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toledo phrase

“Toledo” by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach teamed up for the great album “Painted From Memory” in 1998.  The record is arguably the greatest of Costello’s collaboration albums. The album is loaded with songs of bittersweet memories, sorrowful memories, love gone lost, emotional pain, and hopeful wishes of new love. There would be so many great songs to share and discuss with you otherwise. I could not find the studio version of “Toledo” on YouTube. Instead I will share this live performance.  The lyrics are slightly different in the live recording, so I have provided the original lyrics at the end of the post. There are a lot of interesting, but painful moments to discuss. I will have to interpret, and perhaps extrapolate a little on the meaning of the lines.

This is the story as I see it:

A man had once cheated on his wife when he was on a business trip to Toledo, Ohio.  They are back together, and even though his wife has forgiven him (to some extent), the affair is always in the back of their minds. His travels take him to Toledo (not Spain) again. Imagine when he phones home and tells her that he is staying overnight in Toledo. Even if she trusts him now, there would always be that little piece of doubt in her mind.  The damage had been done.

“But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it”

Lesson #1 / Men: Do not cheat. Even if you are forgiven, you will never get the trust 100% back.

Another line says “… and that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me …”.

Lesson #2 / Men: Do not cheat. Men always say that – but that actually makes it WORSE! It would be one thing to actually fall in love with someone else and have an affair, it is another thing to be promiscuous for its own sake. It means that the cheater is not romantic – he is an asshole.  At least he is now. 

I think that it is a very strong song. You can feel the pain in the lyrics. Pain that was self-inflicted. He hurt his wife, he hurt himself. He is still haunted by the fight they had the first time: You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”

Other lyrical imagery describe of how he walks around outside, and all the young people, and young lovers are happy.  “How can they be like this?”, he thinks. Don’t they understand what I have lost?!?!?  Of course, it is an irrational thought, but I think that it underscores that all is not right with the world once his vows were broken. The lyrics demonstrate that the guilt may be all-consuming.

Lesson #3 / Men: Do not cheat. Try to learn from this fool. 

———————————————

There is one other item I have never heard discussed about this song. Why did Costello choose “Toledo, Ohio” as the place where the protagonist fell? If you are a Costell fan, you know all about his famous drunken incident in Toledo. Costello and his bandmates had a fight with an American band staying at the same hotel. Costello said something outrageous.  I won’t repeat what he said here. The quip was picked up by the American press, and it haunted him for years. There is no doubt, it affected his lack of commercial success in America for so long.  

———————————————–

“Toledo”

All through the night you telephoned
I saw the light blinking red
Beside the cradle
But you don’t know how far I’ve gone
Now I must live with the lie
That I made

But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it
But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But it’s no use saying that I love you
And how that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me
For if anyone should look into your eyes
It’s not forgiveness that they’re gonna see

You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”
You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”

So I walked outside in the bright
Sunshine and lovers pass by
Smiling and joking
But they don’t know the fool I was
Why should they care what was lost
What was broken?

But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it
But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But it’s no use saying that I love you
And how that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me
For if anyone should look into your eyes
It’s not forgiveness that they’re gonna see

But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But we still have Florence, Alabama
We don’t have Paris, and we don’t have Rome.

Starlight: I bought the record the week it was released. I was still a Costello fan back then.

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