Why This Man Loves “When a Man Loves a Woman”

Generally, I find myself without the tools to write about music in any purposeful or relevant manner. But in the case of Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” (kill yourself if you thought I meant Michael Bolton), the simplistic, linear build of the song tells a story to me so clearly that I can break it down, moment by moment, for the enjoyment of all. Welcome to my brain.

If you don’t own the track, you can find it on Spotify, or listen to the audio on YouTube here.

00:00 – The song kicks off with some somber organ playing, quiet bass plucking and light cymbal taps.  It’s all very calm; nothing surprising or out of the ordinary here.  This accompaniment could conceivably be underscoring a nice wholesome church song.

00:15 – And then, out of the void and prefaced by a quick roll on the snare drum, comes the brassy, soulful croon of Percy Sledge.  Percy starts laying out his understanding of the world, defining for us all what exactly happens to a man when he loves a woman.

When a man loves a woman,
Can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else,
He’d change the world for the good thing he’s found.
If she is bad, he can’t see it,
She can do no wrong,
Turn his back on his best friend if he put her down.

The snare that announced our prophet’s arrival joins the accompaniment, but Percy still sounds out of place.  That somber organ keeps on like nothing has changed, completely ignorant of our bold, passionate vocalist.

00:42 – But there, right at the end of the first refrain, something happens.  As Percy’s “down” starts to wain, a guitar is heard for the first time, jangling its way out of the void and sticking around for the whole next refrain, as the man’s argument begins to gather steam.

When a man loves a woman,
He’ll spend his very last dime
Tryin’ to hold on to what he needs.
He’d give up all his comforts and sleep out in the rain,
If she said that’s the way it ought to be.

01:13 – And then the big reveal. As Percy launches into a stanza that is different than the preceding ones and is never copied by any that follow, we learn that our serenader is not just crooning this explanation of the birds and the bees out to the universe for its own edification. No, he is singing directly to some girl, laying out his own personal devotion, not just that of all men as a gender.

Well, this man loves you, woman.
I gave you everything I have,
Tryin’ to hold on to your hot blood long.
Baby, please don’t treat me bad.

We also learn that Percy’s feeling a little exasperated here. Despite him constantly pulling out all the stops for this girl, he’s still reduced to pleading with her for a little respect. This illumination in storytelling is complimented by an emergent chorus of back-up singers who take over the somber tones previously provided by the organ. The sound is lush and full, with the guitar crescendoing into even more prominence, twanging out a riff that holds its own against the lead singer.

01:39 – It all builds to a full stop, drum pounding rhythmically until we cut to…

01:41 – …silence.

01:42 – But we come back instantly from that full stop, losing no steam at all.

When a man loves a woman,
Down deep in his soul,
She can bring him such misery.
If she is playin’ him for a fool,
He’s the last one to know.
Lovin’ eyes can never see.

Percy returns to the framework of the first two stanzas but there’s a little despair sneaking in here after the soul-baring that just occurred. A woman can do wrong, and Percy’s starting to think she might be doing exactly that.

However, he’s backed this time around with a stronger musical accompaniment that firmly roots his appeal in place, instead of the contrast we had the first time around.  The girl chorus and organ work together to the same somber tune as before, but this for sure ain’t no innocent church song anymore.

02:11 – Percy has hit his stride now and doesn’t change his approach one bit.

When a man loves a woman
he can do no wrong,
he can never hug some other girl.

In fact, that previous bit where it sounded like things might be coming to an end; yeah, that was all a feint to draw her in and break the cold shoulder he’s been getting. Because here the Sledgester even hints that there may have been a dispute about some unfaithfulness on his part, perhaps a misconstrued hug with a female admirer. But the possible suggestion of guilt is completely missed by Percy’s audience, as she’s already started to come around to his side. How do we know she’s starting to cave? Horns. The framework and accompaniment stay exactly the same for the next bit, with the subtle addition of brass. Those horns stand in for the girl that this song has all been for the benefit of.  Percy’s worked his magic and she’s starting to play along.

02:26 – And then he’s got her.  We move into another iteration of the same tune and the horns start wailing away, completely giving over to his convincing swagger, as he drives the message home one more time for emphasis.

Yes, when a man loves a woman
I know exactly how he feels,
‘Cause baby, baby, you’re my pearl.

02:42 – She’s his pearl. How could she not be? Well done, Mr. Sledge. Well done.


