Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Greatest Music Video Of All Time - Deconstructed

MTV no more invented music videos than the movie Pretty Woman invented prostitutes. Both were merely vehicles for glamming up an already existing genre. So before Tawny Kitaen slathered about a Jaguar during Whitesnake's, Here I Go Again, record companies were pumping untold hundreds into music video production.

Possibly the grandest example of this is the infinitely compelling video for the classic Hall and Oates song, She’s Gone. After watching this video many times I have come up with two divergent views. First, it is possible that the video is as bland as it is because no one, not even the caterer, gave a rat’s ass about it. But I like to think otherwise. I like to think that the minimalistic but highly stylized video may be the greatest piece of short film work on record.


The video opens with a still shot of an abandoned luncheonette, possible THE abandoned luncheonette that spawned the album by the same name, and of which She’s Gone made its appearance. It’s at this point that the video makes a very hard left turn into the obscure. At 0:25 we are met with Hall and Oates, both seated in chairs from Goodwill. Hall, who looks like a sullen Dave Bowie is wearing high-heeled clogs with socks and Oates is wearing the front, and only the front, of a tuxedo shirt. The horrid lip synching begins. But, is it horrid or perfect? Everyone who has gone through a romantic pitfall has been off their game a bit, stumbling around. So, maybe from the very first line of the song, the fact that they appear to not be in synch with the track is really the ingenious manifestation of emotion.

At 0:57 the chorus starts, and at this point you may be thinking, “Okay, couple of stoned dudes in chairs. What’s the big deal?” Well, at 1:01, a brunette in a purple flowered dress, long-strides in front of Hall and Oates, obviously the woman who has cast the pall over the fortitude of our protagonists. She walks purposefully from left to right, followed briskly at 1:08 (and this is where things get really heady) by the devil. As they sing the line, “Oh, I’d pay the devil to replace her,” Hall and Oates both grab for money sitting on the table between them to throw at the devil. However, only Hall succeeds. Either Oates just mucked up his cue, or, this is done to demonstrate his reluctance to so easily give in to soul-sucking evil. (It’s interesting that immediately after this, Oates sings, “What went wrong.”)

When the chorus is sung for the second time, the devil again comes across the stage, at 1:52. This time, two different things happen. First, the devil looks squarely into the camera, perhaps signifying to us that he can tempt anyone, even us voyeurs. Secondly, Oates either gets his cue right and tosses money at the devil, or, it is symbolic that heartache is so incredibly porous, that the ability to withstand the temptation is only fleeting.

The most intimate and telling few seconds of the video happens between 2:45 and 3:10. The devil, after his third appearance circles back around behind John Oates and helps him on with his tuxedo jacket – except it has flippers. Oates picks up his Les Paul and plays the guitar solo. This appears to be emblematic of fighting through an obvious handicap - in this case, playing the guitar with no fingers. This seems an obvious metaphor that needs no further explanation.

As the song fades and Hall and Oates wonder off stage right and left respectively, the devil, who has been following them, sits decisively in Hall’s seat. Was this because Hall was the first to throw money at him? Was this because Hall did not possess the determination to overcome his fragile psychological state like Oates did when he played through the flippers? Whatever the reason, the devil looks very content to placidly resign himself with the knowledge that during our weaker moments, he is sure to find someone willing to wear high heeled clogs.

3 comments:

Mr. Baby said...

Wow, that dissection of this obscure piece of video pop culture is either brilliant or the sign of some onsetting mental disorder...

That is also the coolest that John Oates has ever looked! And I think that's high school aged Zettelmayer playing the devil....

Dave Meyer said...

Baby, pretty sure we can go with the latter.

Kristine said...

Oh, this made me laugh! At no point this morning, when I planned my day, did I think I would be viewing a Hall and Oates video. I do have a problem with men who have nicer hair than me, but thank you for the chance to live in 1982 again, complete with the remote that had a large wire to our Zenith console, newly outfitted with three rows of cable that I had to use a lever for on that remote. Oh and that astronaut flag promo for MTV. Ah, the memories!