24 December 2011

In Which I Swoon Against My Will

All of my ridiculous Christmas song posts so far have been about older songs. Today I'm looking at a more contemporary song. To be honest, this is a seriously guilty pleasure. I adore this song. I don't want to like it, but I do! In fact, this song makes me all melty inside. You know, like some old school Boyz II Men ballads or something, except it's.... come a little closer so I can whisper. I don't want everyone to hear. It's... *NSYNC.

Oh yes, dear readers. The boyish Justin Timberlake, the dreadlocked Chris Kirkpatrick, clean-cut Lance Bass, manly Joey Fatone, and silky-voiced JC Chasez. And yes, I knew all their names without having to look it up. My guilty pleasure Christmas song is Under My Tree, from their 1998 Christmas album, Home For Christmas. Before I analyze the lyrics, let's just listen:

Ah, the late nineties' boy band sound! The bad fashion! The frosted hair! What's not to love?

At first listen, it's a sweet, if cheesy, song that would make any pre-teen girl scream with glee. But let's look a little closer at the lyrics to see the unexpected sexiness - as well as the outright goofiness - that make me love this song so much.

It's that time of year
Christmas is here
Everybody's back together again
Spreading the joy,
Spreading good cheer
Toasting to another year's end
So thankful for,
All of our friends
When the party is over,
The night's just begun (oh hello... does this mean what I think it means?)
I promise the best part
Is yet to come
Slow dance together,
Two become one (yes, this is exactly what I thought it meant! *NSYNC, you naughty boys)
That's what we've waited all day for

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then hold you all through the night
Under my tree (aww, here comes the first swoon!) Bring along the mistletoe
Keep the music nice and low
I'll show you how good it could be. (oh my, did it just get a little warm in here?) I wish that Santa could be here to see (who knew the big guy liked to watch? That's kinky)
It's beautiful
Under my tree

The fire's aglow
We've got Nat King Cole
Singing us a song from his heart
Sleigh bells and snow
Makes us feel close
To the stars
When carols are sung and
The fire has died
The embers still burns with the love in our eyes (CHEESE ALERT! And yet... I bet you just swooned, didn't you?) We cherish the moment
We savor the night
That's what we've waited all day for

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then hold you all through the night
Under my tree
Bring along the mistletoe
Keep the music nice and low
I'll show you how good it could be.
I wish that Santa could be here to see
It's beautiful
Under my tree

No one but me
No one but you
See rendez-vous (under my tree)
No one but me
No one but you

When the party is over,
The night's just begun
I promise the best part
Is yet to come
We slow dance together,
Two become one
That's what we've waited all day for (Yep, can't you just feel that anticipation, like you have indeed been waiting all day?)

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then hold you all through the night
Under my tree (under my tree) (cue another swoon!)

Bring along the mistletoe
Keep the music nice and low
I'll show you how good it could be. (Oh yeah, show me how good it could be... Uh, I mean... yeah...)
I wish that Santa could be here to see
I wish that Santa could be here to see (Well... does Santa really have to watch?)

No one else but me and you
Nothing I would rather do
Then make all your dreams come true
Under my tree
Such a cozy rendez-vous
Just relax enjoy the view
I'll show you how could it could be.
I wish that Santa could be here to see
It's beautiful, beautiful, beautiful under my tree (Aww... and the final swoon!)
It's that time of year
Christmas is here
It's that time of year
Christmas is here
Full of love and good cheer.

So that's my ridiculous song guilty pleasure. What's yours?

I hope you've had fun looking at some silly Christmas songs with me over the past couple weeks. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

17 December 2011

Skating - Is That What Kids Call it These Days?

As my last installation in the ridiculous Christmas lyrics series showed, sometimes the meaning of a song can change when taken out of the social context in which it was originally penned. Certain words take on new connotations over time, which can make for some comical interpretation. There's this one song at work that everyone just hates. It's annoying. But it makes me laugh because of what was obviously not intentional innuendo. It's called I Wanna Go Skating with Willie. Yes, you read that right.  I assume the writer used the name Willie because it played off the other lyrics of "will he" and "willy-nilly", but considering the modern slang usage of willy, it just makes it sound comically obscene.

Unfortunately there is no YouTube video for this song, and I couldn't find anywhere to direct you to listen to it for free, except for places like Spotify, where you need be logged into an account to listen. So here's a Spotify link for it (Patti Page – I Want To Go Skating With Willie) , or you can search for it on Lastfm or any of those other places. Here are the lyrics:

I wanna go skating with Willie
Cause Willie is such a good skate
I wanna go skating with Willie
But will Willie ask for a date?

(Willie's a good skate, huh? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?)

That Willie's got me willy-nilly
My poor heart is ready to break
I would like to go skating with Willie, but will he?
Cause Willie is such a good skate

(Did you snort a little at willy-nilly? I know I did.)

We'd go gliding, sliding
Over the slippery ice

(Gliding and sliding, eh? I guess Willie understands the importance of lube.)

We'd go sliding, gliding
Gee, but that Willie is nice

(She really likes her Willie.... *wink*)

We'd go gliding, sliding
Gosh, but that Willie is great
I would like to go skating with Willie, but will he?
Cause Willie is such a good skate.

(Willie must really know how to use his, uh, well, you know.)

