Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Idaho via Coventry

"American Without Tears No. 2 (Twilight Version)" is an odd little number by Elvis Costello that's been hanging around lately. The alternate version of a King of America song and B-side to "Blue Chair," this thing stars an American vet who marries an English girl and does not turn out to be a catch. Squeeze sang about a very similar setup, and far more lucidly, in "Labelled with Love," from their Costello-produced East Side Story (1981). No one is where they belong in such stories; everyone is pining for somewhere else. The main character for some obscure reason shares several biographical details with Hemingway, from the war experience and impulsive marriages to the Havana, Florida, even Idaho settings, although the events take place just after Hemingway's lifetime and the heartbreaker in this song is absurdly identified as one Arnie LaFlamme. In the end, the atmosphere is more Graham Greene than Hemingway, but the lyric is really an excuse for trying out a few tropes, with as many shifts in viewpoint and setting as "Tangled Up in Blue." The designation of a "twilight" rendition seems as arbitrary as everything else in a song so whimsical that even Elvis calls its bluff, abruptly ending the last verse with a hasty "It would never work out," like an artist wadding up his drawing and tossing it in the wastebasket. (Damn thing isn't even on youtube. You have to go to 5:11 in this clip to hear a fuzzy live version.)

And yet, for all its flakiness, I've always liked this song. The recording has great drive, and Elvis has a lot of fun with this busker's arrangement, especially on the Sammy Davis Jr. line and in the switch-up in the final verse ("Just like me she found out..."). While tabs for the more placid King of America version of the song are easy to find, I haven't been able to locate a single set of chords for this alternate version anywhere on God's green Internet. And you know what that means...

American Without Tears No. 2 (Twilight Version)
(Elvis Costello)

G               C    G
December 1965 in Caracas
G                     A                 D
When Arnie LaFlamme took his piece of the pie
G                         C               G
When he packed up the casino chips, the IOU and the abacus
G                             D           G
And switched off the jukebox in a "A Fool Such As I"

G                                 C           G
He was a leg man who was open to offers
G                           A                 D
But he couldn't get her off his mind as he passed the tourist office
G                 C              G
And as he entertained himself singing just like Sammy Davis Junior
G           D         G
He toyed with a trip to Miami

For money like that
He could have sweet talk in your ear
Now they don't speak any English
C G    C           G
Just American without tears, just American without tears


It was an idea that he dandled on his knee and nursed it like his coffee cup
When he couldn't find any other way
It always seemed to come to him while the day was dipping down
And the sun was like a light bulb being swallowed by a clown

He took her for everything, he took her for his only one
He took her out of Coventry and over to Idaho
But the war wound that he carried home wasn't really visible
When the bullets were forgotten
She looked dowdy, down, and miserable

And she seemed to be crying for year after year
And said, "You don't speak any English
Just American between tears."

A  D A
"Arnie," she said to me, "will you turn down the radio?
    A      B    E
You haven't slept a wink since we came to Havana
A      D A
When're you gonna get the strength to go over to Florida?
E         A
All you ever listen to is 'The Voice of America'"

A                          D                      A
It was a story of a young English poppet
A                                                       B                            E
Who took up with a soldier boy and thought she would profit
A             F#m            E                   D
Just like me she found out what true love is about
A E                 A
Anyway she's in New Orleans, it would never work out
Oh she seemed to be crying for year after year
Now you don't speak any English
          D                         A   D                     A
Just American between tears, just American without tears

For you seem to be crying for year after year
Now you don't speak any English
Just American without tears
Just American without tears

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