You Never Can Tell v I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll
Too young, too soon, too driven by hormones, too often shotgun. It won’t last, it’s doomed from the beginning.
But what’s this, the old folks wish them well! They may suck in their teeth and shake their heads, but who knows? With marriage, with relationships, they say, you never can tell.
And so the young couple, the Cajun boy Pierre and his lovely mademoiselle, have the oldies’ blessing as they ring the chapel bell and throw themselves into married life.
And they love every minute of it. The song is an exuberant burst of joy and a hymn to the optimism and energy of youth. They get a two-room apartment and furnish it from a mail-order catalogue, they buy a coolerator, not a state-of-the art model, but one good enough to cram with TV dinners and ginger ale.
They turn the hi-fi phono up to full blast and play their 700 records – 700! That is one serious collection (or a bit of artistic licence). You can imagine their little apartment shaking as they rock and jive until it’s time to turn down the music and turn down the lights…
They do pretty well for themselves, that first year. Pierre gets work and they buy a car, a cherry-red ’53, and Monsieur and Madame ride in style down to New Orleans to celebrate their anniversary. You never can tell, indeed.
End of the Pierre show
Except that you probably can. It’s not likely to last, is it? Pierre will be off, chasing Nadine or Maybellene, and Madame will get less lovely and more resentful as she stays at home looking after the baby…enough. We are moving into another song. This song finishes at just the right moment, with happiness and hope pulsing through it.
For such an upbeat number, it has dark associations. Chuck Berry wrote it while he was doing time for violating the Mann Act, convicted of taking a minor across a state line for immoral purposes. It featured in Quentin Tarantino’s black comedy Pulp Fiction, in the dance contest where boss’s wife Uma Thurman struts her stuff with hit man John Travolta.
Bride on the slide
The companion piece to You Never Can Tell is Nick Lowe’s 1970s’ I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll. Here we are at the actual wedding, and the details are familiar to us all – the lovely bride in her wedding dress (it was the same one her mother wore, and they sat up all night getting the alterations just right), the walk down the aisle on her proud daddy’s arm, the reception for 150 guests at a flash hotel, the return (after a honeymoon, presumably) to the house for which her daddy paid the deposit. Only the best for his little girl.
But underneath the driving impetus of this great rock song runs regret, regret for what might have been and for a way of life that has gone forever.
The bride in the white dress is more than just a few years away from the girl in tight blue jeans who hung with the street-corner boys, who tirelessly fed the jukebox and rocked all night, hoppin’ and boppin’, spinning like a top, drinking with the boys and breaking their hearts like they were toys. She strutted up and down to her favourite song, she partied all through the night.
Aisle of broken dreams
That girl has gone, surrendering her life to a man who, in those days, she would not have looked at twice. All that remains of those days is the secret smile she gives the singer as she walks down the aisle, and his painful feelings of loss, envy, resentment, desire.
Nick wrote this song in homage to You Never Can Tell, and the musical links are clear. But the life it celebrates is one which, in this case, ends with a marriage. The song transcends the well-observed social details of the wedding ceremony.
We recognise its regret for the passing of youth, its awareness of the shifts and compromises we make as we go through life, what we gain and what we lose. Metaphorically, we all knew a bride when she used to rock and roll.
So it’s hats off to the ever-cool Nick Lowe. Long may he continue to rock and roll.