Thursday, January 19, 2012
Everybody Calls Me Stupid: Doris Duke- I'm A Loser (1969)
It would be pretty hard to overstate the brilliance of I'm A Loser. Doris Curry and Swamp Dogg's little masterpiece of deep soul is so real and bracingly bleak it leaves the listener feeling as though they've been dunked in cold water and thrown on the streets in the middle of the night, heartbroken. While it may not be unusual for a soul record of any stripe to mine the subject of heartbreak for material, only I'm A Loser takes it so far: "I Don't Care Anymore" tells a story of a naive country girl lost and jobless in post-industrial America, shattered by bad finance and abusive relationships, numbly living out her days in a motel room turning tricks. That's not just love gone bad-- it's the apocalypse of romance. Listen to the frank, matter-of-fact way she delivers the song's documentary lyrics, and try not to get choked up from somewhere deep inside you.
"I Don't Care Anymore" contains perhaps the album's most sensational subject matter, but it doesn't play it up one whit (it's tone far from some camp cautionary tale), and it fairly well encapsulates the themes of the record: wholly unromantic descriptions of heartbreak, poverty, hopelessness, and utter, consuming despair. "Feet Start Walking" may be most shattering tale of rejection ever committed to wax. "Ghost of Myself", a song on the verge of suicide, opens with lines, "You laughed, I cried/ You lived, I died... I gave you honey, you gave me dirt." "We're More Than Strangers" comes to grips with total alienation within a relationship, followed by "Divorce Decree" (naturally), which soberly contemplates the bitter freedom allowed by the death of love and ending of commitment. It is one of the peppier tunes on the album.
The final track, "To The Other Woman (I'm The Other Woman)" was actually a pretty decent hit- the theme, of course, is that her man's "other woman" is actually his wife, and while it rhymes "degradation" with "obligation" and contains devastating passages such as "Everybody calls me stupid for playing second fiddle... at least I know I'm number two," it may be the record's closest shot at describing a livable existence, if not quite anything approaching happiness or security. True love does not enter this picture.
Before you think this is the type of sob story you'd rather skip, allow me to request-- fuck it, I'll insist-- that you reconsider. This is a stupefyingly brilliant album, and a lot of the majesty of it is watching them pull off the tonal balancing act. The production is positively phenomenal, understated but endlessly clever, never stooping to emotional manipulation of any kind. The same goes for Ms. Duke's vocal performance. When she sings that she doesn't care if she lives or dies, tells a man that he "took away her womanhood" or that she feels like an "addict hooked on drugs," there's never a cheap appeal to your base sympathy. She's just telling the truth, in a frank matter; neither hiding nor revealing her feelings, they seem to move through her as though she can't help it. She's also a just positively wonderful singer, her restrained style gruff n' tuff on top and tender deep below.
This is an amazing work of bold soul art. Treat it well and enjoy.
I'M A LOSER (224)