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As big as pop gets
April 8, 2014 8:05 AM   Subscribe

Diana’s challenge to the monarchy was that she took its nickname – The Firm – literally. She had been fired by the firm, and like a true entrepreneur she set up her own business as its competitor, disrupting it by doing exactly the same things – touring the world, visiting the poor or sick or industrious – with less protocol and more agility. The ultimate 80s icon was taking 80s politics to its unthinkable conclusion: privatise the monarchy. To do it, she used things the Royal Family could hardly touch – the media; youth; even pop.
Music journalist Tom Ewing's ongoing coverage of every UK #1 single reaches the biggest seller of them all: Elton John's Candle in the Wind 97.
posted by rollick (32 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ewing project previously.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:22 AM on April 8


I've always hated that song. The article refers to "peak smarm," and that plus the cheap sentimentality captures what makes me cringe when I hear it.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:23 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I can't recall what anonymous genius first said that Dale Earnhart's death was the Southern version of Diana's, but it is true.
posted by thelonius at 8:24 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


As is often the case with Popular, it is worth reading the comments there, particularly no. 122, which is best of the web in its own right.
posted by cincinnatus c at 8:32 AM on April 8 [19 favorites]


Nice analysis of the performative aspect of social media, and of Princess Di as an early emblem of it.
posted by emmet at 8:34 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I've been following the freakytrigger link since it was first posted. Absolutely fascinating and well worth tracking back to the start if you haven't seen it before.

As for this particular single, she was an icon for all kinds of reasons, good and bad, and her demise struck a chord with people who had been exposed to her media representation (it was so hard to avoid). I didn't like the original song and I didn't like this rewrite but I was moved by Diana's death, even though the British Royalty mean nothing to me personally.
posted by h00py at 8:36 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


I feel like between Diana's death and the OJ Simpson trial, modern social media was invented and I think that's the main point of this essay... a tipping point was reached from which we can never return.
posted by spicynuts at 8:41 AM on April 8


I always thought Candle in the Wind was a eulogy of sorts for Marilyn Monroe and so "refactoring" it to be about someone else struck me as being tackiness of the highest order.

But maybe I'm over-reacting here, thinking that maybe instead they could have changed the words to Love Lies Bleeding or Jamaica Jerk-Off or something.
posted by parki at 9:06 AM on April 8 [8 favorites]


This is good. Also, IMHO (and many MeFites will recognise this reference), by far the greatest comments ever made in relation to the passing of Diana, Princess of Wales, were contained in Stewart Lee's explanation of how an inflatable ET doll might have come to have been deposited by the gates of Kensington Palace on or around 6 September, 1997.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:16 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


NO ONE is allowed to mess with Love Lies Bleeding.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:30 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Excellent piece, and cincinnatus is right about that comment being fantastic as well. (This being, the internet, of course, that elegantly-written rumination on mourning is attributed to PˆNK S LORD SÜKRÅT CUNCTØR.)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:33 AM on April 8


Wait. Isn't "Candle in the Wind" about Marilyn Monroe? What the hell is going on here?
posted by Scientist at 9:37 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Man, the things you learn.

I find Candle in the Wind '97 to be just about the worst song imaginable. Takes a reasonable song and replaces the functioning pieces of it with different references that render the whole thing incomprehensible (Did Diana really live her life like a candle in the wind, the way Marilyn Monroe (ostensibly) did?), and yet it is the second best selling single of all time, only being beaten out by frigging White Christmas.

AND: you can't particularly blame Elton John for it. I mean, he wanted to do it, and he was friends with Diana, but it is Bernie Taupin, for better or for worse, that updated the lyrics. Is there a word for parody that tries to elicit sadness rather than mirth?

Oh, yeah, but: the interesting thing I learned. Bernie Taupin also wrote the lyrics to We Built This City. Which is the White Christmas of terrible pop songs in the sense that here will be contenders from time to time but they will only ever reach second place. In a hundred years the best selling song of all time will still be White Christmas and the suckiest song of all time will still be We Built This City.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:37 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


Scientist, if you aren't joking, the original Candle in the Wind from 1973 about Marilyn Monroe. Elton John did a revised version about Princess Diana in 1997.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:39 AM on April 8


Would have liked to flag you,
but I was just a kid;
The Meta burnt out long before
The filter ever did.
posted by Renoroc at 9:40 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Someone really should do a mashup: "We Built This City Where Everybody Knows Your Name"
posted by thelonius at 9:40 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


In a hundred years the best selling song of all time will still be White Christmas and the suckiest song of all time will still be We Built This City.

National Lampoon once ran an article about drinking games. One of these drinking games was We Built This City. The rules are simple: Everyone gets a six-pack. The song We Built This City is then played on repeat until everyone has finished their six-pack. The article includes the caveat that this is one of the most dangerous, and frequently lethal, drinking games, because human beings were not meant to drink beer that fast.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:43 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


Well, at least we have White Christmas as number one. It's not Irving Berlin's best -- I'd give that ti "What'll I Do" or "Let's Face the Music and Dance," but it's among his best songs, and Berlin thought a lot of it -- he's reported to have said "Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I've ever written — heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody's ever written!"

