Tag Archives: Is This Desire?

PJ Harvey Finds Inspiration In Flannery O’Connor’s “The River”

Apart from finding muse in J.D. Salinger’s short stories, PJ Harvey also turned to Flannery O’Connor for inspiration.

A first edition cover of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, by Flannery O'Connor. The short story the River appears in this book.

A first edition cover of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor. The short story the River appears in this book.

In Harvey’s song “The River,” released in her fourth studio album Is This Desire?, the singer cribbed lyrics from O’Connor’s short story of the same name.

The short story focuses on a boy named Harry, but claims to be named Bavel, who is ignored by his parents. While he was babysat, the sitter takes him to a Christian meeting at a river where people are being baptized. The preacher is led to believe his mother is seriously sick and the boy agrees to be baptized hoping his parents would pay attention to him then.

“If I Baptize you,” the preacher said, “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life. Do you want that?”

“Yes,” the child said, and thought, I won’t go back to the apartment then, I’ll go under the river.

“You won’t be the same again,” the preacher said. “You’ll count.” Then he turned his face to the people and began to preach and Bevel looked over his shoulder at the pieces of the white sun scattered in the river.

Even though Harvey doesn’t mention the story’s characters, she does paint the setting by lifting part of the phrase “the white sun scattered in the river.”

Harvey also uses the preacher’s message to pen her lyrics:

“All the rivers come from that one River and go back to it like it was the ocean sea and if you believe, you can lay your pain in that River and get rid of it because that’s the River that was made to carry sin. It’s a River full of pain itself, pain itself, moving toward the Kingdom of Christ, to be washed away, slow, you people, slow as this here old red water river round my feet.” 

This excerpt is what makes the song’s second verse:

Throw your pain in the river
Throw your pain in the river
Leave your pain in the river
To be washed away slow

As the book describes, “While he preached, Bevel’s eyes followed drowsily the slow circles of two silent birds revolving high in the air.”

Harvey too makes mention of this passage in the second verse as she sings, “And we walked without words/And we walked with our lives/Two silent birds circled by.”

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Flannery O'Connor

PJ Harvey Inspired by J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”

A New Yorker 1948 cover were J.D. Salinger's story was published.

A New Yorker 1948 cover were J.D. Salinger’s story was published.

Like PJ Harvey’s “Angelene” the 1998 single “A Perfect Day, Elise” is loosely based on a J.D. Salinger New Yorker story.

Released in the album Is This Desire? the song alludes to Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” which was originally published in 1948, but later collected in the author’s 1953 book Nine Stories.

The short story is about Seymour who just returned from World War II and his socialite comely wife Muriel vacationing at a resort. But his spouse seems to be oblivious to the vetaran’s mental health. Coming back from the war you can see that it has affected his personality negatively as a pale-faced Seymour has a hard time getting along with adults around him. But he gets along just fine with children as he befriends Sybil a 3-year-old blond-haired girl he meets at the resort.

PJ Harvey's 1998 single "A Perfect Day, Elise."

PJ Harvey’s 1998 single “A Perfect Day, Elise.”

Harvey mentions Sybil in the song’s second verse as she sings “the water soaked her blonde hair black.” But it’s the last two paragraphs of the story that PJ Harvey gets her muse from:

He got off at the fifth floor, walked down the hall, and let himself into 507. The room smelled on new calfskin luggage and nail-lacquer remover.

He glanced at the girl lying asleep on one of the twin beds. Then he went over to one of the pieces of luggage, opened it, and from under a pile of shorts and undershirts he took out an Ortgies caliber 7.65 automatic. He released the magazine, looked at it, then reinserted it. He cocked the piece. Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple.

Harvey adjusts her lyrics changing the room number from 507 to 509.

He got burned by the sun.
His face so pale and his hands so worn
Let himself in room 509,
Said a prayer pulled the trigger and cried,
‘It’s a perfect day, Elise’

5 Comments

Filed under J.D. Salinger, PJ Harvey, PJ Harvey and J.D. Salinger

PJ Harvey Alluded To J.D. Salinger’s 1951 New Yorker Story

thenewyorker1951jdsalinger

The cover for The New Yorker cover, where J.D. Salinger’s short story “Pretty My Mouth and Green Eyes” was published in July 1951.

A two-time Barclaycard Mercury Prize winner PJ Harvey gave a subtle tribute to the late novelist J.D. Salinger in her album Is This Desire?

In fact, the English singer-songwriter has a few literary allusions in the album, which was released in 1998.

But in the second verse of the album’s opening track “Angelene” you hear Harvey achingly singing, “Rose is my color, and white / Pretty mouth and green my eyes.” [audio http://ordre.blogspirit.com/media/01/01/1080882819.mp3]

You can read similar lines in “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” a Salinger story originally published in The New Yorker  in 1951

The short story, later collected in Nine Stories, is about Arthur, a New York lawyer, whose wife is cheating on him. In a phone conversation, Arthur hysterically tells his friend about a poem he dedicated to his wife Joanie.

“Or I start thinking about–Christ, it’s embarrassing–I start thinking about this goddam poem I sent her when we first started goin’ around together. ‘Rose my color is and white, Pretty mouth and green my eyes.’ Christ, it’s embarrassing–it used to remind me of her.”

In contrast to the song, Harvey is singing about a prostitute named Angelene who is searching for love. Either way, her allusion to Salinger’s story can’t be mistaken.

2 Comments

Filed under J.D. Salinger, PJ Harvey, PJ Harvey and J.D. Salinger