Here’s the new video for THE SWOON’s song “Ben son, ben son Beatrice,” only thirty-two years after the original recording. We recorded this song in 1988, along with four other tracks, in a studio owned by a Minneapolis band called Limited Warranty. They were a hot local pop band famous for winning Star Search in 1985. Our producer/manager, JAMES, had set up the arrangements for us. Not sure how he negotiated it. I think he had secured the studio on spec—an industry term which means “you will never make a dime.” Dale Goulett and Greg Sotebeer of Limited Warranty were in the control room with JAMES. The studio space was some sort of converted warehouse. Big and open, the way we wanted the music to sound.
At one point in the production, I was sitting in the loft-lounge above the control room and talking about Kate Bush with the guys from Limited Warranty. Dale pretended to be smoking a roach, implying that Kate Bush took her inspiration from the amount of pot she smoked. Maybe she did. Wherever she got that totally epic spooky-sounding supernatural vibe, I wanted to get some of that down on tape. That’s the type of feel we reached for with “Ben son, ben son Beatrice.”
It doesn’t sound like Kate Bush, but the Beatrice song caught some type of otherworldly vibe. Or maybe that’s just the soaking wet digital delay on the vocal track. The new video includes images from Dante’s Divine Comedy because the lyrics were based on Dante’s vision of the ascent from Hell to Paradise—the journey of the soul. The Heavenly Beatrice appears mid-point during the apocalypse to usher Dante to the higher spheres of glory.
The chorus of the song is in Italian. Not that we knew Italian, but Dante did. Beatrice introduces herself to Dante in the dead center of the three-volume epic poem by repeating (in Italian) the words “I AM, I AM BEATRICE,” thereby alluding to the revelation of the name of God in the Exodus narrative:
Then Moses said to God, “… they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:13-14)
In Dante, Beatrice symbolizes God’s divine love–or something like that. The song sort of teeters between Christian mysticism and vague angsty eroticism. We had a lot of both going on at the time. It’s supposed to be an ascent from doubt to revelation led by the beatific vision of divine love. You can read more about the background to the song and the meaning of the Beatrice character here. The main message of the song is simply stated: Love is always expensive.
Jesus, Jesus help me; they named me Thomas.
I need every miracle and every promise.
I have yet to see the fruits of Pentecost—
The hand that reaches to the lost.
And I hunger, I hunger and thirst.
Sometimes I think God’s heart might burst.
Her face I see when I close my eyes.
She greets my sight when I rise.
Like the pain of infidelity,
I see her now cry over me.
And she came like a gentle thing
She said it’s forever like a wedding ring.
Ben son, ben son Beatrice.
She sings a poem of philosophy:
“Can I imagine what I cannot see?”
She sings the saddest song ever sung,
Like a tree on a hill where Jesus hung.
She sings the saddest song ever sung.
Love is the saddest song ever sung.
BEN SON, BEN SON BEATRICE.