Elton John's Diania tribute seemed hasty and ill-thought-out. I'm not much of an Elton John fan in general, and so while I am not overly fond of the song, I think his tribute to John Lennon, "Empty Garden" was a more honest and earnest effort. I find the lyrics sometimes clunky, as I do with all of Taubin's lyrics, but sometimes unusually evocative, such as:

And what's it for
This little empty garden by the brownstone door
And in the cracks along the sidewalk nothing grows no more


That's nice. By comparison, this is awful:

You were the grace that placed itself, where lives were torn apart
You called out to our country and you whispered to those in pain
Now you belong to heaven and the stars spell out your name

posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:04 AM on April 8


This thread is where I will finally articulate my long held, Calcutta born, resentment that her death overshadowed Mother Theresa's just because they happened so close together. The world didn't end up getting a chance to weep for the authentic because the plastic out shouted it.
posted by infini at 10:09 AM on April 8


That's a fascinating thesis about Diana vs. the Monarchy (I think we in the States are, while often quite intrigued by the existence and behavior of the British royals, almost wholly ignorant of the culture around them. "The Firm"? That's... evocative.) and whether popularity or birthright should command more respect.

No reflective on Candle in the Wind '97 is complete, however, without Keith Richards's snotty-but-accurate take on it.
posted by psoas at 10:23 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


AND: you can't particularly blame Elton John for it. I mean, he wanted to do it, and he was friends with Diana, but it is Bernie Taupin, for better or for worse, that updated the lyrics.

Yes and no. Reportedly, it was the product of a misunderstanding. Elton called Bernie and asked him for a "Candle in the Wind" for Diana, meaning that he wanted a new song that would do for her what "Candle in the Wind" did for Marilyn. Bernie thought he was asking for a new set of lyrics for "Candle in the Wind." By the time they touched base again, the rewrite was underway and they decided to stick with it.
posted by Shmuel510 at 10:31 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


"The Firm"? That's... evocative.

Rrrradioactive!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 11:24 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


resentment that her death overshadowed Mother Theresa's

One of them had a major impact on the eventual illegality of land mines and attitudes to AIDS sufferers, the other had a major impact on the continued unavailability of strong analgesics in India, spent most of her funds on missonary work rather than medical treatment and hung around with Duvallier and the likes. YMM (and apparently does) V on how much credit should be extended there.
posted by jaduncan at 12:13 PM on April 8 [7 favorites]


Poor Agnes.
posted by infini at 1:01 PM on April 8


Reportedly, it was the product of a misunderstanding.

Interesting. I hadn't heard about that bit before. I'd heard that British radio had started playing the original because people thought the line about "candle in the wind" was appropriate for Diana, regardless of what the rest of the song was about. When Elton sang the revision at the funeral I just assumed that had always been his intention.
posted by dnash at 1:20 PM on April 8


resentment that her death overshadowed Mother Theresa's

So you haven't heard Elton's tribute to Mother Theresa, "Sandals In The Bin"?
Not my joke, I read it in the NME oh god I'm going to hell anyway, aren't I?

posted by soundofsuburbia at 1:26 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Strange to see one's online worlds collide. (I comment there under the same username as here, give or take a capital letter.) If massive Popular threads start turning into massive Mefi threads I'll end up with Page Refresh Meltdown.

This being, the internet, of course, that elegantly-written rumination on mourning is attributed to PˆNK S LORD SÜKRÅT CUNCTØR.

Or as we at Popular know him, former NME and Wire journalist Pˆnk S Lord Sükråt Cunctør. Some of the other inscrutable usernames there mask similarly impressive music crit credentials.
posted by rory at 1:47 PM on April 8


Is there a word for parody that tries to elicit sadness rather than mirth?

Bathos, perhaps.
"Bathos . . . is a negative term used when writers have tried so hard to make their readers cry--loading misery on sadness--that their work seems contrived, silly, and unintentionally funny. Soap opera has that effect when you read a synopsis of all the complexities that beset people in a single episode."

But this instance may be more properly described as narm.

Takes a reasonable song and replaces the functioning pieces of it with different references that render the whole thing incomprehensible

This. One can certainly see the connection between the two women, but I don't have the same sense of them in terms of how they lived and died.
posted by dhartung at 6:27 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Chrysostom, that's the worst news I've heard all week.
posted by Scientist at 8:12 PM on April 8


I'm sorry, we were only able to shelter you from it for 17 years.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:45 PM on April 8 [3 favorites]


She was like a candle in the wind: unreliable.
posted by forgetful snow at 7:15 AM on April 9


Chrysostom, that's the worst news I've heard all week.
posted by Scientist at 11:12 PM on April 8
I'm sorry, we were only able to shelter you from it for 17 years.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:45 PM on April 8


Scientists's comment will be flagged for the reason: "Come out of the jungle and lay down your gun, the war ended decades ago!!"
posted by wenestvedt at 11:10 AM on April 9


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