Friday, December 07, 2007

Pugilists in Song - The Felice Brothers "Ballad of Lou the Welterweight" vs. Simon and Garfunkels "The Boxer"

Film loves boxing - it's all tight close ups of extreme action. Blood and teeth, slow motion expressions of pain. Bodies in exquisite form inflicting pain upon one another in the confines of the square ring. This does wonders for the lack of set and costumes needed. Two half naked men swinging on each other in the most primal of manors. Even if your not a boxing fan, it seems to always appeal to our most basic sensibilities of the survival of the fittest. Boxing is so glorified because it exists as a sport and a metaphor of ones existence in society.

So what happens when songs, which seem to exist as the melodic metaphors for our existence, deal with the very same symbolically rich sport as film? Well we get an even more textured look into the struggle. The sweet science offers as much to the poetry of lyrics as it does in the poetry of brutality each opponent inflicts on the other withing the confines of the ring. The confines of the melody we get to look at the big picture boxer, more than the "the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him til he cried out..." that film likes to focus on.

Simon and Garfunkel offer up what is an admirable and noble sounding character in their song "The Boxer". He is ambitious, but wary of his years. His ambition is still drives him. Simon and Garfunkels offer a modest peek into the character of the boxer:

"Asking only work mans wages, I come looking for a job, but I get no offers
Just a come on from the whores on 7th avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there"

The Felice Brothers boxer, Lou, on the other hand could very well be Scorsese's Jake LaMotta. But he's doomed, whether he knows it or not. He's a boxer in his last moments, perhaps the same type of punch drunk brute, who would pry the jewels out of his championship belt to make bail. There is no denial of what boxing has made of him. He has a woman, who loves him despite the brutality of his profession. She is an angel to him in his last moments, that he's happy to get his gloves on.

"Powder your nose
take off your panty hose
let me love you from behind, my darling
Powder your nose, pull on your panty hose
We're going down to my bout, my darling"

His narrative may lack an the eloquence of proper romance, but it is the prose of a man in the moment before he steps into the ring for the fight of his life. Lou's love for his par amoré, may be good for one round, but like a true fighter, he's got his eyes on the prize. Lou's fate is sealed by the bookies though, who set him up a supposed ringer - Joey who "was a no one. Just some big dumb kid from Flushing." His fate is sealed, Lou is hit low and it's thebeginning of the end for our hero.

Paul Simon's narrative is a broader portrait of a boxer, on who knows his time in the ring is waning, he has been pummeled and beaten, and dreams leaving, but he will always be a fighter, no matter what.

Simon's boxer exists almost as an early version of Brando's Terry Malloy in ??On The Waterfront?? (without the former prizefighter status). A character who is conflicted, but noble at in his heart.

It could be argued that Boxing was America's first national sport. It's first huge stars were immigrants and minorities that bested the competition. The sports start stood as pinnacles and examples to their race of what was possible in this country. That with a little determination and some gravel in your gut, you could transcend your lot in this life. Regardless of what a persons moral character consists of, in certain positions, people will always hang a certain amount of symbolic responsibility given to a person. Boxing may be the sport in which more hopes, dreams, expectations, and disappointments are saddled by an individual, than any other. But like Paul Simon says "No it isn't strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same." Belt or no belt, there is a certain understanding of both boxers as to their own character, both as individuals and as fighters.

[Close up shot pulls back from the respective boxers in their final moments. In silence a slow fade to black as the credits scroll.]

The Lyrics:

The Boxer (©1968 by Paul Simon for the album ??Bridge Over Troubled Waters??. Lyric source with revisions by the author)

I am just a poor boy and my story's seldom told
Ive squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jest, still the man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest, hmmmm

When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station, runnin scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters, where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know

Lie la lie...

Asking only work mans wages, I come looking for a job, but I get no offers
Just a come on from the whores on 7th avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there

Now the years are rolling by me, they are rocking even me
I am older than I once was, and younger than Ill be, that's not unusual
No it isn't strange, after changes upon changes, we are more or less the same
After changes we are more or less the same

Li la lie...

And I'm laying out my winter clothes, wishing I was gone, going home
Where the New York city winters aren't bleeding me, leading me to go home

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him
til he cried out in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains
Yes he still remains

Li la lie...

The Ballad of Lou The Welterweight (by The Felice Brothers Lyrics transcribed by the author, to the best of his abilities, author unknown at the time of this post.)

Powder your nose, take off your pantyhose
Let me love you from behind, my darling
powder your nose, pull on your pantyhose
Were going down to my bout, my darling

Before the bell would ring
he had a way like Errol Flynn
As he sauntered to the ring
with a sheet on

But the [laygrounds] scared the girl
Heaven knows she thought the world of Lou
It was hard to see him sway in the neon

Joey was a no one
Just some big dumb kid from flushing
he had a face like an ugly bull
always pouting

He hit Louie kind of low
And he fumbled on the ropes
As the bookies blocked the rows, shouting

Powder Your Nose..

The blows were hard and loud
He could hardly hear the crowd
In the bleachers where they howled
they were cheering

I remember in the eighth, it was clear that Lou was fading
And something caught his eye by the ceiling
He saw her as she spoke in the shifty yellow smoke
She said, "Louie you look bad, like your dying"
But Louie could not answer, his eyes cast up towards the rafters
And then they slowly sealed in the silence

Powder your nose...

This article originally published on Mog

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