Louie Louie: 1955 Richard Berry
Written by the blues man Richard Berry, who performed the piece as rock blues in 1989, Louie Louie may be the best candidate for the first Rock song. The 1955 version rocks as much as the Kingsmen, and the lyrics are audible, after the fifties style that reminds of the Platters. A version by Rockin’ Robin Roberts from 1955 adds the comment introducing the rockabilly guitar solo, “All right, now you give it to ‘em.” (You Tube). The Berry performance at J. J’s Blues Cafe indicates yet un-mined possibilities for a Classic Rock version yet to come. Iggy Pop performed the song in Europe, giving the one lyric people usually know, “Me gotta go now” a political, suicidal and punk meaning, making this in a way the punk song, and continuing the tradition of protest against the obvious illiberties of our very modern world, like “America is filling the world with garbage.” (Granted, but Berlin is closer to Chernobyl, where the people have no say, and pollution is worse.) When the Kingsmen released “Louie Louie” in 1963 there was a fury of protest which included bizarre guesses as to what the lyrics, difficult to decipher, might be. Famously, the F.B.I., following the Indiana Governor (who in turn was following the gossip of girls and women) investigated the song for the supposed obscenities which outraged parents imagined that they were hearing in the garbled words of the song. The actual lyrics were written and recorded by Richard Berry in 1955, and recorded in a less famous but arguably superior version. The lyrics tell a love story in three parts:
Fine little girl she waits for me
Me catch the ship for cross the sea
Me sail the ship all alone
Me never thinks me make it home.
(Chorus) Louie, Louie, Oh, no baby, Me Gotta Go
Three Nights and Days me sail the sea
Me think of girl constantly
On the ship I dream she there
I smell the Rose in her hair.
(Chorus, guitar solo)
Me see Jamaican moon above
It won’t be long, me see my love
I take her in my arms and then
Me tell her I never leave again
Louie, Louie, (oh no, baby,) me gotta go
Louie, Louie, (oh, baby,) me gotta go
(Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
The song is not perverse in the least, but is in fact a rather simple and beautiful Jamaican love song. As will be addressed momentarily, it is about true love rather than the animal appetite, and has of course nothing to do with the perversions imagined by those complaining to the F.B.I. But first, something profound appears from reflecting on Louie Louie. It is written in the most common lyric structure of three verses of four lines with a Chorus in between, making up five parts, or six if the Chorus is repeated at the end. The chorus or refrain, the part repeated amid the stanzas, ought to contain the principle of the song, while the stanzas elaborate the principle by showing its unfolding in the particular. It contains a drama or story in the simplest way possible, abstracted, leaving a great many things out to distill the essential experience of the soul. In its dramatic setting, it is sung by a Jamaican man who has a girl, or, is in love. In his circumstance, she waits for him while he catches a ship aiming to journey across the sea. It is not clear where he is going, but the reason he goes may be how the refrain connects to the three verses. It seems to mean something like “oh, boy, I gotta get out of here.” The circumstance is an example of the content of what Carl Jung might call an “archetype,” indicated by a pattern common to the structure of myth and symbol in many, if not in every, culture of mankind in many places and times. The truth about true love, at least of one sort, is that the lover sets off on a journey of the soul that is compared to the sailing of a ship across the sea, aiming at the transcendent “other shore.” Sometimes the princess is found on the other shore, and this is a different kind of love. Examples are found in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Nights Dream (II, i, 126-127), and many other places. The pattern of land-sea-other shore, or “leaving and returning,” as Steven Rowe took this up, is also found in the quest for knowledge, and is either the same as this quest or a natural image of it, occurring on a lower level in a pattern that is the same or similar. It is evident too in the journey of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain then there is” is a similar three part expression, borrowed apparently from Buddhist teaching, by Donovan. Five parts to the journey can be seen, if one could include the return across the sea and the return home.
In this case, though, our sailor does not seem to arrive at the other shore, but has an experience of missing her that makes him return home determined never to leave again. It turns out that the ship he caught is a single person sail boat in which he sails all alone. He apparently gets lost, since he thinks he will never succeed at returning home. So ends the first verse.
