How NOT to write about music in the time of Coronavirus – 4. ‘The Jerk’

Tonight You Belong To Me; Steve Martin & Bernadette Peters The Jerk 1979

The temptation here is to talk about how the post-The Jerk cover versions – and there are plenty of post-The Jerk cover versions, for this is a well-loved song and performance, from Eddie Vedder & Chan Marshall to Zooey Deschanel & Ben Schwartz, from Fiona Apple & Jon Brion to The Copacetics, to the cutesy four-year-old – get it so wrong. (Well, not the four-year-old.) They go too schmaltzy or too cute, can’t resist the temptation to show off their musicanly chops, over-complicate something that does not need additional layers, throw in the odd knowing wink through a misplaced note or intonation.

That is the temptation here, but fuck. These days are so long and so draining.

I am fatigued, even before I wake.

It takes me five good cups of coffee even to turn my computer on, some days.

I don’t want to be negative here. My only intention with this post is to share something that is near enough my conception of beauty, it is so joyous and direct and life-affirming. A simple (yet complicated) pleasure – but aren’t simple pleasures what we are all seeking right now? (I say complicated too, because my enjoyment of this performance is tied up both in nostalgia for a future that never came, and inability to comprehend love companionship.) Increasingly, I catch myself staring into the patterns of branches in trees, the way they form their own maps: a flower in the weeds by a street sign; my daughter’s face when she discovers something new and illuminating. This is what this performance makes me feel like, and I am wrong to deny the others their joy in covering a song they too love, even if I feel they have it wrong.

The moment when Bernadette brings out the trumpet…

That moment.

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