Episode 13: “Stripping Paper”

So, why do I call it “slow drag?” Well, a “Slow Drag” is a type of dance and also part of the title of the song, “Slow Drag with Josephine,” from the encyclopedic 2010 “National Ransom.” There are many other dances referenced in the song, yet all are forsaken for the “slow drag” with a certain person. So, in short, “slow drag” seems to eloquently describe the mission statement of this podcast. There are many writers and poets I admire, but I’d trade them all for a line-by-line appreciation of a modern day master’s work.

Slow drag, also referred to as a “slow grind,” conveys sensuality, closeness, and a certain verve of confidence to stand close to your partner in public, and with its trademarked “exaggerated hip twisting,” push and pull each other slowly back and forth.

Even the collocation of “slow drag” conjures sensual appeal in my mind: “slow jam,” “slow ride,” and let’s include “sloe gin,” a sweet-tart liqueur, for fun; all quite sexy endeavors and one complicated libation.

Sloe gin, according to Sipsmith London, starts with berries that are “notoriously tart and astringent”; berries that didn’t always, as they say, “enjoy the most elevated of reputations.” Grown from the dense, spiny, and foreboding Blackthorn shrub that doubled as excellent natural fencing, famously called hedgerows in the British countryside, sloe berries found an ingenious home, soaking at the bottom of a gin jar that helped turn them sweeter. This lead to London’s “gin crazed debauchery,” we’re told. Much like the slow drag dance, the sloe berries that were used to make sloe gin, seem wholly unaware, or at least unconcerned about their hearty, bawdy, and magnetic origins.

There are 41 years and roughly 700 or so songs between July 22nd, 1977 and October 12th, 2018. These are the dates of the release of Elvis Costello’s first and latest creations respectively. Somewhere closer to the beginning of this timespan, a song was written, arranged, and recorded, yet failed to find its home until the1995 re-release of 1983’s “Punch the Clock.” What a treasure trove those re-releases were.

Much like the tart sloe berry, perhaps the song “Shatterproof” needed time to sweeten up, or at least time to blunt its stinging aftertaste. “Shatterproof” is a thinly veiled 2:20 complaint letter of domestic frustration that serves as an excellent historical reference point for today’s slow drag.

My name’s Remedy. This is an appreciation. This is an exploration of linguists, language, writing, and clever word play as framed by the peerless poetry of the modern day master, Elvis Costello.

— Dig it

Today’s slow drag is with “Stripping Paper,” from “Look Now,” released in 2018. The songwriting and is credited to Elvis Costello. It’s a song with a catchy chorus that belies a deeper history of love, loss, and reflection. The seemingly clumsy line or two plays right into the hands of this master storyteller. There’s something about love that allows us to dwell, even when we believe we’ve moved on.

I got time on my hands

I’m just stripping paper

It’s amazing what you will find

Stripping paper

When you get down to the past

This lovely story starts in the present, quite innocently, to be sure, yet is quickly taken back in time to sweet and fleeting moments.

Back then we didn’t have means

For fine decorations

So we painted while mixing wine

With flirtation

This is one of the beautifully “clumsy” lines I referred to, “painted while mixing wine with flirtation.” Strategic in it’s halting admission of leaner times and the recounting of awkward manifestations of tipsy expressions of attraction. The description that follows is framed by this sense of nostalgia.

There, in the mess of it all

He took me right there in the thrill

Not quite against my will

with my back to that Rococo wall

We slipped right down to the floor

The Rococo period, distinguished by its ornate and asymmetrical style, is the perfect allusion to pin these lines to. There’s something familiar about most new relationships; there’s always too much trying, too much finite detail. There’s always someone putting in more effort than the other. In sum, Rococo style and new love: both are overwrought and uneven.

I kicked closed the door

He complimented my taste

I anointed his serious face with

wallpaper paste

Notice the economy of words, the sexy double meaning, the vivid imagery of tipsy merriment, the lust and aggression of it all. I hesitate to unpack this description further given how streamlined the story unfolds in four lovely lines. It’s enough to simply linger over the expansive mindscape it creates while we still can.

I wish we could laugh like that now

But what seemed to follow that

ended up hollow was our vow

The sweet and fleeting moments detailed so deftly have themselves dissolved into inequity of emotions that eventually followed.

