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Song You Need to Know: Perfume Genius, ‘Not For Me’

Avant-glam indie hero Mike Hadreas returns with a 1960s Bobby Darin deep cut heavy with history.

Perfume Genius performs live at the Tivoli Theatre on December 2, 2017 in Dublin, Ireland.

Perfume Genius performs live at the Tivoli Theatre on December 2, 2017 in Dublin, Ireland.

Kieran Frost/Redferns

This triumphantly sad-sack ballad first surfaced in 1963 as a b-side from Bobby Darin, then an icon of aspirational cool thanks to his definitive version of Brecht/Weill’s “Mack The Knife.” Then, in ’64, Sammy Davis Jr. released an even sadder version of “Not For Me,” with potent subtext added to its alienated, un-wed lovelessness — while the Civil Rights Act was signed that summer, interracial marriage remained illegal, the Loving v. West Virginia decision still years away.

So it’s fitting that, in the 21st century, the song’s outsider-anthem evolution has been advanced by queer artists. Marc Almond echoed Darin’s version last year on his solo LP. And here – as a benefit single for immigrationequality.org — Mike Hadreas abstracts it into a Bjork-ian slow-march of sweeping synths and harp-like arpeggios: a dramatic ravishing of exile. Three years after Obergefell v. Hodges protected the right to same-sex marriage in the U.S., it remains an entirely different story elsewhere. So when Hadreas declares “Let all of your church bells ring/ But not for me,” it’s one more reminder that freedom is provisional, and the battles continue.

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