I’m convinced that my pitiful ineptness at mugging nursery rhymes (then and now) keeps coming back to subtly screw me over (now and then). I actually had issues eating pork, for instance, not knowing that those little piggies were destined to be run over by indifferent engine drivers anyway. It was those wonderful Chinese, bless them, that finally got me (and the hogs) back on track.
And then there’s the issue of song lyrics. I just can’t get myself to listen to them; I’m too caught up listening to the music to worry about the words. I’m convinced this is because I was busy mastering the tune of the rhymes and not paying enough attention to the words. (That I didn’t get the tune right either is another story altogether.)
And then, last week, I realized there was another reason for this. Driving back from work, I was listening to a whining Jack White singing about a Carolina Drama, and I found myself listening to every word. Strange, I thought to myself, and promptly missed the next line. But I got all the other words, and I can’t say that about too many songs. My inquisitive scientific mind quickly tried to make sense of this unexpected development – ‘It’s those darned nursery rhymes again’, it announced, clearly pleased with its Phelpsian exertion.
Further empirical evidence was required, though. I listened to another song. . Nothing. I switch back. It’s back. ‘This is like Mr. India’, Dr. Cerebrum helpfully volunteers.
And then, all of a sudden, I get it. I am temporarily blinded by own brilliance (which doesn’t excuse my cutting that red light, but still). The reason is <hushed silence> very simply <drum roll> at least partly attributed to <oh, get on with it!> the complete disappearance of the story-song!
What do you mean, “Is that it?” Yes, that’s it! I’d like to see you top that.
Ok, fine, I’ll explain. Remember Rocky Raccoon? Of course you do. Lovely story. There were a lot of them back then, right? Bob Dylan, Simon & G, Neil Young – they all had stories to tell, and they told them all well. There was a beginning, there was a middle, there was an end. There were protagonists, plots and sub-plots, an unmistakeable denouement and an invariable anti-climax. You’d sing along from start to finish because you had no other choice – you had to tell them how it ended. Ergo, you paid attention to all the words.
Now, if you will allow me my moment of smug celebration…
Can you think of any recent story-songs worth yodeling along to?
The Raconteurs – Carolina Drama [mp3]
Barenaked Ladies (Live in Michigan) – Bank Job [mp3] (Poor lady in the front row!)
Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue [mp3]
The Kinks – Lola [mp3]