Does Don McLean Know About This?

Recently, I have experienced a horrific instance in which my nerdiness has actually made life worse instead of better.

It involves the grammatical ambiguity of song lyrics.

You may go grab your box of tissues now.

Now, I am an avid country music fan. Along with the poetic ballads, superstar vocals, and intense yearning for a cold brewsky comes a certain acceptance for lapsed grammar and syntax. “Ain’t” really does sound cooler than “isn’t” when you’re singing. When I used to sing some Carrie Underwood at my favorite karaoke night, belting out about my imaginary escapades in trashing my ex-boyfriend’s car (only once with an ex-boyfriend actually present), I proudly told the crowd that “he don’t know” rather than “he doesn’t know.”

Those are specific choices made by lyricists in the hope that they can take some license with the English language and still maintain credibility with their audience. Also, sometimes it’s just easier that way.

But right now there is a beautiful, poignant, heartbreaking song on the radio by a rising star artist, and there are two lyrics in his song that just don’t make sense.

Now that I’ve found them, that song makes me want to cry. Not in a “This is the first song I slow-danced to with Robbie Humperdink right before he told me that he was moving to Alabama but didn’t want to forget me” way. Not in a “Oh my gosh this song is about cancer and I’m a hypochondriac so whenever someone talks about cancer I cry because I’m both sad for them and worried about myself” way. In a “I want to punch stuffed animals shaped like woodland creatures because real animal abuse is morally reprehensible” way.

Neither of the lyrics use “ain’t.” Neither of them have subject-verb agreement troubles.

Instead, they both leave me questioning the mental state of the narrator.

In the first, a misplaced adjective implies that he has lost the sense of taste, due to what I can only assume is a freak brain tumor or a nail gun nail to the brain (which, btw, was reported in the news last week, and I can testify that it is totally possible because I had a friend get a nail gun nail in the neck and not even feel it).

In the second, a noun phrase using a gerund and a repetitious pronoun implies that the narrator believes he is in two places at once. This is only explained by severe psychological trauma, mental illness, or a Time Turner (insert Harry Potter reference here, because my nerdiness knows no bounds). Either option only begets the assumption that the narrator is disturbed, very lucky to be alive, or living in a fictional universe.

Not really what I was going for when I set the station to “All My Exes Live in Texas” and “Red Neck Woman.”

Isn’t grammar supposed to bring joy and order to the world? Aren’t we also capable of delighting in the whimsical fluctuation of rules for our creative enjoyment?

Can’t I have both without sacrificing a beautiful song about the complexities of guilt, lust, and heartbreak? Instead of feeling depressed compassion for a narrator who believes that he deserves all of the shame his former partner can heap upon him, I just feel bitter and angry.

I now change the radio station every time the song comes on.

And that is how the music died.

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One thought on “Does Don McLean Know About This?

  1. Pingback: Speed Blogging « Brilliant Title

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