I’d been fogging up the windows with Magda Biedermann for the better part of our senior year. As graduation approached, I had only one thing on my mind: consummating our relationship (and coincidentally, losing my virginity) before being drafted and sent off to Vietnam. Her motives were considerably more funereal: she wanted to get married and carry our little bun in her oven.
My rapaciousness was no match for Magda’s wholesome ambitions, so progress was painfully slow. While I was able to reach first base through a cunning synthesis of deception, chicanery and Olympic-class flexibility, there were no indications that I’d get any further, let alone slide into home. And, time was quickly running out.
I thought she’d finally caved in during a passionate tussle in the back seat of my mother’s Pontiac. After pinning me down with a Flying Forearm Smash, followed by a humbling Testicular Claw, Magda agreed to sacrifice her loins provided I write her a love song before I left – her idea of the ultimate commitment between a man and a woman.
That shouldn’t be hard, I thought. I know dozens of lovesick puppies who’ve penned country and western ballads to their sweethearts. All you need is a morose, whining story about a barefoot, pregnant girl, a broken down pick-up truck on the side of the road and an old farting dog laying on the front porch. Then drown it all out with a wavering steel guitar. Grammys have been won for less.
Of course, it would have been easier if rap music had been around back then. You don’t even need words that rhyme. Just complain over a scratchy LP about growing up in the “hood,” grumble about your mother on death row and throw in a few choice words like, “chickenhead” or “dime bag,” while talking about your “ho bitch” bangin’ all the “sand diggers.” Then choose a catchy title like, “Livin’ the Good Life of a Gangsta.”
My parents’ generation produced some of the greatest lyricists of all time: Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern. But it wasn’t likely I’d be writing any Broadway musicals on my way to getting laid. Not to belittle my own talent, I just couldn’t see coming up with anything as catchy as “Hello Young Lovers,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” or “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” Nevertheless, my goal was to eek out something like “The Way You Look Tonight,” “The Last Time I Saw Paris” or “All the Things You Are.”
Even while high school girls were pining over “Build Me Up Buttercup,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “You Can’t Hurry Love,” I chose to emulate my contemporaries: Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney. Between the two of them, they’d penned hundreds of love songs, so I knew I could write one, too. All I needed was a little help.
I hopped the bus down to Wallich’s Music City in Hollywood and bought a copy of “The Great American Songbook.” It was, and continues to be, the most important and influential canon of popular theater and film tunes from the early 1920s to the 1950s with works by Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer and more. If there was a fast track to bedding down Magda Biedermann, it would be in there.
The first thing seasoned lyricists recommend is that you start at the beginning. Some of the most well-known songs weren’t conceived as anything at all – just a raw idea, then it matured along the way. Urban legend has it that Paul McCartney woke up one morning with the following lyrics in his head:
Have an omelet with some Muenster cheese
Put your dishes in the wash bin please
So I can clean the scrambled eggs
Join me, do
There are lots of eggs for me and you
I’ve got ham and cheese and bacon too
So go get two, and join me, do
Fried or sunny-side
Just aren’t right
The mix-bowl begs
Quick, go get a pan
And we’ll scramble up some eggs
Good for breakfast, dinnertime or brunch
Don’t buy six or twelve, buy a bunch
And we’ll have lunch on scrambled eggs
It went on to become the Grammy Award winning tune, “Yesterday.”
Even though most hit records contain no more than two hundred words, it’s still important to come up with a memorable title and a couple of strong opening verses. Lyricists call them “the hook” and are supposed to immediately pull your audience into your plight. So, I picked a subject that seemed to address my most passionate feelings –losing my virginity to Magda Biedermann:
(Don’t Let Me Be) The Last Virgin in Saigon
Take away my cigarettes
Take away my booze
I’m begging you to pop my cherry
So I’ll have nothin’ else to lose
Don’t send me all alone
To the brothels of Saigon
When we could be relishing our memories
Of the night we finally spawned
After you have your listener hooked, most love songs introduce a strong chorus – usually sung by a gaggle of black gospel singers. This is where the song comes together. They’re the words you want your listeners to get stuck in their heads and hum the rest of the day. They don’t even have to be actual words. You can choose any gibberish you want, as long as it fits in with the overall theme:
He’s just a randy city boy, oooh, oooh, oooh
He’ll be leaving in the mornin’
To fight gooks and learn how to screw
After a couple more verses, I decided to throw in a “bridge” to anchor the piece. Bridges often change the tempo, volume or instrumentation of the song, so I determined that when it came time to record the song (assuming Elton John was available to write the music), I’d crank up the volume and pick up the beat. Maybe even throw in a Moog Synthesizer riff.
I was almost done and could feel myself approaching home base, when I ran out of ideas for the last two verses. So, wisely I sought outside help.
“Why don’t you sing about the time you took Magda into the Tunnel of Love and she threw up all over your Christmas sweater?” offered Crank, my best friend. “How about the time you got your zipper caught when you were slithering into the back seat?” suggested Big Stain. Neither of them was much help, so it looked like I was on my own.
I skipped Chem Lab and headed for the library. I wasn’t going to leave until I finished Magda’s love song:
I’ll be thinking of you, darlin’
And those noises when you snore
I’ll be dreaming of your deep blue eyes
When I’m humping some cheap whore
It’s 5 O’clock in the morning, honey
They’re coming for me at dawn
So I’m begging you, sweetheart, don’t let me be
The last virgin in Saigon
I rushed back down to Wallich’s Music City to cut a demo in one of their recording booths. Then, I found out that Magda had flown down to South Padre Island for Spring Break. By the time she got home, the Army had already snagged me and sent me overseas, where I realized my worst fears: I was the last virgin in Saigon.