Frida Hyvönen - “Dirty Dancing” (Silence Is Wild, 2008)
“Dirty Dancing” is a childhood reminiscence of such exceptional weight that I can’t help but let it take place on the same street in my hometown (Helena, Montana) where I’d previously set Pulp’s “Disco 2000.” This, despite Hyvönen adding a specific caveat to her Dirty Dancing fantasies: “Minus the United States.” But Helena’s just a placeholder, the small boring town where the winters were long and where I saw the nineties dawning. Could’ve been anywhere, but its streets and buildings are all I’ve got, so I return to them when the song’s good enough, heavy enough with history.
As a song about fated, unfulfilled romance, “Dirty Dancing” somewhat follows the template of “Disco 2000” and its exquisite mingling of past and future, but with a few important narrative and structural differences, and not just in the significantly lowered pulse of the music. For one thing, the kids in “Dirty Dancing” share a connection that’s both more powerful than the one in the Pulp song, and more uncertain from the first moment. The opening line says it all: “Love of my life” doesn’t usually have a subordinate clause. So, no one explicitly states the expectations, and no plans are made. Or perhaps some calculation is at play: Does the adult Frida buy a house with a chimney because she knows he’s grown up to become a chimneysweep, or is it an accident?
The song has two distinct parts, first the memories, then the reunion, flecked with more memories. They get to touch again, brushingly, their bodies now reduced to evidence of their adult lives—“his sweeper’s arm, with my piano fingers.” As with “Disco 2000,” every detail is filtered through the heightened feelings of the narrator, and in this case it’s tough to say how much love there is going the other direction. But either way, it ends up the same. The other person has children, but not with the narrator.
I’m tempted to say it’s the best pop song without a chorus since Squeeze’s “Up the Junction,” but the wordless slow dance that overtakes the narrator between verses probably disqualifies it. And that slow dance is indispensable, the key to the song, the moment (repeated twice, a million times sadder the second time) when Hyvönen holds herself in a memory and tries to let its unbearable weight dissolve along the length of her gently moving limbs.
In the verses, her voice just completely unlocks and pours forth an astonishing set of beautiful lines, arranged in fours, non-rhyming—structured and fluid. I dare not quote any more of them, and steal away her precise utterance. When I’m being sparing with the word great, I say this is her first great song. It’s also the song that introduces, in a clear, major way, the dancing motif in her songwriting. From now on, the good ones always dance. “And he was a dancer,” she sings, the “and,” on its own, sufficient evidence of her feelings on the matter.
And, as a new location in Hyvönen’s discography, after the potentially disruptive PUDEL, the song forwards a larger narrative in the most pleasing way. Imagine, in sequence, Until Death Comes’ “Straight Thin Line” giving way to Silence Is Wild’s “Dirty Dancing,” the former song’s ultimatum supporting the latter song’s liberation, Hyvönen now free to attend to her most primal stories, her heart equal to their demands. She still plays piano (a splash of notes accompanies her first words), but in a looser, more punctuated style. Then, after about a minute, there’s the slow dance, and the tentative arrival of the drums, asking if they belong in Hyvönen’s musical universe. She says yes, with her swooning chorus, and the gestures to 50s rock ‘n’ roll accumulate from there, inaugurating a new era.