An American Odyssey in Song: Connecticut – Ben Folds and “Kylie From Connecticut”

Welcome to this occasional series where I am attempting a virtual journey around the 50 States of America in song. For anyone new to this place, I have a continuous route map where I enter and leave each state only once. Suggestions for the next leg always welcome!

Last time we visited the State of Rhode Island which means this time we will be entering the southernmost state in the New England region, Connecticut (another tricky one to spell because of the silent “c”). I for one am quite glad we’ve reached this point, as when I decided to start this trip in Maine, New England I hadn’t really considered that there would be slim pickings when it came to songs associated with that region. I am starting to think that settlers to those states perhaps did not have such a rich musical heritage as those who took up residence in the Southern or Appalachian Mountain states, but we’ll find out a bit more about that when we get there.

connecticut

The whole of Connecticut’s shoreline faces Long Island so rather than looking out to the open Atlantic, the large “sound” created because of that particular geography, makes it an ideal strategic location for submarines. Long Island Sound is therefore the Submarine Capital of the World. Although fairly rural to the east of the state, the southern and western parts are very much part of the New York metropolitan area. The main industries are Finance and Insurance and the state has the highest per capita income and median household income in the country. To use UK counties as an analogy, it sounds like the Surrey of the USA.

Difficult to write anything quirky or interesting about Connecticut at all however, as it just sounds so damn affluent and respectable. Perhaps a look into figures from popular culture will inspire me. It was where spoilt little rich girl Rachel Green from the TV show Friends hailed from. It was also the setting for the satirical thriller The Stepford Wives, where a spunky young photographer mum, played by Katharine Ross, begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive and beautiful housewives in her idyllic new Connecticut neighbourhood, may actually be robots created by their husbands (she was right). It also seems to be a state where many from the acting profession were born, or were residents, and maybe it’s just me but I can’t help thinking there is something similar about them all…….

Not much music so far and again I didn’t have any ideas of my own for this state. A thorough peruse through the various pages of the world wide web hasn’t really helped either, but fortunately last time a few suggestions came in from friends of this blog. The Swede from Unthought of, though, somehow seemed to remember that Judy Garland and Bing Crosby once recorded a song called Connecticut which turned out to be correct. Listening to the lyrics, it was apparently “the place to be”.

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Bing seems to be making a bit of a regular appearance on this journey as he also featured last time in his guise as Dexter, the (middle-aged) beau of Grace Kelly in High Society. And, this song called Connecticut immediately reminded me of a film starring Bing that I must have watched decades ago, as a child, called A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The film was based on a book by Mark Twain who was himself a long term resident of Connecticut and at one point lived right next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe so not just a place for blonde-haired actors it seems, but also a place for authors of the “Great American Novel”. Here is a clip of the trailer for that film from 1949 – Yep, they just don’t make ’em like that any more.

When thinking about other possible musical associations with Connecticut, it was a bit of a no-brainer that I would feature something by The Carpenters who were also from this state. I featured them recently in another post (link here) but had been building up to doing so for some time, as although they became one of the best-selling acts of the 1970s producing cleverly harmonised, melodic pop of the Easy Listening persuasion, they could never have been described as “cool” or edgy, and however many times we say there should be no guilty pleasures in song, it still takes a brave man (or woman) to come out and say they are indeed fans of that genre.

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This Masquerade by The Carpenters:

Older brother Richard was the creative force behind the duo and was a gifted composer and arranger, but of course it was Karen who had that wonderful deep voice that communicated the words of whatever she sang in such a melancholy way. It is only recently that I’ve been able to start listening to Carpenters albums again, as I still find it really upsetting that she died so young from the illness anorexia nervosa.  We knew so little about that particular illness back then but it just goes to show that however perfect things look on the outside, there can also be all sorts of inner turmoil – This Masquerade that can be life.

And so this leads me on to the final featured song. It has been quite some time since I’ve written an American Odyssey post and that was partly because I really struggled to find something to write about this state at all. I do hope that any residents of Connecticut who stumble upon this blog do not take offence, but the vibe I get from this state is that it may well be the most affluent place to live, and it may have a great university and great jobs in banking and finance BUT behind closed doors, is all well with the residents of Connecticut? Throughout our fairly lengthy marriage, Mr WIAA and I have actively tried to avoid living in an area (and every town has them) where it REALLY matters what car you drive, how often you renew your kitchen and the quality of your glass and china. These superficial trappings are really not important in the grand scheme of things and we are lucky to live beside some very like-minded souls, who have no illusions of grandeur and care not a hoot about such material trappings. Just like in this blog, where I often have to reign it in a bit as I do tend to over-share at times, we have no secrets from our friends and neighbours and seem to muddle along swimmingly. I cannot say the same for the parts of town we have actively avoided living in and I suspect large swathes of Connecticut would be out of bounds for the likes of us!

ben fold

A song suggested by both C and Rol in my last American Odyssey post was Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds. I have to admit, as is often the case, I wasn’t familiar with this song until having it pointed out but I am now a great fan of Mr Folds so thanks guys. Although this song is about a message left by someone from Connecticut, it reeks of all I have been writing about above. Here is a marriage where there are obviously secrets and the listener is left to interpret the Kylie mystery for themselves – Behind closed doors, all is not well. Since starting this blog, and following other music blogs, I have taken a far keener interest in the lyrics to songs than I ever did in my younger days and what a joy that has been. Ben Folds is an American singer-songwriter who was originally inspired by Elton John and Billy Joel but is someone I was really not that familiar with so will definitely have to investigate further. It also seems that Mr Folds has been married many times, so there may well have been a few messages from a “Connecticut Kylie” over the years which may have muddied the waters of domestic bliss. Just sayin’.

