Thursday, May 9, 2013

Savoy Truffle

Richard Furnstein: "Savoy Truffle" was George Harrison's attempt to create a world of psychedelic colors. A fantasy land intended to rival the dripping funscapes established in "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and "Glass Onion." Yet, where John Lennon's landscapes were created out of manic fury, terrifying childhood nostalgia, and a steady hand for Jabberwocky, Harrison's fantastical lyrics were a droll recitation of weird British candy bars. It's a long way down from the startling lysergic visions of tangerine trees in marmalade skies to the turd-shaped creme tangerine and coconut fudge bars in the window of an old time sweets shop. George never really advances the metaphor or changes the lyrical focus of the song (unlike the preachy undertones of the contemporaneous "Piggies"). As a result, we're left alone in the sweets shop as George continues to pile the disgusting fudge bricks on top of the shop's rusty old scale. Quantity over quality. "Let's be freaks and sing the candy catalog over some scuzz rock." Thanks, but no thanks.

Robert Bunter: Naw. It’s not on that plane! You’re looking at a tuxedo and complaining because it’s not a linen jumpsuit. The lyrics of “Savoy Truffle” don’t seem to amount to much because they don’t need to. Sometimes a few funny words and long vowel syllables are all you need, especially when they’re chosen to adorn a steaming, sizzling pile of greasy funk that sticks out from the rest of the decidedly un-funky “White Album” like a sore thumb. The deeper meanings are there if you want them – George’s bhagavad-inspired assertion that momentary pleasures of the flesh (maya, chocolate lumps) will surely bring toothaches and the inevitable dentist’s drill of karma. But that’s really beside the point. This track is all about the funky clavichord, brisk snare rolls and sassy horn charts. The whole thing simmers and bubbles like a stockpot full of pungent soup. I, for one, am eager to dip in and ladle myself out a hot meal.

Eric Clapton eventually reveals his true self to be nothing more than impatient desire as he opens the wrapper (Pattie Boyd's multi-colored micro mini skirt) and takes a bite of coconut candy bar covered in buttery white chocolate with 2 large almonds on top.

Richard Furnstein: Your point about the karmic implications of the momentary sweet desires aligns nicely with the true subject of the song: Eric Clapton. George wrote the song about his old pal's sweet tooth, but it's easy to connect the refrain to Eric's future betrayal of The Beatle in his successful pursuit of Mrs. Harrison. The "Savoy Truffle" is presented as the original sin--a tempting indulgence which carries significant risk. George seems all too sure that his friend will ultimately reach for the ultimate sweet treat. He is after all an out-of-control junkie with crooked teeth. All is revealed in the sturdy bridge as "what is sweet now turns so sour." Eric eventually reveals his true self to be nothing more than impatient desire as he opens the wrapper (Pattie Boyd's multi-colored micro mini skirt) and takes a bite of coconut candy bar covered in buttery white chocolate with 2 large almonds on top.

Robert Bunter: Yeah, the relationships were pretty tangled and complex. George clearly looked up to Clapton as a virtuoso “real” musician and treated him with respect; he was drafted into the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” sessions as a premier figure on the London blues scene, a “heavy.” At the same time, Eric “God” Clapton was naturally star-struck to be in the presence of a Beatle, even one as phlegmy and sanctimonious as George “Dark Horse” Harrison. Affairs were further complicated (as you’ve noted) by Clapton’s tumescent desire to bed and wed George’s toothsome wife, Patti “Layla” Harrison. The nicknames flowed as freely as the wine and joss sticks in the elite echelons of the 1968 pop scene – even also-rans like Mary "The Cushion" Hopkin and Jackie "Burgertime" Lomax got into the act.  

Richard Furnstein: I'm glad you mentioned Jackie Lomax. "Savoy Truffle" is clearly related "Sour Milk Sea," Harrison's White Album-era composition which was later recorded by throaty bluesman Lomax with assistance from Harrison, Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and famed sideman Nicky Hopkins. I'd argue that "Sour Milk Sea" is superior song to the leaden "Savoy Truffle," although much of that can be credited to Lomax's hair on fire delivery.

Robert, what's your take on the dismissive "Ob-La-Di" reference in "Savoy Truffle"?  

Robert Bunter: It’s bad, man. Real bad. George was starting to hate Paul’s smiley-face songwriting persona and his growing assertiveness meant that he was willing to insert a dig at “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” right there on the same album. He even contemptuously gets the title wrong (“We all know Ob-La-Di Bla-Da”) because he can’t be bothered. It’s not the only self-referential moment on the White Album, either. John places his own turd into the punchbowl with “Glass Onion.” Earlier manifestations of the Beatles’ psychedelic period playfully altered the group’s image – the brightly-costumed fairground musicians of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or the wizards and walruses of Magical Mystery Tour. By the White Album, however, the self-awareness just hangs in the atmosphere like a sour cloud. George and John take potshots at Paul in their sardonic lyrics while Ringo’s over here cowering in the corner with his can of goddamn beans. And where is Paul? He’s with George Martin in a completely different part of the studio (THEY WERE RECORDING IN SEPARATE STUDIOS BY THIS TIME) supervising the sublime French horn overdubs on “Mother Nature’s Son,” one of the finest moments in human history. The whole thing is disgusting.

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