by Rob Fitzpatrick
9 December 2010) Mistakes are wonderful things because they
open up so many possibilities. Who among us hasn't gazed down
a road we've never taken and wondered just what might be at
the end of it? We deny ourselves so many potential pleasures
just by sticking to the pre-planned, the accepted. The very
idea of making a playlist of songs about mistakes only came
about because of a different mistake, yet many of the song
choices it provoked have been brilliant strange, but
beautiful and true.
music's love of the sacred and the profane means it's almost
uniquely placed to deal with the fallout from mistakes. Honky-tonk
hero Carl Smith's bitterly gorgeous hymn to choosing the wrong
woman still thrums with pain 60 years after its original release.
Billy Strayhorn was only sixteen when he wrote the majority
of Lush Life, yet it's a brilliant tale of failed romances
and lives wasted in the mistaken pursuit of illusions. Coltrane
and Hartman's version is a masterpiece of weary regret.
thought I met a man," ex-Byrd David Crosby sang in 1971,
"who said he knew a man, who knew what was going on
I was mistaken." Can you imagine how head-spinningly
confusing (and amazing) it must have been being Crosby in
1971? Fela Kuti is much less troubled by the concept of mistakes
he knows they can have outcomes that are both good
and bad. "After all the mistake," he sings, "you
still stand like a man."
Folds Five's Brick deals with the emotional impact
of an abortion. The young couple go through with it secretly
and quietly, but what they did never leaves them, and it never
gets better. When confronted by a parent, he sings, "She
broke down and I broke down, cause I was tired of lying."
Was this a mistake on top of a mistake? Hawkwind take a much
longer view of what is a potentially catastrophic perhaps
environmental human mistake. "Think about the
things that we should have done before," they sing, "the
way things are going, the end is about to fall."
considers all the times he's gone wrong, whether personally
or in his career, then suggests: "A mistake is only that
if you make it twice/ Mistakes that I've made have helped
me in life." A young Ian Dury is caught while out "on
the nick" and owns up regretfully to pilfering a "silhouette
of nudes". The mistake being the shopkeeper's: Dury still
has another grubby mag he stole earlier in his pocket.
Buckley's mistake was to be in love and have someone love
him and still not be able to give himself to it. "To
hold something real and not believe it," he sings, "to
live in her life and never trust it." Finally, Dinah
Washington knows she's messed up ("Why should I take
somebody like you and shame you?"), but she also knows
life goes on. There is a way back for her, for all of us,
even after such cruelty. In the end, don't the mistakes make
us who we really are?
I Overlooked An Orchid (While Searching For A Rose)
- Carl Smith
2 Lush Life - John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
3 Laughing - David Crosby
4 Mistake - Fela Kuti
5 Brick - Ben Folds
6 We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago - Hawkwind
7 My Mistakes - Wiley
8 Razzle In My Pocket - Ian Dury
9 I Must Have Been Blind - Tim Buckley
10 What Can I Say After I Say I'm Sorry? - Dinah Washington