Proud Mary

riverboat

Yesterday the sun was out, the sky was clear and the birds were singing. Today, the forecasters assure us, will be just as nice. And tomorrow is likely to be the warmest Spring Bank Holiday there has ever been. Feeling unusually full of life the Crotchety Couple set about weeding the garden and cleaning the patio.

Having scraped away the moss between the flagstones it was time to try out the power washer that had been sitting in the garage for many months. Following the instructions carefully Crotchety Man fitted the wheels and the handle, attached the outlet hose, assembled the gun and its jet nozzle, attached the inlet hose, turned on the water, plugged the washer into the power socket and switched it on. Releasing the safety catch nervous fingers pulled the trigger. Whoosh! A powerful stream of water surged from the nozzle tip and soon the whole of the patio was covered with water.

“Well, that works!”, proclaimed Mr. Crotchety, proudly. Mary, however, was less impressed. “It hasn’t cleaned off the grime”, she said, “and everything is wet, now”. The missus was right, of course. “Shouldn’t you have the nozzle much nearer the slabs?”, she added. So I lowered the gun and fired again. The stone under the water jet brightened in colour from a grubby grey to a light sandstone. I couldn’t believe our patio was really such a lovely colour but, as I swept the nozzle from side to side, that light sandy hue came peeping out from behind the accumulated dirt of the last three years like the sun emerging from behind a dark cloud.

Our shared sense of triumph didn’t last long, though. By the time I had cleaned one slab the whole patio was submerged in water; no longer terra firma it had taken the appearance of an ad hoc water feature. The Crotchety Couple found themselves paddling, which would have been fun in bare feet but not so comfortable in our soaking wet gardening shoes. Even more worrying was the realisation that there is nowhere for the water to go. There is no drain in the back garden; all the water was flowing down the slope to lap against the back wall of the house.

brolly boat

Either we would have to shut off the river at its source or we’d have to do the rest of the gardening from a boat. I wondered, briefly, if an upturned umbrella would do the job but that was just silly. What we really needed was a full-scale ark …

Releasing the pistol grip and stemming the tide that threatened to wash us away while leaving the patio black and grimy a rueful Crotchety Man packed up the washer and stowed it away in the garage. It will come in handy for washing the car one day. In the meantime we’ll get some patio cleaner and a scrubbing brush. At least now we know what colour the stones should be.

These thoughts of rivers and boats reminded me of that classic song, Proud Mary, by Creedence Clearwater Revival. And on a hot and cloudless day like today it goes particularly well with an ice cream or a cold beer.

You all know this one. It was released in 1969 and reached no. 2 on the Billboard 100 chart in the U.S (no. 8 in the UK). The Crotchety ears heard it as a catchy pop song in those days but ‘country rock’ is a better description. Although ‘country’ is often a dirty word on this blog and Proud Mary sounds a little dated now this track is as warm as the summer sun and as refreshing as the clear waters of a mountain river.

Hotel California

hotel

I love a good story. It might be an adventure story, a whodunnit or a sci-fi epic. Whatever the format there’s always the urge to read on because you never know what will happen next. It might be in a novel or on a movie screen or, sometimes, in a song. That’s what we have with Hotel California, the Eagles best known and most popular single from their 1976 album of the same name.

Eagles

After a gentle guitar introduction this tale starts, like all good stories do, with a wholly unremarkable scene. The narrator is driving down a road in the Californian desert. The light is fading and he is getting weary when he sees the welcoming lights of a hotel up ahead. We, the listeners, know he is going to stop at that hotel. We know something is going to happen there, something that will delight or horrify us, but we don’t know which.

The band slips into an easy groove as the driver pulls into the parking lot and walks a little stiffly into the lobby. There is no clue yet to what will befall him.

He is welcomed by a woman with an air of mystery about her. She has a lovely face but there is something in her eyes that sounds a warning bell, a reverberation from deep within our hero’s ancestral memory. “This could be Heaven or this could be Hell”, he thinks as he fills in the check-in form. But that would be an old and hackneyed story either way. As listeners, we expect something more subtle, more surprising, more thrilling.

The creature with an angel’s face and a devil’s eyes lights a candle and shows him to his room. A candle? Surely they must have electric lights in this modern, up-market hotel. Is the candle just to provide soft lighting for the guests or is the story teller hinting at occult ceremonies behind closed doors? The traveller is too tired to notice this anomaly but in the corridor ahead he hears voices that seem to say, “Welcome to the Hotel California”. “Such a lovely place”, murmur the odd numbered rooms on his left. “Such a lovely face”, whisper the even ones on the right.

The picture fades into another scene. It is a hot and sticky evening. The hotel lights are low, shadows flit across the courtyard where some of the guests are dancing languidly. It could be the next day or it could be that same night. The dancers look strangely insubstantial in the half-light. Perhaps they are ghosts, perhaps it’s all a dream. As the camera zooms in it becomes clear that the figures on the dance floor are all carrying old psychological burdens. Some dance to remember; some dance to forget.

Our lonesome traveller tosses and turns in the night. Above the backbeat groove the electric guitars are now crying with emotional pain. And there are those voices again. “Welcome to the Hotel California”, they sing. “Such a lovely place. Such a lovely face.”

Suddenly the focus sharpens and the surroundings become frighteningly real. There are mirrors on the ceiling, the glass bright and smooth. There’s pink champagne on ice in a shiny metal bucket on a side table. The trappings of luxury and wealth are everywhere. And the devil lady is explaining why everyone is here. “We are all prisoners”, she says, “of our own device”.

Just then the traveller catches a glimpse of a table set for a feast. A dozen stainless steel knives stab the meat but the diners just can’t kill the beast. How long has the once weary motorist been here? A day? A lifetime? He finds himself running for the door, desperate to escape from this life of excess and debauchery and get back to the world he came from. In the lobby the night man tells him to relax. “You can check out any time you like”, he says, “but you can never leave”.

And with that chilling message the guitars of Don Felder and Joe Walsh provide a two-part eulogy for lost innocence that doubles as a warning to those who believe that wealth is the only measure of success. That, they seem to say, is how you become trapped in an ever-tightening spiral of greed from which there is no escape.

Hotel California is a great story. It is also a great record. The single topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977 and has gone on to notch up sales in the U.S. earning it Gold certification for the 45 rpm single and Platinum for downloads. More significantly, I think, Hotel California makes it onto a number of Greatest Songs lists: it’s number 49 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, for example, and listed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame‘s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Even that undersells the song ┬áin my opinion and that’s a rather sad story.