VERLAINES — ‘Hanging By Strands’ / ‘Joed Out’
BARBARA MANNING — ‘Hanging By Strands / ‘Joed Out’

A fox fur is an expensive accessory — it speaks of a life of privilege, prestige, and money. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect draped around the shoulders of an aristocrat, or a starlet. Cashmere, while equally exquisite and fine, is a more common fabric — you can buy sweaters, pullovers, and even scarves made out of cashmere at most clothing stores (assuming, of course, you’re willing to drop a few hundred dollars).

When Graeme Downes sings ‘Joed Out’ (available on the Verlaines’ Juvenilia), he describes his lovers’ hair as foxfur. When Barbara Manning covered this Verlaines song, she changes ‘foxfur’ to ‘cashmere’. It’s a small detail, but extremely crucial. A woman with hair as soft as foxfur is a rarity, a treasure, an intimidating beauty. This woman is something to protect more than something to cherish — given that, the relaxed paranoia of the song (‘It’s ten o’clock in the afternoon / You’d better come by here soon / Or I’ll go out / Of my mind’) isn’t surprising. After all, ‘it’s hard living your life / On a knife edge’ with such a person causing this inadvertent turmoil. Even when safe, and ‘I lie on your bed / and I touch your head’, any solace achieved is tainted with this cloying desperation.

But change that foxfur to cashmere — suddenly, this person’s more approachable, more down-to-earth. They’re a source of comfort, not conflict. Suddenly, this song about trying to hold onto something slipping away becomes a song about holding onto yourself. It helps that Barbara’s version is gentler and self-assured, the polar opposite of the herky-jerky nervousness of the Verlaines. And it goes without saying that they’re both great. (You can find Barbara’s version on Under One Roof: Singles & Oddities, which is what it purports to be.)

This isn’t the only time that Barbara and Graeme approach the same song from different viewpoints, though. ‘Hanging By Strands’ (another Verlaines song, available on their last album, Over the Moon) takes its sigh-ridden canter into the vaulted heaven it describes, even when the lyrics suggest otherwise — ‘You gotta see that it’s no good leaving it up to me to make you happy’. Even at their most downtrodden, Graeme Downes (a classical music teacher) dresses up his songs in soaring arrangements that often belie the songs’ actual sentiments. However, in the hands of Barbara Manning and the Go Luckys (Barbara’s new backing band), ‘Hanging By Strands’ cuts to the chase, stating its case with efficiency and directness. Instead of an organ swooping in amidst other meticulously arranged instrumentation, there’s just a guitar, bass and drum set, treating the song like a smart little Young Marble Giants number gussied up for the prom. “Gussies” meaning tattered jeans and Chuck Taylors, of course — I’m not sure the date would find a suitable place to pin the corsage. And I’m not sure the song would really care – “So why do I continue? It’s simply too hard to tell.”