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My Year in Review: Film

Casually Indifferent to: the continuing ascension of my nerd flag

The most relatable list of the bunch but also the least certain.  I hadn’t been tracking my movie watching activity last year and had to review my Netflix history for most of this data.  Adding movies I saw in theaters was simple enough since I don’t catch that many.  What I’m fuzzy on is movies I’ve seen at other people’s places or got from the library or whatnot.  No way to be absolutely sure there but this should be pretty comprehensive.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)
Crazy Heart (2009)
Fletch (1985)
Ghost Ship (2002)
The Hurt Locker (2009)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Up (2009)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
A Serious Man (2009)
American Pie 2 (2001)
Up in the Air (2009)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Hangover (2009)
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
(500) Days of Summer
Easy Rider (1969)
Nashville (1975)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
All the President’s Men (1976)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Inception (2010)
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Zombieland (2009)
Broadway: The American Musical (2004)
Reign of Fire (2002)
All About Eve (1950)
The Blind Side (2009)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Town (2010)
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
The Apartment (1960)
Caché (2005)
Diabolique (1954)
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Let the Right One In (2008)
North Face (2008)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
When You’re Strange (2009)
Double Indemnity (1944)
Jesus Camp (2006)
High Noon (1952)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Paranormal Activity (2007)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Stigmata (1999)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
Black Swan (2010)
The Doors (1991)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Jingle All the Way (1996)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)

Clearly a number of discernible themes run through this data. The year began with me catching all the 2010 Oscar contenders and popular films from 2009. The lamentable deaths of John Hughes and Dennis Hopper also influenced my viewing habits. And as always, the appeal of using Netflix Watch Instantly to catch really shitty movies I’m too pretentious to acknowledge in public continues on nights when no one is around to judge me. That is until I expose the secret on my blog.  Whatever.  Secrets are overrated. Right Julian Assange?

Some notable highlights of 2010:

I’ve really enjoyed the resurgence of small, solid little films like Crazy Heart and The Kids Are All Right. Nothing flashy here, just nicely drawn characters and great acting.  If there weren’t multiple locations necessary to the plot, these dramas could play out on stage. They don’t take full advantage of the power of film nor do they make some big statement, but they’re, as I said before, solid, which is sorely lacking at megaplexes these days.

Although I saw it early in 2010, The Hurt Locker was the best film of 2009 and I was fully rooting for it at last year’s Oscars (eat it, Avatar). I was wracked with tension the entire runtime of that film and I cannot understate how hard that is to do. It takes killer craftmanship to pull that off.  This is probably material for its own post but I think it was also a Western for the 21st century, with the ever-present dangers of a Baghdad street replacing the deserted frontier town. More on that later, perhaps. Anyway, the film from 2010 that had that same kind of effect on me was Black Swan. I usually have to outline the benefits of seeing something in the theaters to warrant how ridiculously expensive movie tickets are now, and the communal audience experience of Black Swan is well worth it. You’re all on a ride together and that will be vocalized and felt throughout. Great fun and a beautifully shot and acted film.

I am not at all embarassed to say that the funniest film I saw this year was Hot Tub Time Machine.  I may have a more than slight mancrush on John Cusack, and I also may have been light-headed from the beaches in Sarasota, Florida.  But I laughed my ass off at this. And it’s rare for a comedy to have both the brains to be actually funny and the balls to be complacent with that, with no aspirations of being something inspirational or deep or whatever else misguided comedies think they are.

Lot of classics this year too from all different eras. Bonnie & Clyde was a brilliant beginning to the high period of American 70s cinema. All About Eve is a gem from the end of the classic Hollywood era. Billy Wilder strikes gold again with The Apartment. And what I wouldn’t give to talk the way Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck do in the noir-classic Double Indemnity (another Billy Wilder, no less).

Lastly, I have to congratulate the Europeans for once again showing us how to do great horror through atmosphere and character, not torture, gore and boobs. Diabolique is a masterpiece in the way it steadily and slowly builds suspense to an extraordinary conclusion.  And Let the Right One In does much the same thing, although tempering it with this great innocent childhood romance, then topping it all of with this insanely awesome penultimate scene of violence in a swimming pool.

And the lowlights:

I absolutely love the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and I think Tom Stoppard is a genius. But his direction of his own play as a film is one of the most aimless and boring two hours I’ve ever slogged through on DVD. Sorry, Tom. Stick to the writing.

Up in the Air was my vote for most overrated film. Serious identity crisis going on with this one, unable to decide whether it was going to be a profound satirical comment on the American economy, a little rom-com, or an in-depth character driven piece. Lots of great pieces and acting just don’t come together into anything significant. Keeping it company is The Hangover which was only sporadically funny and had this general tone of being something other than a standard R-rated comedy which I didn’t understand at all.  Part of the reason I loved Hot Tub Time Machine so much was because it didn’t bother with any such pretensions and was just funny.

