I have one of those minds that can become fascinated by anything, which can be a problem when technology like Google is available. When I was writing with Steve Mancini, we would often embark on one bit of research for our current story, only to end up, several hours later, on some site explaining why penguins are colored and shaped like that. (Camouflage from above and below, and streamlining in water, in case you wondered.)
Usually, what odd paths we took and the much odder information we found on them would end up in some form or other in our writing, which made the writing richer, quirkier and, possibly, more random. That assuaged much of the guilt associated with indulging in the diversion.
Today, my odd curiosity had me wonder, suddenly, if the Kingpin in Joni Mitchell’s Edith and the Kingpin was actually based on someone real. I recently read an interview explaining most of the inspiration for her song Carry, which was really quite literal. After some looking I found a bit quoting Joni where she explained that The Kingpin was a real pimp she met in Vancouver, but Edith was based on French songstress Édith Piaf.
But that was just a snippet and I wanted more, and found a huge blog post attempting to explain it that was decidedly silly. The writer pulled strange significance out of almost every other word that had little or nothing to do with this sad, beautiful song about a pimp and his newest prostitute in a seedy disco. Like a professor in a third-rate college explaining that every crossroads is a symbol for Christ and a rocking chair usually has sexual significance. It is amusing in the way watching someone in a tux trip and fall can be, but not very enlightening.
The story of Edith and the Kingpin is simple, like Carry, fairly literal and straight-forward. The lyrics, as with much of Joni’s work, are deep and evocative, the words chosen well, and the music is complex, masterful and exquisite. What more needs to be said? Certainly not that the humming wires referred to in the song signify that the Big Man is a victim of wiretapping rather than that it’s an old room in a rundown building and the wires hum. Like they do. In old, rundown rooms. Why worry about some mysterious underlying meaning when you have lines as elegant as “Sophomore jive from victims of typewriters… “? What wonderful words.
I also love that, in this song, Joni repeats words rather than rhyming them, and does it in a regular pattern. For instance, the above line is followed by, “The band sounds like typewriters.” Earlier, she says, “Disco dancers greet him. Plainclothes cops greet him.” Later on, she says, “A plane in the rain is humming, the wires in the walls are humming some song, some mysterious song.” Joni is such a masterful poet, you know it is purposeful, even if you don’t quite know what the purpose is. And knowing wouldn’t enhance the pleasure of it all.
On this particular rabbit hole adventure, I also found a version of the song by Herbie Hancock and Tina Turner. I recommend it, if you can look it up.
Unlike when I was writing with Steve, going down the rabbit hole rarely enhances my work, mostly just distracts from it. I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling of betrayal; Mine, against the work I should be doing. I did get a podcast out of it, which, I guess, is something.
Now I have a website to design. But first, I wonder if the words to Joni Mitchell’s song California are really symbolic of the Earth-Mother and allude subtly to the Stations of the Cross.