There is probably no artist that brings me near tears more easily than the late great Kirsty MacColl. She has filled my life with a great amount of joy. I’ll sometimes listen to her records while walking around Lady Bird Lake in Austin. It might be months without a spin, but there I am again: With an ear to ear smile, or trying to hold back tears, depending on what emotion is pouring out of her in any particular song.
I’ve written about her before, but whenever I listen to her I can’t help but think, “God, how do more people not know?”
One of my favorite songs of hers is the last song on her album Electric Landlady, called The One and Only. The last few lines of the song destroy me every time:
Some lives read like a postcard
And some lives read like a book
I’ll be happy if mine
Doesn’t read like a joke on an old Christmas cracker
(Here is what a Christmas cracker is if you are unaware.)
Like Moonriver or Somewhere Over the Rainbow, this is one of those happy/sad songs, that can be mined for more or less of either emotion, without ever completely shaking off the other feeling. Even if that place over the rainbow doesn’t exist, even if it is a dream that never comes true, the dream still allows us to temporarily transcend our circumstances. You can sing a song like that and communicate the sadness of the reality, or the beauty of the dream, you can choose one emotion over the other, but that other emotion is still there, giving the song a complexity.
The One and Only can be viewed as being defiant in the face of heartbreak, of one refusing to give in, of transcending. Or it can be listened to as being sung by someone that is trying to put the best face on the sadly realized reality of lowered expectations. The song can be one or the other at different times, or it can even be both at the same time. The song ends on a hope, that just as easily could be posed as a question.
I once read author Nick Hornby say something along the lines of how pop songs are puzzle, that they hold are interest until we can solve them. The thing that is so beautiful about a song like The One and Only is that there is an interpretive element to it. It can’t ever be solved. Therefore, it will always be out there if needed, like Kirsty, ready to move us again.