Couple literary adaptations didn’t live up to their source material too.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seemed overly simplified to me on screen, editing out a lot of the complexity that made the book so interesting. Never Let Me Go was beautifully shot and acted, but there’s just something you lose adapting a first-person narrative into a third-person film. That intimacy and subjectivity our narrator had was essential to the book’s power and I missed that.

Flat out worst goes unsurprisingly to The Twilight Saga: New Moon.  Nothing more need be said here.

Jingle All the Way while outrageously terrible may have become the newest member of my annual holiday viewing marathon. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what was wrong in the 1990’s that we were all too self-absorbed to see at the time. Irresponsible consumerism, insensitive racial comments, sickening sentimentality: it’s all here in gigantic portions. I laughed in horror the whole way through.

And honestly I only watched the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street becauase they shot parts of it at my high school and I wanted to see someone get disembowled by my locker. Totally not worth it.

Oh, and also there are are longer diatribes about (500) Days of Summer and Toy Story 3 on the blog further back too if you haven’t read those before. Didn’t seem worth repeating.

My Year in Review: Theatre

Casually indifferent to: the overwhelming majority of people who will find this exclusionary

I have three main regrets with regards to the performing arts in 2010.  1.) That I didn’t see anything live besides plays and musicals.  2.) That I didn’t see much theatre outside Chicago.  3.) That I didn’t see even more theatre inside Chicago.

This list is decent enough, but there were tons more shows in town that I wanted to catch and countless more around the country that I never had a prayer at catching.  I’m going to make it a priortiy for 2011 to catch more new work at storefront theaters since this year was largely chestnuts at the Equity theaters, albeit often beautifully resurrected and reinterpreted.

My 2010 theatrical escapades, in chronological order:

“Master Harold”…and the Boys by Athol Fugard — TimeLine Theatre Company (Chicago, IL)
American Buffalo by David Mamet — Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago, IL)
South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein — Lincoln Center Theater (New York, NY)
Awake and Sing! by Clifford Odets — Northlight Theatre (Skokie, IL)
Funny Girl by Jule Styne, Bob Merrill and Isobel Lennart — Drury Lane Theatre (Oakbrook Terrace, IL)
The Island by Athol Fugard — Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (Chicago, IL)
The Old Settler by John Henry Redwood — Writers’ Theatre (Glencoe, IL)
Wilson Wants It All by Michael Rohd and Phillip C. Klapperich – The House Theatre of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Pretty Penny by Randall Colburn — The Right Brain Project (Chicago, IL)
punkplay by Gregory Moss — Pavement Group (Chicago, IL)
Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo — Huntington Theatre Company (Boston, MA)
Adding Machine by Jason Loewith and Josh Schmidt — SpeakEasy Stage Company (Boston, MA)
Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale by Tony Hernandez — Lookingglass Theatre Company (Chicago, IL)
Girls vs. Boys by Chris Mathews, Jake Minton and Nathan Allen — The House Theatre of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams — Writers’ Theatre (Glencoe, IL)
The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell McCraney — Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago, IL)
Hesperia by Randall Colburn — The Right Brain Project (Chicago, IL)
She Loves Me by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick — Writers’ Theatre (Glencoe, IL)
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare — Court Theatre (Chicago, IL)
Candide by Hugh Wheeler and Leonard Bernstein — Goodman Theatre (Chicago, IL)
Ghostbox by Randall Colburn — InFusion Theatre (Chicago, IL)
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov — Goodman Theatre (Chicago, IL)
Halfshut by Randall Colburn — The Right Brain Project (Chicago, IL)
Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene — Writers’ Theatre (Glencoe, IL)
The Nutcracker by Phillip C. Klapperich and Jake Minton — The House Theatre of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Cherry Smoke by James McManus — The Side Project Theatre Company (Chicago, IL)

Given my employment, I’m going to be political about this one and not break the list down into best and worst.  It was an overall excellent year for the Chicago theatre community.  However, two productions were so astoundingly ambitious and well done that they deserve to be called out.

First, Steppenwolf’s production of The Brother/Sister Plays.  These three plays ran in rep for months and I still almost missed them until a co-worker of mine flipped out and scheduled my tickets for me.  So glad she did that.  A superb piece of theatre by one of the nation’s most exciting new playwrights, all presented by one of the best acting ensembles ever put together.  A true theatrical event of the year.

The other exceptionally noteworthy show was David Cromer’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire for my company, Writers’ Theatre.  Call it nepotism if you want, but I maintain this was one for the ages.  I feel very privileged to have been around while this played our stage.  Cromer’s genius speaks for itself and anyone who saw a production like Streetcar knows he deserves all the praise he’s gathered.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to strike the word “definitive” from my memory of this masterpiece.

There are already about 8 shows currently playing that I have to catch, so I expect 2011 to be an even bigger and better year for theatre in Chicago.  Can’t wait!