Lady of a certain age may be one of the finest pop songs ever committed to record.
A Lady Of a Certain Age
The song tells the story about an older woman sitting at a bar trying to pick up a toyboy. The verses tell us of the life she lived. One of wealth, only to marry for the wrong reasons to end up with children who resent her and feeling left alone. She is neither a victim or villain, she is human, she is us.
More than a pop song
Calling A Lady of A Certain Age, a pop song feels like a disservice. Not many pop songs cover this subject matter. It probably shares similar DNA with Barry Manilow’s Coppa Cabana. A song that seems upbeat and jaunty, but on closer inspection, there is a deep chasm of melancholy. A chasm you always feel the song is going to tumble into. A Lady of a Certain Age never does.
The lyrics are fantastic. Neil Hannon is one of the finest lyricists to put pen to paper. Coupled with the instrumentation is the perfect compliment. The accordion to underscore the summers of yesteryear spent on the French Riveria. It works wonderfully well, and I dislike accordion.
I want to talk about the real power of the song, and that is in its chorus. At 8 lines long, it is on the longer end of the spectrum. It is the same lines repeated three times throughout the song:
You chased the sun around the Cote d’Azur
Until the light of youth became obscured
And left you on your own and in the shade
An English lady of a certain age
And if a nice young man would buy you a drink
You’d say with a conspiratorial wink
“You wouldn’t think that I was seventy
“And he’d say, “no, you couldn’t be!”
This chorus stays constant throughout, but there are two differences each time. The first is the “Lady” lowers her age by ten years each time. The second difference is in the intonation of “no, you couldn’t be”. The first time it is in disbelief. The second time it is confused and the third it is a flat out refutation.
Three Uses of the Knife
This is what David Mamet refers to as “the three uses of the knife”.
In the eponymous book, much recommended by yours truly, Mamet talks about the three uses of the knife. (This is an affiliate link)
What are the three uses of the knife? I hear you ask from the other side of the screen.
Let’s find out.
The three uses of the knife break down as follows even then Mamet quotes Huddie Ledbetter. also known as Leadbelly, said:
“You take a knife, you use it to cut the bread, so you’ll have the strength to work. You use it to shave, so you’ll look nice for your lover; on discovering her with another, you use it to cut out her lying heart.”Leadbelly
The point of the quote is that while the object, the knife, remains the same the use of it changes. In the case of A Lady Of A Certain Age, it is “no, you couldn’t be!” Each time it changes.
Now you’re probably wondering, where is this going?
Here’s where this can help your own writing.
You have to look for the knife in your own writing.
If you can take find the knife in your own writing, you have got an anchor for yourself and the audience. Something when they see it they will latch onto it.
Either way, I hope you found that helpful.
Look for the knife and work out how many uses.
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