Monday, 20 June 2011

What is so funny about (What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

The other night, I went to see Nick Lowe play, at the Royal Festival Hall, as part of Ray Davies’ Meltdown thing. (The first time I saw Nick Lowe play was as one of Kippington Lodge in Tunbridge Wells Assembly Rooms — or perhaps the youth club hut in Sparrows Green.)

He played (What’s so funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding. (That’s the ‘correct’ title, by the way. No question mark, apostrophised ‘about’, variable use of upper and lower case. I just checked the original album sleeve.)

Of course, he did. He’s always played it, in living memory anyway. I’ve heard him play it in all kinds of different ways and in different places in the set. That night, he played it in the middle of the show, throwing it away almost but also fitting his approach to it that night. With his small band, he cast it as a simple matter of a few coherent facts. It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .

It hasn’t always sat there in his set — or in other people’s. Though I can’t recall him ever using it a barnstorming finisher, others certainly have played it that way. It’s one of those songs which contains multitudes — or ways to sing it anyway.

There is, I’ve come to realise, a whole long story about its journey from a piece of irony in 1974 (or, more precisely, an honest statement/heartfelt plea masquerading as irony) to a rant in 1978 (Elvis Costello) to a money-spinner in the early 1990s (Curtis Stigers’ cover on the Bodyguard soundtrack) to Nick’s own quiet solo performances (prayer-like sometimes) to its emergence as a quite unironic anthem in 21st century America (a left-leaning thing in the wake of the Iraq invasion, in particular).

So . . . some listening and watching . . .

One Elvis Costello goes bluegrassy country. It’s the second song in a two-part medley.

Two Elvis Costello tears it up, on Independence Day. A Brit succouring Americans?

Three Elvis Costello brings on Nick Lowe — acoustically, in Tokyo.

Four Nick Lowe goes Latinate — putting the clave in Kimmel.

Five Elvis Costello’s floppy hands on a beach — the original single version of his.

Six Elvis Costello does it star-style, with a Dylan and a Deschanel, among others. And two drummers, a father and daughter pairing.

Seven Elvis Costello introduces a visionary version by the handsomest man in show business (and Nobel-prize possibility).

Eight Bruce Springsteen and friends, in New Jersey, I think. In wobble-vision, from the loge.

Nine Brinsley Schwarz, the original, sound-without-vision. Ironic or not?

Ten A Perfect Circle, an American band on a 2004 anti-war trip — with suitably antiphonic images.

PS1 If you didn’t get an email link to my Peace & Love Dropbox, filled with other and more versions, let me know, either by email or posting a comment.

PS2 The one version I haven’t been able to include anywhere is Bill Murray singing it in Lost in Translation. A favourite, for many reasons — not least the disappointment and distaste on Murray’s face when he failed to win the Oscar for his performance. Which he probably deserved to win — if any lineal link can ever be drawn between the words ‘deserve’ and ‘Oscar’. So if you’ve got an mp3 or somesuch of it, I’d be obliged.

PS3 Another take on peace, love and understanding, courtesy of Tom and his Bernelli.


Lo Jardinier said...

The variations produced on a small palette by Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello meant I didn't tire of these versions - my favourites the Lowe solo acoustic from Dropbox and the one by the handsomest man in showbiz. He's always great when he plays that guitar, don't know what model it is.

Lo Jardinier said...

'A brutal-sounding guitar - suits the way I play' - Elvis Costello on his Fender Jazzmaster.