At the start of the second and central verse, our sailor, in despair of ever returning and thinking he will die, is found sailing the seas for three nights and days. This period of time is the same, for example, as the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection, or the time Jonah spent in the belly of the whale. He thinks of his beloved constantly, and has a hallucinatory dream experience in which he thinks that she is there with him on the ship. The experience is so real that he believes he can smell the rose flower in her hair. The near apparition might be called by Jung an image caused by that in the soul which he calls “anima.” The word derived from Latin simply means soul or life, but it has here a more particular meaning, such as that in “you’re my soul and my inspiration.” The lover, who has never seen any of the higher things before, sees this in the beloved. Jung is the modern authority on this, and introduced the idea, with that of the archetypes, into modern psychology. He was attempting to understand the permanent structures of the human psyche and the spiritual nature of man that is the cause of the notable similarities in the products of the human imagination. He introduced an understanding of the unconscious deeper than the Freudian repository of repressed memories, a living source of myth and symbol, often emerging to compensate the one sided conscious mind. The anima is the feminine unconscious of a man projected in love, the cause of the numinous manifestation and exaggerated beauty of the one loved, as Aphrodite casts her aspersions. The corresponding function in a woman is called by Jung animus, after the Latin word for spirit, and so every love is a dance of spirit and soul. Animus is more the understanding of the hero, as knights would once perform labors for their ladies. Jung writes: Every real love relation consists in the woman finding her hero and the hero his soul, not in dreams, but in palpable reality.” There is, then, a knowledge of the things of love within the human soul.
In the third verse, he has not yet arrived home, but has at least found his bearings again. He sees the Jamaican moon above, indicating that he is on a rout headed home. He has resolved that when he returns, he will take her in his arms and tell her that he will never leave again. The conclusion is then something like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who concludes that there is no place like home. The song expresses the things about the soul that might be involved for example in a man who leaves his beloved to play the field a bit before marriage, learning what he needed to, that is, how much he really wants his true love permanently. Yet the expression is anything but common. Through the symbol, the particular becomes an image that connects us to the universal human experience, through something like the knowledge in the human soul about itself. According to the ancient teaching, the soul contains knowledge, especially of human things, and if we try and do not give up, it is possible to remember or recollect all things, or to recollect the access to the contemplation of all things, in a certain sense (Plato, Meno, 81). This knowledge in the soul of man is both the cause of the images produced by the soul and of the numinous attraction that is characteristic of transcendent beauty.
Finally, in an astonishing late note, The lead singer for the Kingsmen, Jack Ely, has said in an interview on the web that the song, or the phrase “Me gotta go,” is sung to a bartender on this shore, by one who was once a sailor, about returning to his love in Jamaica, in Rasta dialect out of affection for the land of his love. This gives the image a five part structure, and makes the song much better, with a successful crossing rather than an aborted crossing of the water, whether he is Jamaican or American. “Me gotta go,” or to sing Louie Louie, is to leave America, or to leave the bar or the gathering of gold here on the other shore, to set off for love and home again, and this, unconsciously, is the most essential rock phrase.
