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This Day: March 13

March 13, 2010

A not as obvious as you think song today. It’s the anniversary of Pablo Picasso marrying the model Jacqueline Rocque in 1961. Pablo was 79, Jacqueline was 37. No surprise Jonathan Richman wrote: girls could not resist his stare in the song Pablo Picasso.

As art critic Matthew Collings once rightly pointed out, the song is all lies. Picasso was not 5″ 3′ feet tall and he had never been to New York. The song drones along in E, its lyrics meaningless and delivery flat. Collings loved that the song minimalism aligned with the band’s name: The Modern Lovers.

On the other hand David Bowie turns the song into a frenzied fan gush. The sitar and guitars are anything but minimal. Bowie ditches some lyrics, adds others. Where Richman adds a posturing “Alright”, Bowie screams “Wow”. No wonder in Bowie’s version, Picasso is:

Hanging by his finger nails

Released in 2003, Bowie’s version is meaningless in a different way. Where Richman sings as if his words cannot be challenged, sneering at the thought someone could disagree, Bowie sings with the glitz and glamour of the paparazzi feeding a 24 hour news cycle. In Bowie’s world, it doesn’t matter if the lyrics are lies, because in the modern world another useless non-fact will take its place in a few minutes. Considering the gimmicky nature of modern art, with its lights going on and off and Turner Prize controversies, I’m sure Collings would approve of Bowie’s update.

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