You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby


Would they even recognize you if they saw you in the shop?

Because you’re a J. D. Salinger fanatic like me, a completist and obsessor who photocopies stories out of eighty-year-old issues of the New Yorker, you recognize the title: “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby” is the song that Les and Bessie Glass made semi-famous in their vaudeville act. Neither Franny nor Zooey nor anybody else gives the reader a really good description of the song, but from context clues, it’s a safe bet that it’s witty, and urbane, and light-handed, and something of a lark. All of which is pretty much the opposite of this, its namesake, one of the spazziest and most desperate/restless songs in the Tris McCall catalog. Now why would I do that to Salinger, the artist to whom I owe more than any other artist? Beats me. I’m a jerk, really.

In fairness to us, we’re calling this the Starlite version of “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby,” which means it’s not at all what you’ll be getting when the album is ready. When we listened back to the basic tracks, we discovered that I’d pushed like crazy on the piano, and tipped the whole thing into a frantic, higgledy-piggledy mess. But I like that kind of thing, and I wanted to work on it anyway. Our compromise: we’re going to cut a groovier, more restrained version — one that Les and Bessie wouldn’t want to disown us over — that’ll eventually replace, or supplement, this one on the site. In the meantime, we put together a mix of this to accommodate the Los Angeles page, and we’re sharing it right now.

Since this is the Starlite version, we felt authorized to glitz it up as much as possible: synth solos, guitar solos, a clavinet, horn samples, backing vocals, a Moog part that somehow reminds me of a machine injecting jelly into doughnuts, whatever else we could fit. The L.A. song, I felt, required a maximalist approach anyway, so if it sounds overstuffed to you, well, that’s not entirely an accident. It’s not entirely by design, either, since in my mind at least, all the instruments are as meticulously arranged as a Bacharach production, or at least Prefab Sprout. I’ll try again sometime, probably on the Nashville song. But I promise: this is about as overwhelming as it’s ever going to get. Thank you for hanging with me.

All disclaimers aside, I’ve been wanting to name a song, or an album, or something, after “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby” for many years. There aren’t too many loose ends in Salinger’s stories — even when he’s racing around at greyhound speed, he’s usually careful to satisfy whatever emotional curiosity his narratives engender. The Glass family parents are an exception to that. They’re mysterious figures hovering above the stories, and their motivations are left for the reader to supply. How do they feel about It’s A Wise Child after the fact, for instance, once they’ve seen that their children haven’t exactly survived their encounter with the world with all their  f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s  intact?