By Michael Hamad
11:12 AM EDT, September 21, 2012
"The Revenge of Vera Gemini,” by Blue Oyster Cult, is the last song of side A on their 1976 album, Agents of Fortune. It was a good year for BOC. Agents of Fortune contained the hit song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” which almost cracked the top ten, right in the center of side A. I read about "The Revenge of Vera Gemini" and Blue Oyster Cult in Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, a book about five pivotal musical years in late-’70s New York City. Reading Hermes' book and listening to the playlist felt like browsing through record store bins, with old album cover dust in your nose. A playlist circulated on Spotify with every song mentioned in Hermes text. It ended being several days' worth of music, including “Vera Gemini," which Hermes mentioned only in passing.
Guitarist Buck Dharma, also known as Donald Roesner, wrote “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” a song that had a lot going for it: a hymn-like melody, memorable guitar playing, mystical, seductive death in the lyrics. Schubert’s Erl-King for the stoner set. It's tightly constructed and pretty. Roesner’s voice never rises above a pitched whisper. Guitar solo to win over dudes, boy-next-door vocals for the ladies. It sounds nothing like the rest of the record.
Drummer Albert Bouchard and Patti Smith, who was involved with BOC keyboardist Allen Lanier at the time, wrote "The Revenge of Vera Gemini," which comes two songs after "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." Smith’s Horses came out the previous December; "Vera Gemini”’s chorus pays tribute (mocks?): Oh no more horses horses / We're gonna swim like a fish / Into the hole, in which you planned to ditch me / My lovely Vera Marie.
For the whole song, Smith's nearby. She co-wrote the lyrics, I’m guessing, and sings on the track, here and there. “You're boned like a saint, with the consciousness of a snake,” she says at the beginning. She swallows several of the words: with the, of a. What's left is boned... saint... consciousness... a snake.
Some male/female rock duets I can remember: "Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks (or better, "Insider”), “Leather and Lace” by Don Henley and Stevie Nicks, "Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, "Almost Paradise” by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson.
"The Revenge of Vera Gemini" sounds nothing like those songs. The verse begins, weakly: You're the kind of girl / I'd like to find / Face like an angel (in my mirror) / But you're boned like the devil. (Smith's vocal contributions are in parentheses.) The singer’s reluctant. He's dragged into it against his will, a drummer fronting a band. Bouchard co-wrote five of the album’s 10 tracks. (Roesner, who wrote “Reaper,” co-wrote two.) He had co-written five of the eight tracks on Secret Treaties, Blue Oyster Cult’s previous studio album, including “Career of Evil,” the opening track and another Patti Smith collaboration. "Career of Evil" is kind of mind blowing, a proggy, hooky song, and not what you'd expect from a song Smith had anything to do with. Bouchard wrote or co-wrote as many BOC songs as anyone else in the band. He also played guitar and sang.
Structurally, a pre-chorus, which is a bit of music leading up to the chorus with different text each time, follows each verse. It's followed by the chorus, or that grabby part of the song with repeated text and music. "Did”/ “squid” is the keeper rhyme of the first pre-chorus, which goes like this: Your eyes have shifted from me / Everyone saw what you did / You have slipped from beneath me / Like a false and nervous squid. Bouchard, if it's him singing, accents all the wrong words: “your,” “saw,” “you,” “have,” “from,” “a.”
“Did”/“squid” sets up the chorus' “fish”/ “ditch” rhyme: Oh no more horses horses / We're gonna swim like a fish / Into the hole, in which you planned to ditch me / My lovely Vera Marie. Smith steps up in verse 2, dropping words (in parentheses below) around Bouchard’s sour angry-head speak: (I was soaring) You planned to leave me cold / (A sound) But you'll never get your wish / (Feeling appeal) On the 24th of May / (Your birthday) I'll gather up your reins. May 24 is Bouchard’s birthday. Gemini. Vera Gemini. Masculine, positive, extroverted, versatile, a communicator.
They say every character in a dream is yourself. You filled me with a vengeance / And you touched me with your breath / I'm gonna pull you from this dance / You're gonna ride so easily, goes the second pre-chorus. It’s you, then it’s I (verse 3): I was your victim / I was well deceived / Hell's built on regret / But I love your naked neck. The two-faced-ness of the Gemini, the twins. The last pre-chorus: And evil lies that you told me / Could make me believe you’re two-faced / Because two faces have you / And they're both gonna go. Bouchard changes “Vera Marie” to “Vera Gemini” at the very end, pronouncing it “Ge-min-EE”. Oh no more horses horses / We're gonna swim like a fish / Into the hole, in which you planned to ditch me / My lovely Vera Gemini. Swim like a fish: Pisces, not a sign that’s compatible with Gemini (unlike Aquarius and Libra).
What does any of this have to do with revenge? Beats me. But Bouchard rhymes "birthday" with "reins." That's exceptional.
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