Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Wavering Words"

Did you ever find yourself singing one of your favorite tunes to yourself and suddenly realize, “There words don’t make any sense”?

I don’t mean, “Yes, we have no bananas.”  But when they were really trying.

“You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.”

What exactly does that mean?

“My Huckleberry friend.”


Here’s the thing.

“Pay attention, people.   He’s about to tell us "The Truth.”

Okay, here’s my opinion. (A guy can’t get away with anythingaround here.)

Great melodies go straight to your kishkas (“Emotional Sensory Mechanism.”)  Not that the same song has a predictably equal effect on everyone; there are still “individual differences.”  Ask a couple what they label “Our song” and “fifty-fifty” you are likely to go,


What can I say?  It works for them.  Though my guess is they are generally responding to the music.  The thing about lyrics is they proceed dutifully to your brain, which is subjectively deliberative.  Or if you’re me, just plain “Picky, picky, picky.”

Which brings me to the piece I am currently learning on the piano, the recent Oscar winner for “Best Original Song”, 

“Remember Me.”

The first time I heard it on the Oscars broadcast its haunting melody ignited my “Melancholy Response System.”  I now find myself singing it when I’m in the company of my (speaking) grandchildren.  As an impressive “Performance Piece”, of course, but also as a reminder.  Though it may not be necessary.

A surprising pronouncement:

“‘Ba-ba, Blacksheep’ is the same song as ‘A-B-C-D’ and ‘Twinkle, Twinkle.’”

“Who told you that, Milo?”

You did, Pappy.”

So I am apparently set for eternity.

But I sing it anyway, just in case.  

Practicing a song on the piano inevitably involves memorizing the lyrics.  (My primary purpose in studying the piano being to be able to accompany myself when I sing.)  

“Remember Me’s” lyrics?  My selective evaluation:


“Remember Me” is the title song from the animated feature Coco, which concerns the Mexican holiday “Dia de los Muertes” (“Day of the Dead”), during which the skeletal “departed” return and celebrate with the living.  (In 3-D, if it’s a Pixarmovie.)

The song’s moving modulations never fail to trigger “The Mood.”  But let’s take a closer look at the song’s lyrics.  (Come on.  It’ll be fun.)

Here we go.

“Remember me,
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me,
Don’t let it make you cry…”


I told a story recently about visiting “The Haunted House” in Disneyland and a scary thing happened and the ride’s Voice-Over “host” eerily intoned,

“I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

and an astute (and literal-minded) four year-old Jack observed,

“He said he didn’t mean to frighten us.  But he did mean to frighten us.”

It’s the same thing here. “Don’t let it make you cry”seems deliberately intended to make us cry. The traditional maxim in the creative arena is “Show, don’t tell.”  “Don’t let it make you cry”… tells.

Okay, on we go.

“For even though I’m far away 
You’re always in my heart
I’ll sing a secret song to you
Each night we are apart…”

“Sing a secret song” is nice – a private tune wrapped in three-part alliteration.  The rest is okay.

“Remember me,
Though I have to travel far
Remember me,
Each time you hear a sad guitar…”

I bet they loved “Each time you hear a sad guitar”when they made it up.  It’s original.  It’s evocative.  But it’s also – ‘cause it uses the actual word – “sad.”  What’s going on?  Are they trying to drive the kids into therapy?

Shamelessly rewriting an Oscarwinner, how about,

“Remember me,
Though I have to travel far
Remember me,
Each time you see a shining star…”

Isn’t that more uplifting? Maybe I’ve been inoculated with the Disneyneedle, “When you wish upon a star…”, etc., but “sad guitar” is just the string-instrument version of “Don’t let it make you cry.”  And you know how I feel about that.

Bringing it “home”…

“Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be…”

That, to me, is the sharpest lyric in the song.  Not necessarily for its poetry – there isn’t any – but for the crystal clarity of its communication.  “I can’t be with you the old way and yet I am, somehow, still around.”  Thatmakes me cry without encouraging me to cry.

“Until you’re in my arms again…”


“Until you’re dead and our bony skeletons are hugging”?

I can seriously do without that!

“… Remember me.”

Maybe I’m just jealous. Or have excessively high standards. Great lyrics are nigh on impossible to pull off.  Although sometimesthey do it.  How about “To Sir, With Love”?  I mean, that song is perfect.

What?  It isn’t?
Remember Normandy Beach.  (And all the other beaches.)  Those people were just like us.  Only braver.

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