The supposedly obscene rock lyrics are actually a simple love song. As will be shown, when the soul produces a love song, it tends to expresses and uphold true love. These things are difficult to discuss in words, let alone in science, yet we cannot discuss music unless some effort is made. Love is of course different from the animal appetite for sex. It is a human thing, and tends to be disinterested in all others except the one loved, at least for a time. Hence the lover is called “true” or faithful and this sort of love distinguished, as a great blessing, from false love, which only appears to be genuine, and is characterized by infidelity. We, the lovers, surely note that the vast majority seem incapable of true love, though their lives stability depend upon love’s semblance. One astounding thing found in the present study of contemporary music is that, especially among the classics, the love songs about true love outnumber the songs about sex by ten or one hundred fold. Apparently the soul does not write much inspired poetry about the old rock and roll, but rather, writes about love, since this is where the human touches on the immortal. As Socrates tells Phaedrus, beauty is the only one of the eternal forms to be allowed visible manifestation (Phaedrus, 250 c). Even so, beauty must hide and be hidden (Herodotus, I.16). To see for example wisdom in the visible, would overwhelm our natures. This is surprising, and even a bit embarrassing, but as we will see, our study of the best music lyrics will become in part a study of love, and the things that can be learned from lyric poetry about love. As Socrates tells Glaucon, “Surely music matters should end in love matters that concern the beautiful” or “noble,” (403 c5) as the Greek word means both. And would it not be “the fairest sight, for him who is able to see,” “if the noble dispositions that are in the soul and those that agree and accord with them in the form should ever coincide in anyone” (402 d 1-3). It is extremely difficult for us to speak in prose, as distinct from poetry, regarding the things of love, and a prose writer must, like the interpreter of lyrics, beg allowance for a certain awkwardness. We must for example, speak of “lover” and the “beloved,” or the one loved, using a word rarely heard in American English except surrounding funerals. Our only apology is that if we could find less awkward words or ways to describe these things, we would. And we will try not to be too much like one explaining a joke. As Jung writes, in every love, one is more the container and the other the contained by the love, and to varying degrees. The lover is naturally inclined to be faithful or to stay, while the one loved must be persuaded to stay rather than wander. Sometimes the male or masculine, and sometimes the female or feminine, is the lover, and vice versa, so that the attempt to understand love or any particular love is from the beginning very complicated. Yet in each relation, lover and beloved are recognizable. The male as lover is different from the female as lover, and so on for the one loved. Not all people do love, though most can inspire love in some other. Males who do not love see love itself as effeminate, while women who do not love use the things of love for their economic or household advantage. Love has its own morality, or set of ethical principles that pervade common sense, though none are able to give an account of why these principles are everywhere assumed. The study of love and justice, or justice in love, beginning with the things said in middle schools (that one is only “using” another, etc.) would be a worthwhile undertaking, though we lack the theoretical basis that would make the inquiry possible.
Throughout history, it has been difficult to distinguish true love from the mere animal appetite, since these two occur together, and are even mixed in varying degrees. Romeo and Juliet was once seen as a warning against the excesses of passion. There has always been a tradition that is unwilling to admit the distinction, and so there is a perennial conservative position evident in both religion and philosophy that condemns love along with sex as immoral. The princess is to shut up and marry by the convenience and arrangement of the kingdom. The erotics of Socrates, a study that takes the things of love quite seriously, was always questionably received, and nothing like this is to be found in Aristotle, or anywhere else in the tradition of over two thousand years of human study and writing. Augustine left wife and family for his priesthood. The Christian saints generally see love as a temptation away from the life of dedication to God, and it is only with the poetry of the Romantics and Shakespeare that there is an argument for the principle of the Song of Solomon, that love is the life of the soul in the image of God. True love is a rare thing, though it may occur more often than appears. One would like to think it is possible for each once in their lives, but it is more likely that is possible for no more than one in ten. Yet it is the truth of every love that does commonly occur. It is the participation of two in the Edenic harmony, the same as that entered alone and in fullness by the rarest of singular souls. Romeo and Juliet are like the two hands of a praying saint (Romeo and Juliet, I, v 98-112). Hence it is experienced as a divine condition, and the lover wishes that this joy would fill the earth, or that this love would appear everywhere. The agony and anguish of the lover is that this harmonious state is only temporary, subject to our mortality. Either it grows into something different, in the full partnership of the parents in a household, or it sends the lover on a lifelong journey to find again this lost harmony, and be a sending off through pain onto the solitary quest that is philosophy. Maybe it is sometimes both, though this seems unlikely.