Kylie From Connecticut by Ben Folds:

Next time we will be heading into New York City and to be honest there are probably more songs about that city than about any other place on earth so goodness knows how I’m going to handle that one. Still would be interested to hear of any personal favourites however, so don’t hold back.

But finally, this has been a bit of a dull post in many ways, so what better way to end it than with a large slice of Mystic Pizza. This is just the kind of film I loved watching back in the late ’80s whilst sporting my big, permed hair and large dangly earrings – ‘Twas the times. Mystic itself is an old fishing port on Connecticut’s easternmost shoreline and was the setting for the film but is now more of a tourist centre for visitors, with many living history museums and the like. In case you’re a little peckish, the restaurant is still in business – Anyone up for a slice of heaven?

See you in New York!

Kylie From Connecticut Lyrics
(Song by Ben Folds)

It’s just a thought, but where did it come from
What does she do with it if it comes back
A note from his assistant is there by the telephone
She wonders again as she turns out the lights

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
She says you’ve got the number
It says Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she closes her eyes

She believes there are things you shouldn’t know about
When you’ve been married for thirty-five years
And her heart belongs to a man that she hadn’t seen
Since a magical night when the children were small

Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s probably nothing, yeah nothing at all
Kylie is calling from Connecticut
It’s back on her mind as she’s reading old letters
That she left in the closet with the pictures she cherished
She never told a soul for the last thirty years
Now she closes her eyes

Stress-Busters, “Superstar” and the Mellifluous Voice of Karen Carpenter

Well, it’s safe to say that stress levels are running at an all-time high in my workplace. The conversion to a LEAN working environment is making the carrying out of normal duties nigh impossible as on an hourly basis, the tools of our trade, namely desks, shelving, files and stationery are being shipped out to that mythical warehouse, where items that do not fit the modern day workplace, end their days. Considering I am having to re-apply for my own job in this brave new world, I’m starting to worry that I am also going to end up in that mythical warehouse – Mr WIAA may well have to send out a search party. But, being serious, it will probably be great when it’s all finished, it’s just that I’m not a great handler of stress and yesterday’s migraine (of the ziggy-zaggy variety) proved it.

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Very recently I admitted on these pages that I seem to have now found myself addicted to blogging. The feedback was very much of the opinion however that it can also be seen as a great stress-buster – Last night, at 10pm, I decided to test that theory out. I am happy to say that after an hour of visiting my favourite blogs and leaving a few comments (although a mere nano-second after posting something I always wish I’d worded it better or corrected the grammar – I hope I’m not alone in this), I was indeed feeling a lot less stressed. I had the best nights sleep I’ve had all week and thus handled today’s chaos of moving to a LEAN and orderly workplace, a lot better. Thank you then fellow-bloggers, the stress-busting theory does seem to work.

Music of course is another great stress-buster and for me, in my current situation, it had to come from the world of – as the Americans call it – Adult Contemporary. On the way home from work I needed a bit of Karen Carpenter to smooth my furrowed brow. She had the most wonderfully soothing singing voice as she was a contralto, the lowest female voice type. I must also be a contralto then, as whenever I tried to sing chart hits when growing up, those Carpenter songs were the ones I seemed to master best – I could even do that twiddly key changing bit that sounds like yodelling (although there is probably a technical term for it). On the odd occasion a karaoke machine appears at an event, I always start off by refusing point blank to sing, BUT, after a few drinks I end up having to have the mic forcibly removed from my hand once my Karen Carpenter repertoire kicks in. (Although my versions of her songs are a pale imitation of course.)

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The only downside to listening to The Carpenters back catalogue is that the lyrics are all just so damn melancholy – There was Goodbye To Love, Rainy Days and Mondays, Yesterday Once More and Solitaire. Even the jaunty upbeat songs somehow ended up sounding sad at the hands of Karen and brother Richard (Top of the World, Please Mr Postman). As a fan I do enjoy a wallow in all of that sadness from time to time but not to be recommended as a regular pastime.

I have still not really come to terms with how she lost her grasp on life at the very young age of 32 due to complications arising from the illness anorexia nervosa. I was still a child when The Carpenters first started appearing on television but over the years even I noticed the dramatic change in her appearance and wondered what on earth was going on. We knew so little about that particular illness back then and the solution offered up by her management was that she wear a jacket on stage – It now beggars belief but those of course were far less enlightened times although even today, with an early diagnosis, there is not always a positive outcome.

Superstar by The Carpenters:

This afternoon however I just wanted to hear a little bit of that mellifluous singing voice and of late, the Carpenters‘ song I am drawn to most is Superstar from 1971 – It is about a brief liaison with a rock star who has now moved on to the next town. The girl is sad, lonely and yearning for him to return but it still sounds just so beautiful at the hands of the singing maestro that was Karen Carpenter.

So, “What’s It All About?” – As a stress-buster, blogging certainly does seem to have its place but so does listening to music and thankfully we all have our own particular favourites for that function. The Carpenters were never seen as “cool” but no-one could deny their talent and Karen’s voice certainly eases my stress. Grammy Award winners The Starland Vocal Band were never seen as “cool” either, but their 1976 solution for stress was adopted by the Taco Bell people who of course realised that all the LEAN office needs is the occasional opportunity to head out for a tasty snack! I give you, Afternoon Delight.

Superstar Lyrics
(Song by Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett)

Long ago, and, oh, so far away
I fell in love with you before the second show
Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you’re not really here, it’s just the radio

Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do

Loneliness is such a sad affair
And I can hardly wait to be with you again
What to say to make you come again?
Come back to me again and play your sad guitar

Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby?
You said you’d be coming back this way again baby
Baby, baby, baby, baby, oh baby
I love you, I really do