Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Turns of phrase that don't mean what they used to

I've been reading a lot of mysteries lately, mostly Agatha Christie, but I'm moving onto Sherlock Holmes. (Yes, I know he's not an author.) I was semi-ranting at Pete today about mystery novels and he suggested I should blog about them. And he's such a good husband, he even managed to sound like he thought other people would be interested in my thoughts and ideas rather than like he just wanted me to stop shouting about how totally unnecessary Watson is except to let the reader know that actually, Doyle doesn't agree with Holmes' misogyny/misanthropy at all. Sadly (or not), I am too tired to give full breath to my thoughts on the subject, so I thought I would post a short, related note about language in these books. Maybe I did this already? If so, sorry for the repeat. I'm too lazy to go look at my archive.

There are certain phrases that we just don't use any more. Or at least, not in the way they were originally conceived. Some are just strange, things that seem so very particular as to be too useless to remain current. Like, "She had Irish blue eyes put in with the smutty finger." Whaa?? Evidently this means that they had a smokey ring around the iris. If it were "put in with the smutty thumb" it would mean thick, dark eyelashes. Thanks, Agatha, for a phrase I will never have any reason to use because aside from being completely foreign to the modern person, it's just awkward to say. "With the smutty finger"? Why a definite article? Does it imply that God only uses one finger to play with ashes and occasionally also to put in eyeballs? Another favorite is "mare's nest," as in, "Well this is a right old mare's nest you've gotten us into." It means "complex situation," almost "imbroglio," but without the connotation of scandal.

The two phrases/words that have gotten me laughing again and again though are both redefinitions. I will give examples (though not quotes; again: lazy).
Suddenly, the Colonel left the room. Miss Marple ejaculated. "What is it?" cried her friend, startled by the uncharacteristic outburst.

"Watson, I'm sorry to knock you up so early in the morning, but it's really quite urgent."
"What? Sherlock, why are you knocking me up so early?"
"It's not me really, but a lady downstairs. And whenever a young lady knocks you up so early in the morning, you know it must be vitally important and I knew you wouldn't want to miss it."
Yes, that's right: boring old Miss Marple and her knitting are ejaculating all the time. All the time! And so are Holmes and Watson. If things get the least bit tense, Watson can't help himself. And when Holmes ejaculates, well, Watson is always startled, no matter how many times it happens.

The "knocked up" thing was quite unexpected. I mean, I'm familiar with the multiple meanings of "ejaculate," but I'd never seen "knocked up" used to mean "sought out" or "rung up" before. It kind of sheds new light on the provenance of the meaning "to be pregnant," don't you think? I mean, can you imagine fifty years from now if "to ring up" were to mean "to impregnate"? All kinds of British movies will cease to stand the test of time! Everyone will be ringing everyone up all the time and we will seem like the most lascivious of cultures!

Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy those two little artifacts.

My new favorite thing

Okay, check out this site, it is hilarious: http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com.

I've been reading through the archives and it is just amazing what people will put up with. For big, expensive cakes, you sign a contract and the bakery has to deliver what you requested. It's shocking what people have ended up with. I mean, they should just be ashamed! But the author is wonderful! She's funny, a good writer, has an eye for both style and grammar mistakes and seems to be pretty even handed in doling out the blame. I've found myself laughing out loud more than once, but this entry had me laughing the entire time it took Pete to take out the trash and come back inside.

Also, if you are in Portland and haven't checked out the Portland Tribune's RSS feed, I highly recommend it. It's no more or less overwhelming than something like Political Animal or the Onion AV Club and I think it's the only place covering every single stabbing at the NE 82nd street MAX station and small arguments at local neighborhood meetings as well as more major city news, like arguments over the I-5 bridge and research at OHSU. Of course, I'm more interested in the police blotter-like stories. Portland is basically a lot of villages all mooshed together, sharing a transit system; the Trib's voice is kind of representative of that.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Another Royal Challenge

