Song Of The Day 4/17/2016: Sonny Bono – “I Just Sit There”

Sonny Bono never got a break. Despite writing some pretty good songs, he was frequently thought of as nothing more than a nasal svengali to a towering woman of mystery. Then when television called and he grew a high-caliber mustache, he would go on the airwaves every week to be little more than a punching bag for Cher's barbs, and by extension the American viewing audience. But he saw all this coming in his single "Laugh At Me." In the chaotic haze of '60s psychedelic rock, Sonny was the kindly old candy store owner. And by "candy" I'm not invoking a slang term for drugs, I'm talking about actual candy. Not the candy everybody wanted either -- the kind of candy whose practicality and existence was questioned at every turn. Like Charleston Chew. It's overly long, it smudges your fingers and tastes vaguely like automatic drip coffee.

I'm losing the plot here. What I'm saying is that Sonny Bono tried really, really hard to get on the same train as all the rarified rock stars that were orbiting his tract home in the '60s, but wanted to do so while being staunchly against drug use. And hey, I get that, having no real history of drug use myself. But I didn't go out and try to make psychedelic music either. Sonny wanted to connect with the kids by appropriating or simulating what the masters of the form produced. Without drugs.

What did that mean? Well, a lot of estimated guesses based on material evidence of the records that were around him at the time. Long, raga-type tunes with sitars, trippy and colorful imagery, lyrics that popped out of the ether whose lack of meaning was viewed as profound, and a certain sense of drama and inter-dimensional transference. It meant Inner Views, the Sonny Bono solo album.

Inner Views only contained five songs, mainly because two of them were quite long. "Pammie's On a Bummer," featured here in 2014, was a seven-minute-plus warning about, what else, drugs. Today's feature is a whopping twelve minutes and I certainly don't expect you to sit through the whole thing. You may think that if you don't sit through the whole thing then you'll miss a certain essence, you won't get the point of the whole trip as Salvatore originally intended. Unchain yourself from that belief right away. By the end of the sixth minute in "I Just Sit There" you should have all the information you need; if you proceed further, I admire your sense of completion, but you don't get any of the time back.

On "I Just Sit There" Sonny tries really, really hard to encapsulate what's going on around him without dosing anything stronger than Visine. He's being bludgeoned by dadaist text, fortune-cookie philosophy and vertigo, and what does he do? Sits there, for one thing. But he also tries to catch as many of the hallmarks of the era that he can, with a leaky net. There's that sitar. Next up a harsh harmonica solo, a la Bob.  You'll also notice Sonny quoting  the Beatles' "A Day In the Life" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which he did before it was cool.

The lyrics aren't terrible -- or, rather, wouldn't be nearly so terrible if a couple of them were judiciously edited out and the song was better. Two stanzas in particular:
Ring around the rosey
Your daddy's getting nosey
Your mother's cooking sturgeon
Your sister's still a virgin
The reason for this bridge is pretty obvious: Sonny really, really wanted to use the hot-button word "virgin" but needed to find a rhyme. So he has mom cooking up some "sturgeon." Of course, people do cook sturgeon. That literal reality is not in and of itself hard to swallow. But it's not very common for people to cook sturgeon in the home. Usually it's halibut, or salmon, or cod. Generally speaking, if you go to a dinner engagement at someone's house and they're cooking sturgeon, it's because they need a rhyme for "virgin."

The other lyric I have issue with is this:
I wonder why we want to fly
The closer we get to the sky
The less we see with the naked eye
The world looks like a little ball
And people don't exist at all
Oh, wow
You might have guessed it: My biggest problem is the "oh, wow." The word "wow" was never meant to be sung. It's an exclamation that doesn't belong anywhere outside of verbal expressions of surprise, corporate boardrooms and Kate Bush songs. The rest of that lyric is simply Sonny just trying to blow our minds with the kind of existential deduction that certainly wasn't exclusive to him in those days. It's awkward and a little pointless, but not fatal, until he says "oh, wow" of course.

But without question, the dominant trait of "I Just Sit There" is its enormous length, a girth so massive that it forced Side One of Inner Views to contain only two songs, just like A Love Supreme. Revelation takes time. You can't power-meditate, guys. I don't know a single prophet who has a working timepiece anywhere in his mis en place. Why should Sonny truncate his Blake-ish vision just because you need a single?

Sonny Bono. I guess he just wasn't made for those times.

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