of Cleveland, Ohio. And if someone unexpectedly walks in while it’s on, someone who was born decades after the song came out, hopefully they will weep with you. If such newbie instead starts smirking, resist the urge to blush or unplug. Instead, toggle to a confident irony. And if you can’t pull off ironic like a pro for a few seconds, then hand this unannounced guest a home-brewed drink and politely tell her that you’ve just murdered someone. You will be in the clear. Cheers, aeons too late, to dear Eric, Sergei (verse melody), and George (yeah, he had nothing to do with it).
Eric Carmen’s Official Website