Illustration for "The Miller's Tale"
It's a summer song of pervasive dread, a wedding hymn riven with sexual anxiety, an epochal composition which routinely functions as background muzak for the keep-fit class (if you don't believe me, dig out Diana Moran's album Get Fit with the Green Goddess). Contradiction only bolsters the enigma of A Whiter Shade of Pale.
Mike Butler, from Lives of the Great Songs
As long-time time readers of The Hut know, I am a big fan of the art-rock band Procol Harum and so it is kind of surprising, at least to me, that it's taken this long to get to this hairy old chestnut (though they've appeared on The Jukebox twice before). Admittedly, for those who lived through those times, it was in many ways one of the most over-played songs on its initial release, rivaled in dread by some only slightly less than "MacArthur Park." To understand this dread (as opposed to the kind Mike Butler is talking about), one needs harken back to AM top 40 radio when number 1 singles were played at least once an hour. Ok, no more than once an hour, but it often seemed like much, much more.
The literary connection in this classic tune is the reference to "The Miller's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; at least that is the collective wisdom. One problem though: Keith Reid, the writer, denies it.
According to Reid, the reference to the Canterbury Tales is a red herring; pointedly, in an interview with Mike Butler linked above, he doesn't deny the reference is there. When asked why he put it in, he said "I can't remember now." Since the interview took place in 1994 and the song ostensibly recounts getting good and loaded, his answer seems hardly surprising, though there is no denying there may be a coyness there. In any case, for the purposes of Issa's Sunday Service, LitRock it is.
While doing a bit of background, I ran across versions of this song by Percy Sledge, whose tune "When a Man Loves a Woman" has been noted as a musical inspiration for "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Annie Lennox, a funky instrumental by King Curtis, and a surprisingly well-done vocal rendition by South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.
This week's featured poem comes from the fine poet David Chorlton, who hails from Phoenix, Arizona. David's chapbook, Getting Across, is #5 in the "Modest Proposal Chapbook" series and was published back in 1997. Though 13 years ago, his lyric chronicle of the immigrant experience in the West is sadly as relevant today as it was back then. Here is a beautiful little poem of his from Lilliput Review, #97, in July 1998.
Playing Bach in the glass construction
sewn into an iron frame,
a flautist paces the traffic of the masses;
adagio, allegro, allegretto,
and every costume has a face
beneath the sparrow trapped insideDavid Chorlton
in and out
of prison they go...
translated by David G. Lanoue