Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Write the Songs

Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" (1975) has been glued in my noodle (I'm trying this as a rhymier replacement for "stuck in my head") longer than any song--since 1987.  It's because of the crescendoing, key-changing repetition at the end.  And the fact of this gluing is a shame because Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs" is terrible.

Here are the lyrics (truncated):

I've been alive forever
And I wrote the very first song
I put the words and the melodies together
I am music
And I write the songs

I write the songs that make the whole world sing
I write the songs of love and special things
I write the songs that make the young girls cry
I write the songs, I write the songs

My home lies deep within you
And I've got my own place in your soul
Now when I look out through your eyes
I'm young again, even tho' I'm very old

Oh, my music makes you dance and gives you spirit to take a chance
And I wrote some rock 'n roll so you can move
Music fills your heart, well that's a real fine place to start
It's from me, it's for you
It's from you, it's for me
It's a worldwide symphony

I write the songs that make the whole world sing
I write the songs of love and special things
I write the songs that make the young girls cry
I write the songs, I write the songs

I am music and I write the songs

So, here's my reading:

1) Barry Manilow is singing a song from the perspective of Music, which is megalomaniacal.

2) Barry Manilow is singing a song from the perspective of God, which is megalomaniacal.

3) Barry Manilow believes that he is music and God, and that he invented rock and roll.  See above.

Further, Manilow's metaphors (penned by Bruce Johnson of The Beach Boys, to be fair) are strained at best.  How does music, in this construct, write the songs?  Wouldn't music be the songs?

I suppose God could be the songs, but certainly not this song.  That's heretical.  And I don't like to think of an old guy named Mr. Music sitting in an office building writing a lot of carbon-copied ditties, or of an old deity named Mr. God inspiring "Copacabana."

And what about these tearful "young girls"?  Why would God (if this song is from the perspective of God, as has been claimed) want young girls to cry?  This conception of God-as-ladykiller is disquieting.

Also, how does Music look out through my eyes?  I don't enjoy the idea that I am inhabited by a creature snooping on all of my friends.  And if Manilow is music, as his song suggests, then why does his character, music, declare the line, "my music makes you dance and gives you spirit to take a chance"?

Isn't this like saying I am weather and weather pours the rain? 

The lyrics force their performer to speak of himself in the third person, or the third-concept, if you will.

Meanwhile, I am criticism, and I write the rants.

All of this having been ranted, I find that Mr. Manilow seems to be aware of the tune's trouble: "The problem with the song," he once wrote, "was that if you didn't listen carefully to the lyric, you would think that the singer was singing about himself. It could be misinterpreted as a monumental ego trip."

I'll consider that an apology.  And turn my scorn to L. Ritchie's "Say You, Say Me."

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Pop-Pop Got an Apple TV when He Moved to Kuala Lumpur

My brother has a website called on which he collects original, bizarre, and absurd sentences that he and his cohort have overheard.  The most recent is: "Miles Standish [sic] enjoys harpooning dinosaurs."  Though funny, that one doesn't quite have the punch I like from my original sentences; it occurs to me that whoever said, "Miles Standish [sic] enjoys harpooning dinosaurs" was trying to be original, bizarre, absurd about the Plymouth Rocker, and was in on the joke.

To me, is at its best when it collates the unintentionally odd.  In order to find one of these--a sentence that is more than just a witty, self-aware remark--I go back to May of 2011: "The water has been so high that I haven't been to the mine to pick up my boat yet."  This sort of line implies a backstory I'd like to look into, implies a life separate from me, implies something about the tangly weave of the human afghan that I like to curl up in.  I love it.

An early sentence in the pantheon of originalsentence, similar in its sincerity, was, "My grandfather got a Kindle when he moved to Ecuador."  This was uttered in Washington, D.C. on August 24th, 2009.  (The date is important).  That Christmas, Megan and I had t-shirts made, emblazoned with this sentence, and we gave them to Stephen. (We thought the shooting stars were a nice touch.)


But now for a bit of amateur linguistic analysis, the point of which is to show why that sentence was funny (and why it has become less interesting in the interceding years).  The operative words in the sentence are "grandfather," "Kindle," and "Ecuador."  A normal sentence of that construction might run, "My friend got a car when he moved to California."  All of those words make sense together; a peer has purchased a thing that he will need in a particular place.  

What made the "grandfather" sentence funny was that "grandfather" was a step or two removed from what one might normally hear in this consumer-ish context, and so was Kindle (not a thing we needed back then), and so was Ecuador.  At that time, we weren't all associating novelty electronics with grandfathers, or with Ecuador--an under-the-radar country of 15 million that most conventional pop-pops probably haven't visited.  

So, the Mad-Libs-y mix of nouns seemed gleeful, and my brother and I maybe reveled in the fact that the sentence was probably said by a self-righteous parody of a person we wouldn't want to be seen with (e.g., a person who might also say, "My au pair's Segway was useful in Gstaad.").

Two-and-half years later, none of this seems quite as novel.  Grandparents regularly have Kindles, which now seem like mildly outdated devices.  And though Ecuador is still kinda out-there (or down there, or east of us--my favorite half-fact has it that all of South America is east of all of North America), it's now firmly within the boundaries of normal-living that a grandparent might get a tablet when moving south.  Our own grandmother is on the cusp of moving to Arizona, and it's likely that instead of transporting her books about Irish architecture and Regis-y charmers, she might just trade them all for a Nook.

The speed of technological outreach plus the speed and flexibility of language renders that once-original sentence now somewhat passe, equal almost to the statement from 1909: "My grandfather used a telephone to call Philadelphia."

This is not a criticism of originalsentence.  Instead, it shows that the sporadic compendium of offhand remarks can be a useful diary, and more than a repository for Myles Standish fan fiction.

(Grandma: if you read this on an iPad, please call me).

Friday, April 6, 2012