Seeing and listening to Nancy Sinatra dressed in pink, illuminated in the middle of a round platform, with a lack of light around, in the ancient posture, half lying, typical of the Sirens, while she sings Bang Bang is always touching and despite the many and interesting covers of this song (up to Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa), her performance in 1966 is still fresh and perfect in its unique charm. When a song remains, it is never in vain that we dissect its inner soul.
The song has a ternary structure. The first image depicts a vivid memory, when she, dressed in white and him dressed in black, play on wooden rocking horses pretending to shoot each other. The second take takes up this image and enriches it with a delicate allusion to a love story between the one who sings and the one who remembers. A love story in which the childhood memory remains, transfigured in the classical allegorisation of love as a game and as a struggle.
The English language, with its effective figurative speed, hints at the details of the sound of church bells, which intersect with the sound of symbolic guns. The dialectic of possession/remembrance is hinted at by the one-sidedness with which the singer evokes the relationship with her man: I called you mine, just for me the church bells rang. Black and white, he and I, the blow as a metaphor, falling in love as a fall, representing an irreparable event. The central painting holds two moments, while the final one returns unique, with the third reprise of the metaphor of the "struggle at a distance", of striking with the illustration of a total absence: physical, relational, meaningful. The "fall" then returns from the game physical in depicting the annihilation of a love. More than love, it is even more the sudden fall of singing, of the perpetuation of an illusion, of a memory and of its power to re-live it.
The original sound is not able to rise shared or to turn into another sound, like that of the bells, that represent timeless union. The musical accompaniment of the original version itself appears symbolic and very evocative. The electric guitar with its vibration and the single chord arpeggio provoke a "phantasmatic effect". Singing remains the absolute protagonist, though. The music always remains at the beginning. An ancient accompaniment, similar to the harp, to the Renaissance zither. The voice does not leave the melodic line to the instruments. A sirenic setting that generates a network from which one does not leave.
The glissatura of the bass tends to descend, emphasizing the catabathic path, the counter-climax that structures the song. A song-breath where the open chords leave a fading echo and a breath that resonates only in the void, within an absence that opens vast mental spaces that are America as a myth, as the epos of singing, transcendental spirituality of the great plains. A song that re-sings a regression towards a past that does not pass and wraps around itself like the air cage that imprisons Merlin. The old-fashioned music is not able to keep on singing, but it assumes the role of the phantom disappearance of the world. A damp land, to which the heart is a sign, remains the environmental protagonist in which the singing envelops itself.
The ex abrupto insertion that Tarantino makes of this song at the beginning of Kill Bill appears skillful, with the protagonist dying in front of her ex murderous love. Tarantino literalizes the metaphorical "bang bang" of the narrative, thus expressing to the maximum the sense of the irreparable and the oxymoron contained in the onomatopoeic of the word and its reiteration. Its poetic nature transfigures the prosaic violence of the scene.
We find a similar ternary cyclicity in another evergreen that expresses one of America's souls as Myth: California Dreaming. There are many very interesting versions, even if the fascination of the original version by Mamas' and Papa's for its intense chorality and the balance of the rhythm is still predominant today. Its replay in the making of Chungking Express is magnificent, where the fascinating Faye Wong, the protagonist of the film, sways dancing while preparing food for the customers of the shop or while she lazes and fantasises, looping this song like a sort of "existential soundtrack", endless, de-thinking, which enriches with the childish and graceful movement of its elegance, thus transforming it into an indirect allegory of falling in love as a "distraction of the mind", an absence of thought.
In this oriental film the enduring charisma of Dreaming California is well captured, whereas L.A. reveals itself as the Utopia of Happiness. Even this jewel rotates with pathos around an absence: the absence of light and color proper to winter and the absence of the beloved. In the cold of a "non-place", far from the dreamed L.A., singing becomes the desire for an archetypal warmth, nostalgia for the female womb. It is no coincidence that suddenly the image of a church appears along a deserted street where you enter to gather in a prayer. The "pretending to pray" becomes a moment of meditation in the middle of a solitary walk in the cold winter, something like a prayer, though sui generis, filling the central moment, second, of the song. A "pretending" that is like assuming existentially that one is "out of place", far from one's own desire, but at the same time defending one's own intimacy, without true acting.
Like every great work of poetry, indeterminacy is played out with skilful mastery: the hint at a "talk to her" that prevents one from leaving immediately for L.A. unites the sense of lack and absence with that of regret, intensifying the lyrical pathos. A song that feeds on silence, generated by guilt consisting of speaking. Within the never-ending cycle of rhythm we therefore have an expressive climax in evoking the absence that holds the song: winter, distant L.A., the interruption of a relationship with a woman, thus illustrating an identificating an idea of warmth and well-being with that of the admired city of L.A. and the beloved woman. The song begins with an aimless wandering, a sign of freedom, which is associated with cold.
It is America as the "Myth of the road", a mythopoietic place of escape and encounter, first of all with oneself. The singer takes up the theme of the cold when he speaks of the church and of the fact that "the priest likes the cold" and that "he knows that it will stop". In turn, the theme of the cold, of wandering and then stopping (in the cold) on the one hand conceals the secret of having spoken to her on the other hand seems to veil a pathos and an attachment precisely in "staying in the winter". The rhythmic and repeated rhythm keeps everything in unity and seems to resume the physical sense of walking and the echo of feeling.
If Bang Bang sings the parable of a love story that began as a child's game, then became a dream and finally vanished suddenly, Dreaming California also sings an absence of love similarly marked by the sense of the passing of time. Poetry of time, first of all. Lyric of the passing of the seasons. For this reason we can all recognize ourselves in listening to them, sharing their pathos. Poetry of obsession, of returning thoughts, from which we cannot free ourselves and which we sublimate in a song. A poem that is veiled with misunderstanding for which Bang Bang uses the aura of death while it is a love song, irreparable like death, while California Dreaming similarly exploits the supplementary aura of California as Eden to support the void of absence that is the mental space necessary for lyrical expression.
It's a bouncing game. Two forms of singing in the same song! The cold of the walk is the cold of a fixed mind in not thinking about its cyclically persistent obsessions. The double singing of the original version becomes a symbol: the echo of the solitary steps, the resonating in the empty and lonely mind of one's own tenacious and conflicting affections. The basic archetype remains that of the earth. Bang Bang in the refrain repeats the image of the body falling on the ground, from a physical game to a symbol of the end of love where the blow is like the wire cut by the Fates. In California Dreaming the archetype is less explicit but also present and fundamental. The sense of walking in the cold and the evocation of the warm L.A. represent polarizations of the same archetype of the earth in its two aspects of garden, of warm viscera and dry earth, saturnine, cold, phlegmatic.
If the land of Bang Bang possesses the damp of tears and remembrance, the land of California Dreaming is a completely dry and cold land. In both narratives, the song is based on an irreversible cut. The distant loved ones are edenic lands now lost. It is precisely with their mental unreachability that the lyricism of the song and its narration is aroused and sustained.