In Boozo Veritas #27 by Teege Braune
Some Velvet Morning
In the months after I first heard “Some Velvet Morning” I listened to the Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra duet easily hundreds of times. Unquestionably psychedelic in nature while existing firmly outside of the genre of rock ‘n roll, the song is simultaneously timeless and an artifact from one of the odder corners of sixties culture.
Everything about it, the epic quality of the string arrangement, the odd tempo changes, the haunting juxtaposition of Lee and Nancy’s voices, came together to create a sense of longing and wonder in me. Not least intriguing are the song’s enigmatic lyrics, which as it turns out have been a source of frustration for critics, biographers, and music lovers for decades. Like other great poems, the lyrics created dueling emotions in me, the desire to solve an elusive puzzle and be caught up in a mystery impenetrable through simple analysis. Nearly a decade after first discovering “Some Velvet Morning” I am still troubled by the beautiful and puzzling lyrics, but I had once in a moment of cognitive impairment a truly transcendent moment, in which the meaning seemed all too clear to me. Alas, in the light of the sober morn my fleeting understanding was gone.
Hazlewood is seldom recognized as the incredible lyricist that he was. In fact, he is often mocked for lines like, “You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin,’” but I would argue that even “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” Hazlewood’s poppiest number, dishes out some hilariously witty turns of phrase and demonstrates a sinister undertone belied by its upbeat melody. On the other end of the spectrum, “Summerwine” is a cowboy reimagining of Keats’ “Le Belle Dame Sans Merci” and fully exemplifies Hazlewood’s literary chops. None of his songs, however, are as rich and complex as “Some Velvet Morning.” Right from the start, its opening line, “Some velvet morning when I’m straight,” takes us down a rabbit hole of confusion and sensuality. What is a velvet morning anyway? It sounds like something sumptuously decadent and erotic. Does the word “straight” refer to sobriety? In light of the songs surreal, druggy atmosphere, this sounds like a distinct possibility. On the other hand, in conjunction with the next line, “I’m gonna open up your gate,” almost unquestionably a reference to sexual intercourse, “straight” could be a reference to the phallus, in which case we only have more questions than answers. What is the source of the narrator’s current erectile dysfunction? Is it drugs or something more grandiose? Could he be awaiting some cosmic alignment to bring forth this so called velvet morning and penetrate the song’s equally elusive hypothetical audience. By the end of the third verse, “And maybe tell you ‘bout Phaedra / And how she gave me life / And how she made it in,” I don’t think any sane person could possibly know what is going on.
While Phaedra’s a character with an easily researchable role in mythology, a potential entry point to the song’s meaning, her marriage to Theseus and attempted seduction of Hippolytus bare little resemblance to Nancy’s role of Phaedra in the song and her references to “dragonflies and daffodils.” The music video does nothing at all to shed light on these mysteries and merely jump back and forth from Hazlewood riding a horse on the beach to Sinatra rolling around flirtatiously in a field of wild flowers.
I have no idea how to put the pieces of this puzzle together and yet for a single moment in 2006, the doors of perception were opened unto me and me alone. While drinking prodigiously with friends one night I found myself more and more unhinged by “Some Velvet Morning” and played it continuously intwined with a mix of old school hip hop and shoegaze. I kept waiting for someone to complain, but my friends were all too drunk to take much notice, so after I felt a reasonable amount of time had elapsed, I played “Some Velvet Morning” again. Finally realizing that I was approaching the dawn of a new awakening, I played the song several times in a row, shushing the chorus of protests that finally arose. Midway through the umpteenth performance, I paused the song and, unprompted, spewed forth a veritable dissertation elucidating every vague nuance, every subtle meaning, each and every obscure reference. As I wrapped up my brilliant analysis I looked to the glazed eyes of my friends who gazed back at me in wonder, each of them slightly swaying in their inebriation.
Unfortunately, as this was the year before smartphones were made available to a technologically hungry marketplace, no one had recorded this moment of spontaneous analytic brilliance. Neither could my drunken friends remember just what had been my thesis the next day, though they all admitted that my monologue had been brilliant, mind-bending, and truly inspired. Alas, no Plato arose to writ eternal my Socratic blitzkrieg of interpretive prowess. My concise, moving, and probably earth-shattering exegesis of “Some Velvet Morning” was lost to civilization. At least for now.
Since that moment, I’ve watched my obsession for “Some Velvet Morning” wane. Having obtained and lost that which I had so energetically sought forced me to step back from the song and admit defeat. I began to listen to it less and less. Though I’ve never ceased to enjoy it, it became a familiarity, more comforting than thought-provoking. My past enthusiasm is sometimes aroused when I meet a fellow Hazlewood enthusiasts like my coworker Jimmy. The two of us together had an exciting moment when one of our regular’s at Redlight Redlight heard “Some Velvet Morning” at the bar and told us how nice it was to see young people who still appreciated his father-in-law’s music. Perhaps one day I’ll rediscover what drew me to “Some Velvet Morning” and perhaps I’ll even get stinking drunk, listen to the song multiple times in a row, and rediscover that A-Ha! moment I once had years ago. Or perhaps it is gone for good. Maybe one can only truly understand psychedelia when one’s brain is bent and twisted by some chemical or other. Maybe it is not for the sober among us to understand “Some Velvet Morning,” but we can always drink or indulge in even more illicit substances as we attempt to gain a foothold. If in the end, we uncover truth’s too terrible for the human mind, we can’t blame the song, for Phaedra warns us of the dangers as she sings, “Learn from us very much / Look at us but do no touch.”
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.