American Without Tears

Pretty self-explanatory
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Jackson Monk
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American Without Tears

Postby Jackson Monk » Sun Oct 12, 2008 2:32 am

American Without Tears

My 12 year old and I were in the car the other day and I had AWT on the stereo. Out of the blue she asked me a very interesting question about the meaning of the song. It was incredibly complex for a girl of her age and I felt really proud of her insightfulness. Shamefully, I couldn't really offer any kind of serious analysis that matched her theory.

So the question is: What does the line:"Now we don't speak any english, just american without tears" actually mean? :?
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Re: American Without Tears

Postby Top balcony » Sun Oct 12, 2008 5:56 am


I love this song too. I think this is a referrence to the method of learning foreign languages ( in this instance the pavement / sidewalk situation) which was popular in the UK during the 60's eg " Spanish / French / Italian etc Without Tears" think it involved listening to cassette tapes whilst going to sleep.


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Re: American Without Tears

Postby johnfoyle » Sun Oct 12, 2008 8:04 am

It's probably a echoing of that age old , simplistic comment that perceives 'American' culture as being a dumbed down version of 'Old World' English classicism etc.. As with all such comments there is a element of truth but it is still a lazy, tired reaction. In the case of Elvis and considering that he has, of late, received more sympathetic and thoughtful analysis in the U.S. ( eg. David Yaffe, The Nation, Aug.08) it's especially ironic.

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Re: American Without Tears

Postby thepopeofpop » Sun Oct 12, 2008 10:01 am

Top Balcony is correct that the title of the song is a reference to those "Learn a Foreign Language" courses.

But - what does Elvis actually mean by using this a title for this song? In the first verse Elvis finds himself in New Orleans and meets two woman who were originally from England. In the second verse he tells their stories - about how they met American soldiers in WWII and hence became GI Brides, which is more fully explained in verse three. He then turns the focus back onto himself. Elvis himself is now "In America" and "running" from some woman (and we can have fun wondering who this might have been: Mary, Cait or She-Who-Shall-not-Bebe-Named), walking the same streets his grandfather once walked in his professional music career.

So what does being "American Without Tears" actually mean, for the women and for Elvis himself? Elvis isn't big on social commentary, as he usually prefers to go for a more emotional, visceral, reaction. Therefore I suspect that the meaning is simply that the woman have traded their original lives (the lives that they thought they would have had in England) for a new, unexpected, life. As with all life choices, this has had consequences both good and bad, but it is the life that they have chosen and can't be undone now. As they say, you really can't go home again. Elvis has also made some choices that can never be reversed. Consequently he feels "displaced" in a way that is analogous to the cultural displacement experienced by the "two English girls who had changed their address".

So, how does this make him feel? He is lost. It seems that he's been crying (which means both to shed tears and also to speak out) "for years", until he no longer speaks English, just "American Without Tears". This is a paradox ... has he escaped to America, and American culture (eg, the Americana music stylings of King of America) to evade his former life, only to discover that his past (ie, his grandfather's life) is there as well. There is also the regret for things that might have been in another life. Another life spent with someone else, for example. A life of greater simplicity perhaps. In Elvis' case this could even mean an escape from the spotlight (a theme also explored in "Rocking Horse Road", where Elvis catches sight of his double who leads an anonymous life in suburban New Zealand).

It's hard to say exactly what Elvis means, but that's part of the beauty of the song. It's very difficult to explain the bittersweetness of the song precisely, because it is a hard feeling to pin down. I don't think that Elvis hates, or looks down on, America - but he does take it with a pinch of salt. More important, I think, is the impression that Elvis is never really settled. He is essentially rootless; a man of Irish background (through his family) who was born in London and grew up in Liverpool but who loves American music most of all and is currently married to a Canadian and living in New York. He feels a very close connection to the things, and places, that he loves, and yet he is an eternal wanderer. Hence, his constant exploration of different musical styles - he flits from genre to genre, not because he is superficial, but because he loves music so deeply that he cannot stay in any one place for long. His passion runs so deep that it would suck the marrow out of any particular style if he lingered on it for too long.
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Re: American Without Tears

Postby alexv » Sun Oct 12, 2008 10:26 am

I think POP has it down right.

I looked at EC's KOA sleevenote and found this:

"This song was based on a chance meeting with a couple of former G.I. brides during a tour of Florida. They had volunteered their stories while I was drinking at an adjacent table. Of course the names and locations were changed and I added in a little of my own family history but it stayed pretty true to their tale of exile and escape. It is as close as this record comes to having a theme."

Thinking about "exile and escape", it seems to me that in addition to all that POP focuses on, the phrase "American without tears" powerfully evokes both the sadness of forced exile (the ladies and Ec are driven away from England, each in their own way and for their own reasons) and the resilience of exiles. They've lost a certain "englishness" so that they no longer "speak English", and this loss is not a voluntary one. What have they've gained? America, which carries its own baggage. Their response? They face American "without tears": no moping, or crying over spilled milk. Good old-fashioned British stiff upper lip stuff.

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Re: American Without Tears

Postby bambooneedle » Sun Oct 12, 2008 1:15 pm

I think the last two posts are bang on. What did you tell her, JM? The post reminded me of this tv ad -

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Re: American Without Tears

Postby Ulster Boy » Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:49 pm

Not sure how relevant this is, but Terrence Rattigan had a successful hit with his play (and film)"French without tears" in the 1930's.

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Re: American Without Tears

Postby thenewsoftshoe » Sun Oct 26, 2008 6:50 am

I wish I could offer more than the proceeding posters.

I guess I just have to add that I love the lyric. I always took it as a slight, snobby shot at America's values.

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