Once upon a time a made a mix-CD of break-up songs that followed the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). But I had no one I could give it to and now I don't know what happened to it. I suspect the play list was either pre-iTunes or on an old machine and didn't transfer for whatever reason. But it was pretty neat and I was super pleased with myself though haven't thought of it in years. But yesterday I was listening to "Breaking Up" off of "Under the Blacklight" (Rilo Kiley) and I thought to myself, "This would be the song to end that playlist. It's not just acceptance, it's excited to be free." Then I started wishing I could remember the rest of what was in the playlist, although I'll never know what the original contained because my music tastes change so much over time it's hard to remember that I used to like x and dislike y. I put it to you, friends and strangers who have stumbled upon this blog googling "Rilo Kiley" or "five stages of grief:" what would you put on a break-up CD so organized? In fact, I'm going to add two more "stage," one for before the standard five and one for after: background story and freedom. Please comment! Put the name of the song, the artist, what stage of grief and why it should go on the playlist there. I'll even start you out with some examples!

Breaking up, Rilo Kiley - Freedom
It's about the end of a relationship, but it's got a kind of pop dance hall beat in the chorus that makes you want to raise your arms over your head and jump around as you croon along with "Ooh! It! Feels GOOD to be free!"

Song for the dumped, Ben Folds Five - Anger
The chorus ("give me my money back, give me my money back you bitch") pretty much says it all.

Breaking up is hard to do, Neil Sedaka - Depression
Dude, I totally thought this song was by a girl. It is the classic breaking up song; it seems like a breaking up playlist would be incomplete without it.

Does he love you?, Rilo Kiley - Background story
A letter from one friend to another, telling a story about a potentially troubled marriage and ending with at least two broken hearts. It kind of sets the tone. If the tone is, "am I really sympathizing with a woman cheating with her best friend's husband?"

EDIT (7/19/08): Okay, now that I have more than a moment to think about this, I will add some more items to the list myself. I am inspired by Joseph and Beau's additions! I would also like to add the category "Categories Are Stupid" for those songs that just don't fit anywhere but should totally be on a break up mix tape. I appreciate transitional songs, too (Beau mentioned a couple, I think) because they would give said CD a smoother feel. Pete thinks I have too many Jenny Lewis songs already. But he he can go shove it up his nose; if he could remember lyrics, his list would be all Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead.

Runaway, Del Shannon - Denial
It wasn't until Beau suggested Take a Letter Maria that I started to think about all the oldies rattling around in my brain from my middle school years as a KISN addict. Runaway sprang immediately to mind. And actually, as I started to type out the lyrics looking for the phrase that had struck me as "break up song," I was surprised to discover that this is actually kind of a creepy song. I mean, dude's girl fuckin' ran away from him to end the relationship, but he's still hoping to figure out where she's staying and "wondering" what went wrong, like he doesn't know, like maybe they'll get back together. Maybe if you beat her less, Del Shannon, she would have at least left you a note explaining why she left. Here are the lyrics to the first verse and chorus as I remember them from Middle School assemblies.

"As I walk along / I wonder / what went wrong with our love / a love that was so strong. / And as I still walk on / I think of / the things we'd done together / while our hearts were young. / I'm a walking in the rain! / Tears are falling and I feel the pain! / Wishing you were here by me / to end this misery / and I wonder / I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder / Why / Why why why why why she ran away / and where she will stay-E-A / my little runaway / run run run run runaway."

(Digression: they passed around kazoos in buckets and so about half the 8th graders would end up filling in the weird musical interludes with appropriate buzzing while everyone else went "doo doot doo doo doo" in a high pitched whine. We also sang "Love Potion Number Nine," "You Don't Knock" and "I Know You Rider" in assemblies. It was a weird place, but we didn't mind assemblies as much as we might have.)

I know you rider, various (Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead) - Background story?
All I remembered of this song was the chorus (which essentially boils down to "I know you rider / gonna miss me when I'm gone / gonna miss your baby / rollin' in your arms"). As I don't remember any of the verses, it's hard to know which version I learned in Middle School. The Grateful Dead version seems familiar and appears to be just about leaving, although evidently the earlier versions had a final verse that implied the singer wasn't coming back.