When the highest inspiration hits the California Music scene, for example surrounding the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, it is the inspiration to permanent monogamous unity, the lover calling the usually unattainable beloved to walk with them through life and forever, and the wonder of what might be should this happen. The examples abound, but some of the first to come to mind are Neal Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand.” attempting to persuade her that she is old enough to take one lover and change her name, or Heart of Gold. What happens in a sense in the history of rock, at least in one strain, is that the liberation of sex leads the musicians to discover love. The pioneers are burned by the freedom of the women they seek, and this collision with reality nearly destroys them in some cases, but permanently changes them. But the natural love is the permanent love that is the basis of the foundation of the family, and so stands at the foundation of all political society, if each family is a pillar. The image of the living oak tree in the home of Odysseus, used to make his bedpost, and so it is here that the natural and conventional meet in human society (Homer, Odyssey XXIII, 183-229). The early song Who Put the Bomp asks who it was that put these irrational elements of rhythm into the music (Who put the bomp in the bomp shu etc.):
“Who was that man
I’d like to shake his hand
He made my baby fall in love
The words, he says, “went right into her heart,” and made her say they’d “never have to part,” and continue to set her heart aglow.
Love is very difficult to talk about, let alone to write about, which is why no one does it, and a part of why the meaning of music is so awkward to discuss. To this day, the best theoretical writings on love are the Greek discussions, which assume homosexual love. Nowhere except Shakespeare has heterosexual love been discussed in any way comparable. Yet the discussion of popular music assumes a theory of love, and this can be outlined or introduced, as the topics emerge. Love pertains to the political or human rather than the animal part of man, involving the passions of the soul rather than only the appetites of the body. In love, the body goes with the soul, or the two move together. One is tempted to say that the soul draws the body forth. This is a great mystery of man. But from our earliest post-pubescent days, growing up as a fashion hippie of the sort that arose in the seventies, even while growing up without much of the traditional society and its limitation of sex to marriage, we always upheld, even as a point of morality, the belief that love, not appetite, justified lovers. We didn’t think of marriage, and no one we knew was married, but the equivalent of adultery for the adult was infidelity to one’s designated girlfriend or boyfriend, which was synonymous with breaking up, because it means definitively that they do not love you. This is in a way the natural opinion of common sense, even to this day. Even while sex is rampant, (if dampened by the STD), it is still common in every junior high and high school to uphold the distinction between the promiscuous, called “sluts,” and the ladies, who are at least more discreet, holding out on their treasures awaiting the persuasion of the male, the winning of her heart. Love has its own persistent and natural morality that is commonly assumed, and heard daily in the things people say, though no one can really explain the assumptions involved. The assumed injustice of infidelity is an example. One is tempted to say, though, that the world is divided into lovers and non lovers, because those “cheating” do not believe in the common assumptions about love and justice, and do not believe that truth is owed. Many love songs are courtship songs, calling the one loved to come and be together. These songs remind of the mating calls of birds, and can be especially beautiful in this way, as clues to the mysteries and mysterious details of human courtship. These may awaken the beloved to certain conditions or ways of life that are possible, or incite admiration. C. S. Lewis, citing Chesterton, writes, “Those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves with promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy.” The promise is… “to be true to the beloved as long as I live.” This seems as true today as in 1943, though for many, it is not so. One part of the drama is the triumph of love over the animal appetite for sex, which is indiscriminate, or not attached particularly to the one loved. This drama occurs in the soul and in life, and is visible through some very common symbolic expressions. One simple example will appear if we consider the early video game Donkey Kong, in which a plumber avoids obstacles and ascends levels of a structure in trying to rescue a girl from an attacking ape. The image is similar, or the same archetype is at work, in the story of King Kong. The ape is a part of the hero himself that he meets as if outside himself, and in every common marriage, the struggle for the male is in part to rescue the woman from the barbarity of his own appetites. The slaying of the dragon for the princess is a similar image, and if this work does not occur, happiness in the household will not be possible. It may be that there is a natural hierarchy of the parts of the soul, and a corresponding natural hierarchy of the priorities of human life. So the passion of the plumber is a part of the very “passion” that is behind the genuine marriages, uniting the couples at the founding of families more permanent than those based on more transitory motives. It is on these marriages that the health and stability of the republic, and the strength of the economy, depends. Even the tradition of courtly love failed to appreciate the significance of love to marriage, because marriage was then so highly conventional that it almost never had anything to do with love. To true love, marriage is the assumed goal, but the conventions are indeed secondary. What occurred, though, is that the breakdown of the traditional morality that secured marriage and family was precursor to a divorce rate of over half the population. Nor can our education, concerned only with science and economically useful technology, prepare our characters so that our loves are more permanent. Traditional marriage was like a trellis or buttress that held families together through the tough times, though admittedly it seems to have been too frequent that the households were private despotisms It is not clear, though, whether any society can survive such a circumstance– it has literally never occurred before, even in the worst degeneration of the old Roman empire, and this we hardly notice. As we accepted the appetites, and lost contact with the symbols and images that take us “higher,” the diffuse tendencies of the appetites destroyed the traditional family.
