Matthew Sweet: Winona
Choosing a Matthew Sweet song would make it seem like I was heading back into the land of power pop again, since Sweet is one of the best in that genre, and “Girlfriend,” the album from which this song comes is a masterpiece, but no, “Winona” is a love ballad featuring an aching, very country sounding pedal steel part played by session man extraordinaire Greg Leisz (anyone who can play on albums by such diverse artists as Tiger Army, Avenged Sevenfold, The Jayhawks, Lucinda Williams, Wilco, Beck, Bad Religion, Chuck Prophet and Emmylou Harris, among many, many others, deserves that epithet).
Although the song is named after Winona Ryder, it was not written for her. Sweet wrote the song, with its line “Won’t you be my little movie star,” and Lloyd Cole, who played on the album, suggested that he call it “Winona” even though she is not mentioned in the lyrics. Sweet agreed, because he thought that it had the right “country” sound. Sweet has said that he didn’t think that Ryder was that famous at the time, and he didn’t think that anyone would care what he did or that anyone would think that he wrote the song for her. He was wrong. In any event, Ryder apparently liked the song.
Ryder has been nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Age of Innocence” and for Best Actress, for her role in “Little Women,” but she did not win either time. She has had an interesting career, although it seems like she peaked back in the ‘90s and her career suffered after her shoplifting arrest in 2001 (which is strange considering that performers with much less talent have flourished after much worse legal trouble). She has an interesting background—her godfather is Timothy Leary, and the author Philip K. Dick was a family friend (which I only mention because, coincidentally, I’m reading one of his books now).
The cover of the “Girlfriend” album is a picture of the actress Tuesday Weld, who also was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress award, for “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,” but did not win. After being told that her picture would be on the cover, she objected to the original name of the album, “Nothing Lasts,” so Sweet changed it.
“Girlfriend” has long been a family favorite of ours. I put songs from it on mixtapes that we used to listen to in the car, starting when my kids were young, in an attempt to limit the amount of awful children’s music that so many parents get sick of, and my son became a big fan (it was just before the era of good musicians making good children’s albums). A few months ago, Sweet, whose career never reached that peak again, despite a number of excellent post-“Girlfriend” albums, did a tour where he played “Girlfriend” in its entirety, followed by a set of some of his other tunes. We were lucky enough to see the show at the Tarrytown Music Hall, and it was one of the happiest shows I have been to. Not a bad song was played, and the crowd loved it.
Which makes me think about why I am O.K. with Sweet playing his greatest hit, or seeing a Graham Parker & the Rumour reunion show, but turn my nose up at, say, the Fleetwood Mac, Kiss or Eagles reunions. And the answer is that there is no rational reason. I want to see Sweet, or GP and not the other ones. Remember what the man said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” a quote that should be the credo of all critics.
MBGS #144: Cover photo by Steve Agee
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