Monday, November 25, 2019

Badfinger, "Got to Get Out of Here"

Badfinger should have been huge. They were one of the first bands on Apple Records, endorsed by the Fab Four themselves. Their first hit, "Come And Get It" was written by Paul McCartney. "Day After Day," one of the most sublime pop hits of the early 70s, has a soaring slide guitar hook courtesy of George Harrison. They wrote a whole passel of catchy pop songs with some cracking music backing them up. This combo would later be called "power pop," but like Big Star, they were a few years too early. Both bands became major points of influence for 80s and 90s indie rock.

Both Badfinger and Big Star had their inability to get the audience they deserved compounded by tragedy and misfortune. Apple ended up being a famously dysfunctional company before it died an ignominious death. Once the band was ready to put out a new record on a new label, Apple dropped a substandard record on the public, undercutting their comeback. Their management also ripped them off at every turn. In 1975 Wish You Were Here, one of their strongest outings, got pulled from shelves a few weeks after its release due to managerial disputes. Pete Ham, the band's principal songwriter, killed himself the same year. Tom Evans, the other main creative force in the band, took his own life a few years later.

I love this band so much, but listening to their songs, no matter how joyous some of them are, is always leavened with feelings of sadness. All they wanted to do was give the world some great music, and lots of shitty people wouldn't let them because they'd rather squeeze them for money instead. It also reminds me of how so many people have their ideals betrayed and abilities squandered by a society that only cares about filthy lucre. I think especially of academia where there are a lot of Badfingers toiling in contingent jobs. They still produce scholarship that's just as good as anyone else with better positions, but it still gets them nowhere. I'm sure a lot of this will be read in a few years by a new generation of young scholars, wondering what happened to the person who wrote the book or article that blew them away but who has dropped off the radar.

Despite their difficult straights, Badfinger did not write doom and gloom songs. However, one standout track on Wish You Were Here seems to signal to the despair, even if it's written by Joey Molland instead of Pete Ham. "Got to Get Out of Here" is one of the few Badfinger songs not driven by elecrtic guitar, the principle instruments a simply strummed acoustic guitar what appears to be a sad-sounding harmonium. You can hear the fatigue in this song, the feeling of being trapped in an impossible situation. Molland sings "got no choice" over and over again over a very Beatlesque beat.

I feel like we have all been there, stuck somewhere oppressively unhappy and feeling like there's no way to get out. The song starts building a little as it goes on, leaving a slight, small feeling of hope, but hardly an anthem of triumph. It's the soundtrack of just getting through the day, only so you can go to sleep and have to face another one after you wake up, over and over and over again. I listen to it now with sadness over what being trapped can do to people, but also relieved I've escaped my own emotional cul-de-sacs in my life. If you see someone else struggling there, give them a hand. If you've found yourself there, don't be afraid to ask for help. The people who love you want to be there for you.

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