Superhero, Ani DiFranco - acceptance (with a touch of anger)
This was absolutely my favorite song, maybe senior year in high school/freshman year of college. It's so angry and strong and bitter. I think it's the bitterness that puts it in the acceptance bucket rather than the anger bucket. The beginning lyrics capture perfectly that place where hurt opens you up and exposes you to the cultural cliches to which you'd typically be immune. But by the final verse, she's taking back in control and saving herself.

Don't Pass Me By, The Beatles - bargaining?
Bargaining has got to be the hardest category. I'm guessing that oldies are probably the place to look for this "look, I'm make you a deal if you just don't go" category. This is the best I've come up with. I've never been sure if I understand this song correctly, but my interpretation was always that the singer had been left by his gf, she's lied to him about a car crash as an excuse for being late to meet him, but she's never going to show. And he's left pleading at the end, "You'd never know it hurt me so / I'd hate to see you go / Don't pass me by."

I don't want to spoil the party, The Beatles - hard core denial
If there were a stage of grief called "Wallowing" this would be its anthem. He's drunk, he's sad and he wants everyone to know. Oh, she's left me! Oh, I'm drinking to spite her! Oh... hey, maybe I'll just go see if I can find her...

For no one, The Beatles - depression
Oh my god, I probably listened to this song a thousand times between 8th and 10th grade. It's so deliciously sad, another passive agressively wallower trying to break his ex-lovers cold, cold heart. Joseph, I totally agree about Wilco's "I am trying to break your heart;" I think this song may have been the inspiration because that is so clearly its deal.

You could actually probably do a break up CD just with Beatles songs. I'm a loser, Another Girl, Yesterday, You won't see me... And the scary scary background story of "Run for your life," where John Lennon threatens to 'cap a bitch,' if you will, should she ever cheat on him. I will move on.

Paper Tiger, Beck - depression, acceptance
When I started to play this album to pick a song, Pete said from the other room, "Ohhh. That album wins." Indeed. This is my favorite song on this album of favorite songs and I'm not sure how I ever registered it as a break up song as it's only the last line that let's you know it's about a girl. Guess I'm Doing Fine would be my other solid vote from this album, but Pete's right: you could just give someone this album and say, "For when you're depressed and looking to move on," and it would be just about perfect. Unless they're suicidal. "I just hold on to nothing / see how long nothing lasts" and "it's only lies that I'm living / it's only tears that I'm crying / it's only you that I'm losing / guess I'm doing fine" might not be the best lyrics for the suicidal mind.

Selfless, Cold and Composed, Ben Folds Five - anger
Although ostensibly about accepting a break up, the singer is really this close to trying to bargain his way back in. He's pissed, she's already moved on (maybe) and she's making it really hard for him to try and hurt her the way he wants to.

Train in Vain, The Clash - passive aggression
Okay, that just needs to be a category. This is another song about a guy who was wronged, he wants her back, but he "supposes" there's nothing he can do. It sounds like acceptance, but he's still hanging on. It's not really anger either, in this case though. Not with lyrics like, "without your love, I won't make it through." The real question is: do these songs have a place on a break up album? If the point is to lead someone through the five stages of grief, starting out angry and hurt but leaving the 1-2 hours of music happy and ready to start over, is there a place for Mr. Passive Agressive Woe Is Me?

Little Hands, Duncan Sheik - bargaining
Okay, I know I'm going to get a raft of shit for owning, knowing and (god forbid) liking this album, but there it is. This is a weird song; its protagonist is in love with a woman who's told him there's no relationship there ("I need another lover like a hole in the chest") but keeps stringing him along. In the end, she cuts him loose and attempts to make him feel small, but he's too focused on the fact that he survived and thinks that maybe there's a chance for some future lovin': "I'll let it go but I'll never say never."

Okay, I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself, so I'll leave it here for now. If I add anymore, I'll do it in the comments section. I look forward to seeing more ideas from you all!