Emmett and I walked the Via Dolorosa while visiting Jerusalem in 1985. I sort of remember him saying, “That would be a good name for a song.” It’s the name of a street in the Old City on which Jesus allegedly carried his cross as he went to Golgotha. Every Good Friday, Christian pilgrims commemorate the stations of the cross and walk the Via Dolorosa. The name literally means “Way of Sorrow.”
You can hear the influence of U2’s The Joshua Tree in the chord progression of Via Dolorosa. It wasn’t intentional, but we liked it that way. A short version of the song went down on the ben son Beatrice demo. The live version could roll on for a long, long time. We almost always closed out our live shows with that hypnotic rambling extended version—right before the big-bang showstopper GO NO STOP.
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.”
That drawing of a black-haired woman wearing a cross-necklace around her arching neck is certainly the most iconic image THE SWOON ever produced. Her pretty face graced our first EP, a collection of songs under the title Ben Son Ben Son Beatrice (later included on the album THE SWOON along with the Neverland sessions). We used the face of that young woman on the t-shirts we sold at concerts—ugly white t-shirts emblazoned with the deep thought, “Love is the saddest song ever sung” written like a caption underneath her image. We used that picture for posters, flyers, promotions, and there’s even a rare and hard-to-find chapbook of lyrics from SWOON songs with her picture on the cover. The woman’s face also featured in the video shoot for Square Dance Candlelight.
It’s a song about monogamy, getting lost in the dating game, and forgetting who’s who and who you’re supposed to be with. And there’s something in it about the slow progress of the soul learning to love. I must have been either a freshman or sophomore in college when I attended my first and only square dance. I went as square dance partner for eleven-year-old Nicole Evans, granddaughter of the head of the college art department along with her sister and step-dad. My radiant dance partner and I dutifully learned the choreography and protocols, and we followed the instructions of the caller: “Bow to the corner, bow to your partner. Two steps forward, one step back.” The switching of partners seemed an apt metaphor for the ever-revolving relationships of the dating scene. In contrast to that inconstant world, eleven-year-old Nicole beamed like a bright candle of innocence and untainted joy as she rotated through her dance partners. She got props for the inspiration in the liner notes. Shine on!
The freshly recut music video (below) features original 1988 footage Mark Derby shot in the Southwest State University AV department studio, b-roll of THE SWOON hanging around in Cottonwood that same weekend, and the square dance scene from the 1949 movie Roseana McCoy. (Watch for a photobomb from the Daceys’ sister Fay.)
We recorded Let’s Talk About Love in 1988 for the ben son ben son Beatrice demo, but this version of the song is scooped from a bootleg cassette recorded at a live show in 1989. The song itself, while pretending to bounce along as just another silly love song, contrasts pop culture’s infatuations with the the expensive price of perseverance in a relationship gone wrong. Video clips from a 1948 version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina tells it like it is.