Busby Berkeley was a legendary motion picture director and choreographer from the early 20th Century. His pictures were chock-a-block with hundreds of dancers intricately arranged and dancing in geometric motions boggling to behold. Berkeley’s aesthetic manufactured a new plateau of romantic idealism in motion pictures, and still today that idealism pervades the average filmgoer’s expectations of silver screen love conquering all.
The Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt, then, latches onto a powerful metaphor in “Busby Berkeley Dreams”, one of the most moving and lovely songs on 1999’s 69 Loves Songs. Berkeley and his groundbreaking filmscapes mirror the narrator’s lovelorn fantasies wherein he and his paramour are joyously spellbound by their love and the celluloid majesty it invokes. Wishful daydreaming takes over as the poor fellow clings desperately to the idea–misconceived or not–that he’s lost his greatest measure of idea love and cannot surpass the pinnacle ever again.
The song is wonderfully emotive and wistful, tiptoeing along the line between foolhardy and profound very gracefully. With its first line (“I should have forgotten you long ago, but you’re in every song I know…”) it launches its intentions into the stratosphere, no doubt pirouetting among cotton clouds and moony cardboard cutouts, and leaves the listener how more moving it might be on crackling AM radio somewhere on some cold water flat window sill (60 years or so too late).