Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Meaning of Brown Eyed Girl


At Shmoop.com there is an interesting analysis of Brown Eyed Girl.  Below is an edited version of what they have to say.  For the rest of the article click on Shmoop.com.

How deep is your love for this song? Go deeper.
It's in the Grammy Hall of Fame, it's #109 on Rolling Stone's list of greatest rock songs, and it's #49 on VH1's list of the same. Bill Clinton says it's one of his favourites; George W. Bush says he rocks out to the tune as well. Guys sing it to their girls; fathers sing it to their daughters. It's one of those infectious little songs that makes you smile. It's a song about young, innocent love, and it's about the joy mingled with sadness that comes from recollection.

That's all there is to it, right?
Not so fast. After all, this is Van Morrison—the notoriously temperamental artist and Celtic mystic. Could he really have written a simple love song? 

Well, for starters, the song was not considered so sweet when it was released in 1967. Radio stations refused to play a song that moved from the implied ("Down in the hollow, Playin' a new game . . . Our hearts a thumpin'") to the explicit ("Making love in the green grass, Behind the stadium with you"). So Morrison's producers prepared a sanitised version for radio play. That song that repeated an earlier line and had his young lovers "laughin' and a-runnin', hey hey" behind the stadium (as though we couldn't figure out what they were really doing).
All of the hubbub over the song's lyrics now seems quaint, and perhaps even surprising. Wasn't 1967 the summer of love, the year that San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district caught the nation's imagination with its mantra of free love? Well, yes, but most of America did not live on Haight Street.
Not surprisingly, television and radio catered to the values of these conservative times. Censorship of movies, music, television, and even cartoons was nothing new. Jeannie of I Dream of Jeannie, Mary Ann of Gilligan's Island, and Gidget of Gidget were all forbidden to show their belly buttons on TV. And while TV couples were allowed to get pregnant (gasp!), they must have done so immaculately, for most, like Rob and Laura Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show, were always shown sleeping in separate beds.
Morrison's song, with its rather blunt reference to "making love in the green grass," was somewhat risqué for its time. The only deeper layer of sex-related meaning in the song may be an allusion to interracial sex. When Morrison first wrote the song, he called it "Brown Skinned Girl". In 1967, sixteen states (the South plus Delaware) had laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The Supreme Court struck these down as unconstitutional in June 1967 in Loving v. Virginia (sometimes even the law can be poetic). But the Court's wisdom did not immediately change public opinion. Twenty years later, more than half of all Americans still disapproved of interracial relationships.
In other words, a song about the pleasant memory of an interracial fling would have raised more than a few eyebrows and also seriously damaged the single's radio play time. But Morrison claims that he abandoned his brown-skinned girl for a brown-eyed girl almost without thought. After recording the song, apparently with the lyric "brown eyed girl," he absent-mindedly changed the title to match the lyric. If he made the decision in the interest of appeasing conservative critics, he won't admit it. In his book Van Morrison: No Surrender, Johnny Rogan quotes Morrison: After we'd recorded it, I looked at the tape box and didn't even notice that I'd changed the title. I looked at the box where I'd lain it down with my guitar and it said 'Brown Eyed Girl' on the tape box. It's just one of those things that happen (page 43).
Perhaps, then, the meatier question is not what the lyrics mean, but what the song means to Morrison and his larger body of work. On the one hand, "Brown Eyed Girl" is his most recognised song. DJs list "Brown Eyed Girl" as among the ten most frequently requested songs. 

Interestingly, though, Morrison says the song is far from his favourite piece. When he recorded it, he considered it a "throw away song." He claims that he has written 300 songs that he likes more. And we really shouldn't be surprised. Morrison cut his musical teeth on Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, and Ray Charles. Can you imagine any of these legendary bluesmen singing "Brown Eyed Girl"? 

While Morrison's complexity and seeming indifference to commercialism might encourage us to push deeper and deeper for the gotta-be-edgy meat to the song, it's probably as simple and comparatively innocent as it sounds. And if it seems somewhat un-Morrisonian, we might do well to listen to The Man himself when pressed to explain some of the complexities and mysteries within his work.

A lot of times people say, 'What does this mean?' A lot of times I have no idea what I mean. If you can't figure out what it means, or it's troubling you, it's not for you. Like Kerouac, some of his prose stuff, how can you ask what it means? It means what it means. That's what I like about rock & roll-- the concept--like Little Richard. What does he mean? You can't take him apart; that's rock & roll to me.

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