My Musical Philosophy in Song: “Delilah”

On Sunday (my first day back playing piano in church!—everyone else was in their cars listening over a short-range broadcast)—I posted a video to my Facebook artist page of Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson singing Tom Jones’s 1968 classic “Delilah”:

I’ve received a handful queries about my statement that “this video sums up my entire musical philosophy.”  Naturally, there’s a bit of cheek in that statement.  My short answer is similar to the jazz musician’s (Louis Armstrong? Dizzy Gillespie?) when a lady asked him how to swing:  “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”  The video should speak for itself:

But I began digging into this video a bit more.  What is this bizarre game show?  When was it aired?  How did Bruce Dickinson end up singing “Delilah”?  It reminds me another video that “sums up my entire musical philosophy”—Jack Black’s appearance on American Idol singing Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose”:

Fortunately, there are some scant details out there.  The show was Last Chance Lotter with Patrick Kielty, an Irish game show that ran for ten episodes in 1997.  The gimmick was that the show took losers from other game shows, gave them a lottery ticket, and anyone who had a ticket worth ten pounds or more could compete in the main game.  Some of the money won would go into a pot for one random audience member to win.

I haven’t quite worked out how the musical numbers figured in, but the musical guest would essentially sing a song to add even more cash to the pot by spinning a wheel (that was transparently rigged—the audience knew the wheel was controlled, from what I can gather).  That’s why Bruce Dickinson was on the show, and his performance of “Delilah” is one of the most spectacular musical renditions I’ve ever heard:  mariachi horns, bouncing bassists, leopard-print suits, and Dickinson’s soaring vocals.

When I first saw this video some years ago—H/T to my buddy Steve O for sharing it with me—it blew my mind.  I immediately added “Delilah” to my repertoire.  It has everything I love in a song:  melodrama (it’s a “murder ballad”), a 3/4 time signature, dominant seven arpeggios, and a catchy chorus that automatically creates a sing-a-long.  It’s a fun song.

I’m usually playing it from behind a keyboard, but when I’m fortunate enough to play with buddies, I take the mic and make a Dickinson-esque spectacle of myself—standing on tables, throwing my coat into the audience, play-stabbing myself in a chest, laughing raucously.  It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves this song.  It was a Number 2 hit for Tom Jones in 1968, and has since become a de facto second national anthem for Wales.  It’s a favorite at Welsh rugby games, where (presumably) inebriated fans sing the lively chorus together (“My, my, my, Delilah!/Lala la lalala la!/Why, why, whyyyyy, Delilah!/Lala la lalala la!”).

Of course, we’re not allowed to enjoy anything in the West anymore, and some two-bit Plaid Cymru scumbag in Wales has complained about the “misogynistic” nature of the song.  Not only does this ruin everyone’s fun, but it’s straight up wrong!

I call this tune a “murder ballad” when I introduce it at gigs, because a.) “murder ballad” sounds funny and b.) that’s what it is.  The song is about a man whose girlfriend/wife/lover, the titular “Delilah,” is cheating on him (“I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window/I saw the flickering shadow of love on the blinds/she was my woman/as she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind”).  When he confronts her the following morning, she laughs in his face (“she stood there laughing/Hahaha!”).  He loses it, and stabs her (“I held the knife in my hand/and she laughed no more”).

Clearly, the narrator doesn’t kill Delilah because she’s a woman; he kills her because she’s a cheating woman, and he’s had a total mental break.  In the first chorus, the narrator notes that “I could see that girl was no good for me/but I was lost like a slave that no man could free.”  He’s so attached to Delilah, her infidelity drives him mad (it probably doesn’t help that she laughed dismissively in his face the next morning).

Of course, murder is murder—it’s bad!  Delilah is a horrible hussy, but that doesn’t make her murder right.  Still, the song isn’t advocating—in any dimension!—the murder of women.  C’mon—such a reading is a willful misunderstanding, and wholesale endorsement of buzz-killery.

But that’s the hypersensitive Left for you.  Tom Jones himself remarked on the fun-loving nature of the crowds singing his song at rugby games:

Sir Tom, who performed at the BBC Music Awards with Paloma Faith on Thursday, said he did not think people really thought about the lyrics.

“The great thing about the song that everyone picks up on is the chorus. I don’t think that they are really thinking about it,” he said.

“I wasn’t thinking that I was the man that was killing the girl when I was singing the song, I was acting out the part and that’s what the song is.

“If it’s going to be taken literally like that then I think it takes the fun out of it. I think it takes the spirit out why it’s being sung.”

Amen.  No Welsh rugby fan has ever drunkenly sung “Delilah” and thought, “I’m going to go home and stab my girlfriend tonight.”  Give me a break.  Like most songs, all anyone remembers is the chorus, the “my my mys” and the “why why whys.”  They’re fun to sing.

Finally, why does art have to be totally bland and without offense?  Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t advocate random street violence and societal chaos (presumably) just because he was Joker.

“Delilah” is a fun song to sing and perform.  It hits all the right beats for me—melodrama, style, performativity.  I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.

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