Let’s take a moment to inventory this story so far. As with so many of his pieces, this seems to be told from a woman’s point of view. It’s a story of remembering young love with all its trappings of infatuation and admiration. Too much has happened, though, as represented by the many layers of wallpaper, too many attempts to smooth over all that has since transpired.

Again, this story is so streamlined, “I wish we could laugh like that now” brings the piece back to where it began, but then finds a way to break our hearts in an unexpected way.

Here’s a pony and a toy balloon

Behind a vine that withered

all too soon

Here’s the pencil of a 

measuring mark

And a monster she spied in the dark

I can think of few more bittersweet mementos from childhood that the horizontal lines and dates drawn on a doorframe provoke. As it marks progress, it also serves as a reminder of time that can never be reclaimed, of how the top line represents transition from childhood to personhood; memories that can’t be taken with you, so it makes it so much more difficult to leave behind. And the chilling potential double meaning of a monster in the dark is worth a second thought.

Now I’ve got no place in

her heart…

Let me go back to the start…

So many layers, sparked by metaphorical stripping away wallpaper, going all the way back to the first layer, lingering long enough to remember the less giddy events, but then finding parallel memories that takes the narrator mind, only to bring us back to “I got time on my hands. I’m just stripping paper.” How much was gained in lost in so few stanzas. The deft use of gender in order to delineate the characters and the roles each play. Brilliant.

To my way of thinking, framing this from a writer’s point of view, of course the wallpaper is metaphor for old notebooks with scribbled lines and ideas. That’s why I mentioned “Shatterproof” as a historical reference point for “Stripping paper.” Somewhere around 1983, these lines were written:

I see those newlyweds

Their eyes wide and believing

They bill and coo at the mention of Chez Nous

Appearances can be deceiving

Where once there was distancing, a story told in the first person about unnamed “newlyweds” in “Shatterproof” is again told in first person with “Stripping Paper,” yet it is from the point of view of the protagonist who serves as more than observer. Whether this observer is a reliable or unreliable narrator is up for interpretation, however.

What I admire about this, aside from the elegant storytelling and well-placed allusions, is the ability to revisit the notion of “appearances can be deceiving” and how a supposition about the future, is ultimately proved inaccurate at best. Again, from “Shatterproof”:

It’s just a door and a window

Four walls and a roof

But a home of your own would be

shatterproof

“Stripping Paper” brings this same sort of peculiar optimism that “Shatterproof” does, but tells the story through the weary eye of experience. The notion that a home will keep you and your loved ones safe is heartbreaking in its assumptions.

—- Dig it

Again, this has been a slow drag with “Stripping Paper” from 2018’s “Look Now.” There is something so appealing about having our hearts broken. There’s something even more heartbreaking about how we continue to break them upon reflection, and then mend them upon distraction. If we must be saddled with these memories, then at least something pleasant should always come out of them.

“Stripping paper” takes the listener into the past, confesses the joy and the misgivings, and then adds more detail to an already unflinching portrayal of the million stages of love and desire.

Thank you so very much for finding this appreciation, this exploration of linguists, of language, and masterful poetry, all framed by the peerless poetry of the modern day master, Elvis Costello.

Please check the show notes for links to the actual song, both “Stripping Paper,” and “Shatterproof,” as well as links to references made in this episode about the Rococo style and the origins of sloe gin.

Please, get in contact with comments, suggestions, or interpretations of your own. I’d love to hear them. If you like this appreciation please subscribe, give us a good rating and review, and share with other language lovers. It’s important to support independent podcasts. Thank you.

So, until next time, Adieu, my little ballyhoo.

Show Notes:

Written, produced, and narrated by Remedy Robinson

Cover art and production by Sam Dunn @indoorfirewords

Twitter: @slowdragremedy

Email: slowdragwithremedy@gmail.com

Elvis Costello Wiki Resource: http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

Elvis Costello Wiki Resource, “Stripping Paper” http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/Stripping_Paper

Podcast music by https://www.fesliyanstudios.com

References:

“Stripping Paper” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJWckSvZC94

“Shatterproof” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt0bXvzwa-M

Rococo style: https://allthatsinteresting.com/rococo-art-movement

More about the Slow Drag dance origins: https://bluesjazzbookclub.com/2018/09/01/a-landscape-of-slow-drag/

Sloe gin: https://sipsmith.com/exploring-the-history-of-sloe-gin/

So, until next time, Adieu, my little ballyhoo

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