Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"The Search for Petula Clark"

[A]t that time, climbing fast on all the charts and featured hard upon the hour was an item called "Who Am I?" The singer was Petula Clark; the composer and conductor, Tony Hatch. . . . Released in 1966, and preceded the year before by "Sign of the Times" and "My Love," it laid to rest any uncharitable notion that her success with the ubiquitous "Downtown" of 1964 was a fluke. Moreover, this quartet of hits was designed to convey the idea that bound as she might be by limitations of timbre and range, she would not accept any corresponding restrictions of theme and sentiment. Each of the four songs details an adjacent plateau of experience, the twenty-three months separating the release dates of "Downtown" and "Who Am I" being but a modest acceleration of the American teenager's precipitous scramble from the parental nest. And "Pet" Clark is in many ways the complete synthesis of this experience. . . . She is pop music's most persuasive embodiment of the Gidget syndrome.
From Glenn Gould's CBC broadcast, "The Search for Petula Clark." Gould's over-the-top analysis of Petula Clark's art is funny, obsessive, both tongue-in-cheek and somehow deeply in earnest. Gould thought Clark better, far better, than the Beatles: "theirs is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism." (And he said that in 1967!)

If you listen to this broadcast, you may at first wonder whether it's been mislabeled. But just keep listening: Petula Clark will soon turn up.

LINK: Glenn Gould radio broadcasts, from UbuWeb

[Correction: The correct title of the broadcast is "The Search for 'Pet' Clark," as I found when I checked page 292 of Kevin Bazzana's excellent biography, Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould. The broadcasts have since disappeared from UbuWeb.]

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

do you know where can i find transcript of this essay? best, Piotrek

Michael Leddy said...

Piotrek, it's in Simon Frith's Popular Music: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies (Routledge, 2004), perhaps elsewhere too. I found it via Google Book Search.