This post is about revision and specificity. And emotions. I've been thinking about the Modern Lovers song "I'm Straight." There is a live recording of the Lovers performing this song in early 1972 from the live cd PRECISE MODERN LOVERS ORDER. Here it is:
To me, there is no contest between this version of the song and the 1973 studio version. The live version is more dynamic, emotional, surprising, and funny. The difference between the two versions of the song can be encapsulated by the revision of the name of the song's antagonist from "Hippie Ernie" to "Hippie Johnny," a change said to be made because the band's bass player was named Ernie, and Jonathan Richman didn't want to offend him. This change significantly weakens the song. Instead of singing about the actual Hippie Ernie, Jonathan is now singing about the idea of a hippie. Listen for yourself:
All of a sudden, Jonathan is saying things like "I like him too....I like Hippie Johnny"- the acid loathing that powered the early version of this song has all but disappeared completely. The song's Duende has been practically shaved away.