Monday, September 30, 2013

Old El Paso

So this post (which I'm just sneaking under the wire for September so I can still claim some measure of regular activity on this blog) is sort of in line with the rule today that everyone on the internet has to write something about the conclusion of "Breaking Bad" but not really. First things first, I just wanted to say it was a wholly satisfying finale though some of the events were more than a little implausible. All I'm saying is a lot of things had to break a certain way for the show to have concluded the way it did; it kind of reminded me of the convoluted antagonist's murder scheme in "Vertigo".

That being said what I really wanted to mention what a pleasant surprise it was that Marty Robbins' signature classic "El Paso" got to play a significant role in the finale. Badfinger's "Baby Blue" may have gotten the choice final cut (alas, five seasons and we never got to hear "Blue" by Eiffel 65) but "El Paso" got multiple references in the episode and the title "Felina" along with sort of setting the theme of the finale itself. It was odd seeing all these people on the internet suddenly listening to and discussing a song that I often find myself the only one referencing in any given social sitaution (I have found that as a karaoke song it's a great value pick but sometimes you might find yourself with an audience that doesn't quite want to follow your epic ballad of love, murder, and redemption). Overall, amazing song and one of the all time greatest story songs.

The interesting thing for me about "El Paso" is that it's the only song I know that's part of a trilogy. Sequels are uncommon but there are numerous notable standouts; but I can't recall any song with a narrative spread over three or more songs (maybe all those Chubby Checker "Twist" based songs, but I don't think there was much of a story arch there). Additionally the three songs aren't just part of some concept album or a suite but they're spread out over 17 years and 3 decades (1959, 1966, and 1976), so you can't even accuse the man of just making a quick cash in on the original success of "El Paso". It was some sort of extended idea he couldn't shake.

As for the second song, 1966's "Feleena (From El Paso)" comes in at over 8 minutes, nearly double the length of "El Paso" and details the life of the "Mexican maiden" Feleena whom the protagonist of "El Paso" falls in love with and eventually dies for. The song really flushes out Feleena's back story from her birth to her running away from home to her wild Santa Fe days, and eventually to the tragic romance with the young cowhand. It also reveals that right after the protagonist dies in "El Paso" she herself was so overcome with grief that she committed suicide. The song eventually concludes with them together as ghosts so I guess it's a happy ending? For me this is weakest of the trilogy. Even a prodigious lover of country story songs like me feels like the story kind of drags out. Plus, Feelina doesn't come off as all that sympathetic, see seems like a serial flirter prone to wild mood swings.

The concluding song in the trilogy, 1976's "El Paso City", is really fascinating. Instead of just continuing the story from the last two songs (though with all the main characters dead there really wasn't much more story to tell) the song switches to a current day narrator singing about a mysterious connection he feels with the tale of "El Paso". The whole thing has an odd sort of meta element to it. The narrator sits in a plane flying over the city of El Paso and has a vague memory of hearing the song "El Paso" years ago and then he starts to piece together the plot of the previous songs. Suddenly he is gripped by the sudden feeling that he was the actual cowhand from the previous songs in some kind of reincarnated form returning to his city to possibly die again. It all comes off as a lot freakier than the light country strings and crooning would imply and a totally unexpected way to conclude the trilogy. It's fitting that it was Marty Robbins' final country number one.

So yeah, that's it I like Breaking Bad and the story songs of Marty Robbins. Now I wonder what swan song "Mad Men" will use for its finale. Assuming it ends in 1969, might I suggest the Archies?

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