The Beautifully Sad Lana Del Rey

March 15, 2015
Pop Leibel tells a story

Pop Leibel tells a sad story

Oh yes, I remember. Carlotta, beautiful Carlotta, sad. It [the McKittrick Hotel] was hers. It was built for her many years ago…by…the name I do not remember, a rich man, powerful man.

It is not an unusual story. She came from somewhere small to the south of the city. Some say from a mission settlement. Young, yes, very young. And she was found dancing and singing in cabaret by that man. And he took her and built for her the great house in the Western Addition. And, uh, there was, there was a child, yes, that’s it, a child, a child.

I cannot tell you exactly how much time passed or how much happiness there was, but then he threw her away. He had no other children. His wife had no children. So, he kept the child and threw her away. You know, a man could do that in those days. They had the power and the freedom.

And she became the sad Carlotta, alone in the great house, walking the streets alone, her clothes becoming old and patched and dirty. And the mad Carlotta, stopping people in the streets to ask, ‘Where is my child?’ ‘Have you seen my child?’

She died…by her own hand. There are many such stories.

So relates the character of Pop Leibel, portrayed by Konstantin Shayne, in Alfred Hitchock’s magnificent film Vertigo.

sad lana

Lana Del Rey

I was reminded of his tale when listening to Lana Del Rey’s most recent album, Ultraviolence. As Caryn Ganz said in Rolling Stone, “Ultraviolence is a melancholy crawl through doomed romance, incorrigible addictions, blown American dreams.”

I love it.

Back in 2012 I highlighted Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die from the album of the same name, and later the track American from her Paradise album. I have lots of bouncy and happy music in my collection; heck, I’ve bopped along a glacier to Hanson’s Mmmbop. But I also embrace the dark and sad pathos evoked by Del Rey in her songs.

Pop Leibel’s story of the sad Carlotta echoes in Lana’s track Old Money:

Blue hydrangea, cold cash, divine,
Cashmere, cologne, and white sunshine.
Red racing cars, Sunset and Vine,
The kids were young and pretty.

Where have you been? Where did you go?
Those summer nights seem long ago,
And so is the girl you used to call,
The Queen of New York City.

But if you send for me you know I’ll come,
And if you call for me you know I’ll run.
I’ll run to you, I’ll run to you, I’ll run, run, run.
I’ll come to you, I’ll come to you, I’ll come, come, come.

Ohh-oh oh, ahh-ahahaah ah.

The power of youth is on my mind,
Sunsets, small town, I’m out of time.
Will you still love me when I shine,
From words but not from beauty?

My father’s love was always strong,
My mother’s glamour lives on and on,
Yet still inside I felt alone,
For reasons unknown to me.

But if you send for me you know I’ll come,
And if you call for me you know I’ll run.
I’ll run to you, I’ll run to you, I’ll run, run, run.
I’ll come to you, I’ll come to you, I’ll come, come, come.

Ohh-oh ohh-ohh-oh, ahh-ahahahah ah.

And if you call I’ll run, run, run
If you change your mind, I’ll come, come, come
Ohh-oh ohh-ohh-oh, ahh-ahahahah ah

Blue hydrangea, cold cash, divine,
Cashmere, cologne, and white sunshine.
Red racing cars, Sunset and Vine,
And we were young and pretty.

For Carlotta, the answer to the question, “Will you still love me when I shine from words but not from beauty?“, was “No.” We know instinctively that the answer is the same for the girl portrayed in this song, despite her desperate hope and knowledge that she would run to him if he would only send for her.

Dan Heath worked with Del Rey on many of my favorite songs of hers

Dan Heath

I shouldn’t be surprised that the track is produced by Dan Heath, who also worked with Del Rey on other favorites of mine, including American, National Anthem, and Summertime Sadness. The track opens with only piano chords and Del Rey’s voice, then brings in beautiful strings. The chorus is nicely emphasized by multitracking Del Rey.

Part of Old Money is taken from Nino Rota’s theme for Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet. The happier take on this melody was A Time for Love, as sung by Johnny MathisAndy Williams, and other crooners. Contrast that positive, somewhat sappy, take to the melancholy desperation of Del Rey:

Listening to Lana is to look into a darkling mirror

Listening to Lana is to gaze into a darkling mirror

Listening to Lana can be like gazing into a darkling mirror. Sometimes her melancholy suits a song, as in her take on Blue Velvet, a song which will now be forever haunted by David Lynch’s movie masterpiece.

Del Rey understands parody, illustrated by her commercial for H&M, which evokes the ambiance and displays characteristic visual and audio motifs from the film-maker’s oeuvre.

But to use her on a happy song can slip into into ineffective parody, as in her take on Once Upon A Dream in Disney’s rather good Maleficent, a dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty which the studio presented a half-century later. I liked the film, but did not care for her version of Once Upon A Dream. She needed the freedom to only take themes from the song and modify the lyrics to truly make it her own, as she did in turning A Time for Love into Old Money.


The Mad Lana

There are many fine tracks on Ultraviolence, with most of the tracks produced by Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach. I like several of the tunes they did together. But another standout for me, that Auerbach did not produce, is Money, Power, Glory. Greg Kurstin produced and co-wrote the song with Del Rey, and in it she seethes with venom and naked, nasty ambition:

You say that you wanna go
To a land that’s far away
How are we supposed to get there
With the way that we’re living today?

You talk lots about God
Freedom comes from the call
But that’s not what this bitch wants
Not what I want at all

I want money, power, and glory
I want money and all your power, all your glory
Hallelujah, I wanna take you for all that you got
Hallelujah, I’m gonna take them for all that they got

The sun also rises,
On those who fail to call
My life, it comprises
Of losses and wins and fails and falls

I can do it if you really, really like that
I know what you really want, b-b-b-b-baby
I can do it if you think you like that
You should run, boy, run

I want money, power, and glory
I want money and all your power, all your glory
Hallelujah, I wanna take you for all that you got
Hallelujah, I’m gonna take them for all that they got

Dope and diamonds, dope and diamonds, diamonds.
Dope and diamonds, dope and diamonds, that’s all that I want.
Dope and diamonds, dope and diamonds, diamonds.
Dope and diamonds, dope and diamonds, diamonds.

I want money, power, and glory
I want money and all your power, all your glory
Hallelujah, I wanna take you for all that you got
Hallelujah, I’m gonna take them for all that they got

This song makes me think of the many sleazy televangelists and their prosperity theology. But Del Rey is having fun here, engaging in some biting satire, sarcasm, and irony for the critics who disparage her and her music and for the worryworts who anguish over the misogyny and self-destruction in her songs. She said of this song:

I was in more of a sardonic mood. Like, if all that I was actually going to be allowed to have by the media was money, loads of money, then f@#$ it … What I actually wanted was something quiet and simple: a writer’s community and respect.

She has my respect. I continue to gaze into her dark mirror, seeking the sad Carlotta, the mad Carlotta, reincarnated when Lizzie Grant became Lana Del Rey.

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife, Wendy, and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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