Yet it is astonishing to consider how often the most popular songs uphold the true and lasting love that is the reason for the teaching of monogamy, that we ought have only one beloved with whom we share even our bodies and natural appetites. So many blues songs are about the pain of the lover at the infidelity of the beloved that if one were to judge from the lasting music of the sixties, he would hardly be able to tell that there was such a theme as “free love.” Consider for example The Kinks “All Day and All of the Night,” which begins by shocking the sixties with a date after hours, but soon rises to “I believe that You and me’d last forever/ Oh yea, all day, and night I’m yours, leave me never.” Cream’s “What you gonna do” off Disraeli Gears, or better yet, the many songs of Led Zeppelin based on the old blues songs written from the agony of the lover, such as “Heartbreaker,” “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed and Confused,” etc…The agony of the lover is the tragic obverse of the assumption of love that leads to the promises of courtship: The experience of the Edenic harmony carries with it the desire that it continue forever, and hence the desire for immortality, though it is first a desire not to live forever, but to be with the beloved forever. Consummation solidifies the attachment, so that separation disturbs the soul itself. Even songs like “Foxy Lady” and “Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire,” where the rock energy is an expression of the goal of sex, ends up saying she’s “got to be all mine,” and “let me stand next to your fire” means something more than intercourse. He wants to be warmed by her hotness, as our more contemporary slang would put it, but this is also to be made alive by her beauty by being near to it. The blues expresses, and helps us to live with, the otherwise inexpressible anguish that can come with love, shared as the somewhat universal experience of our fellows as well, in the blues and in the sad ballads. Similarly, as in the song “Thank You,” it is the lasting love that inspires the most beautiful poetry. “God only knows what I’d be without you,” is the Brian Wilson song McCartney calls his favorite of all songs. The theme can be heard in nearly every love song, calling the one loved to be faithful and true in love. The rock stars seem a bit embarrassed at the beauty of their love songs, somewhat, as it sometimes seems to me, as Plant was embarrassed before Page, and tried to hide the high classical beauty of his lyrics. He seems to get away with it because Page cares more about the sounds, and will tolerate the good so long as it is deep. Somewhat like the majority in matters of romantic fidelity and justice, most music assumes the things also upheld by common sense, on which the sexual revolution quickly finds its limit. The soul sings not about sex but about love, and love has a nature, or is a certain way according to nature. (I have just heard “Take it on the Run” on our local classic rock station, another example). The list is long, and the examples countless, new and old, while the songs about sex are for the most part transitory, and among classics, rare. The heart sings the song of hearts, even when free to sing rather the song of the body and its rhythms, so that the songs which become popular and lasting are or tend to be those which speak to the hearts of the millions. That a true lover would not leave his love to care for their child alone, nor conversely sleep with the neighbor and have her beloved raise the offspring surreptitiously, need not be said, but is assumed. For all our biological-based psychology about reproductive drives and genetic advantage, it is entirely plausible that the things of love are natural to the human soul, and of primary importance in the founding of happy families. The liberation of the passions and the rhythms of sex seem to have coincided with a near genuine cult of love among the poets: “the lovers will rise up (Cohen);” Children of the sun begin to awake (Led Zeppelin).” It is as though the tradition had become ossified, and it was needed to “Rock the ground whereon these sleepers be.”