We'd go gliding, sliding
Over the slippery ice
We'd go sliding, gliding
Gee, but that Willie is nice
We'd go gliding, sliding
Gosh, but that WIllie is great
I would like to go skating with Willie, but will he?
Cause Willie is such a good skate
Cause Willie is such a good skate.

Please, if you're on Spotify, click the link above and have a listen, or find this song elsewhere on the internet. If you think the lyrics are hilariously awful, just wait til you hear it with the music.

Next time, I'll be talking about a modern Christmas song that I'm ashamed to say makes me swoon a little.

14 December 2011

Write Me a Song

Since I've been talking a little bit about Christmas songs, I thought I'd take a slight detour and talk about how songs relate to writing in general. This post originally appeared on 11/10/11 at From The Write Angle as Crossing the Bridge: Song Structure and Plot. I'll be back in a few days with more silly Christmas songs!

I was marveling the other day about how some of my favorite singer-songwriters can really tell a whole story in a four-minute song. I love a good ballad, especially. The music, lyrics, the singer's voice, everything works together to take you on a roller coaster ride of emotion. I tend to write character-driven stories, and it's that same gut-wrenching ride that I strive to impart to my reader. This got me thinking. What can fiction writers learn from songwriters? The answer, I believe, lies in structure.

Thinking back to your elementary and middle school English classes, you may remember charting the plot of a book using something like this:

Look familiar? Was I the only one who felt constricted by this particular diagram? Exposition and rising action were no problem. For the most part, falling action was a no-brainer, and denouement was easy peasy. But I often faltered around the climax. (Please, no psychoanalysis of that statement is necessary.) In many books, the climax felt more like a series of events—a plateau, if you will. And that straight line of rising action is really more of a procession of peaks and valleys. When you break it down, it looks a bit like a song. (For these purposes, "song" refers mainly to current popular music. Song structure varies greatly, not only within but across genres as well.)

The exposition is your basic intro, and the rising action starts with the first verse, followed by the chorus. The verse tells the story, and the chorus gives you the overall theme of the song. (Don't ask me why, but I'd never realized this basic premise of storytelling vs. theme until I read it in those concrete terms, and then I thought of just about every song I'd ever heard and—whaddya know? It's true!) Many songs also have a bridge, which I have come to realize is my favorite part.

Let's take a listen to one of my recent favorites, Take it All, by Adele.

The verse does indeed tell you the story, and the chorus gives you the theme. When the chorus comes in for the first time, there's a burst of new emotion, like a mini-climax, before we come back down a notch for another verse. The bridge starts around 2:08—this is where you hear things change, and instead of coming back down to the emotional/dynamic level of the verse again, we start another build of emotion. It's not a one-note type of climax, it's a gradual build toward and satisfying release from the point of highest emotional impact. The repetition of the chorus closes the song and drives home the general theme again. Was it as good for you as it was for me? A great song has you yearning for that bridge, for those few bars where it all comes together and makes the hair on your arms stand up.

So let's go one more time. Gravity, by Sara Bareilles, is another song that gives you the same ebb and flow of tension in the alternation of verse and chorus, then knocks your socks off with a great bridge (which starts at 2:25). I dare you to try not to get swept up in the tension. I've listened to this song hundreds of times, and I still take a deep breath at the peak of the bridge, when she sings the word "down," and hold it until she releases. Exquisite.

So what can we take away from this (besides learning of my penchant for soulful female singer-songwriters)?

Instead of a three-act structure, or the linear rise and fall in those old plot charts that seem to turn on a dime at the apex, think of your story as a song, or a series of songs. Tell your story in the verses, intertwined with conflicts that help us understand the overarching themes of your novel (the chorus). Build toward that spine-tingling climax. I want you to take me over the bridge. Give me a few moments to savor the dizzying heights before you wrap me up in another cozy chorus and send me on my way.

You can use this structure on both a micro and macro level to weave a story rich with tension and emotion that reaches nearly addictive highs. If you can do that, you'll have me coming back for more of your product again, and again, and again...

What other aspects of songwriting can you apply to fiction? What songs intoxicate YOU with their emotion and powerful storytelling?

11 December 2011

The Date Rape Song: It's All About Context

Let me start with a disclaimer: you should read this post with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I don't believe this is actually the meaning of this song, and neither should you.

Baby It's Cold Outside is one of my favorite Christmasy songs. I love the back and forth structure, and it's just a cute little song. However, when you've been hearing it over and over again for two months (and it's still not even Christmas yet), you start to read a little more into the lyrics than perhaps you should.

The song was written by Frank Loesser in the 30s (not the 40s as the video states). We're talking 75 years ago. It's all about context here. Lyrics that made perfect sense back then feel a little different today. Take a listen:

Cute, right? Well, let's see...

It's clear when the song starts that she's saying she should go, and he's saying please stay. Here are the lyrics, with my comments in bold.

 I really can't stay 
But baby, it's cold outside
I've got to go 'way 
But baby, it's cold outside
This evening has been 
Been hoping that you'd drop in
So very nice 
I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice

He really doesn't want her to go, does he?

 My mother will start to worry 
Beautiful, what's your hurry?
And father will be pacing the floor 
Listen to the fireplace roar
So really I'd better scurry 
Beautiful, please don't hurry
Well, maybe just a half a drink more 
Put some records on while I pour

She said NO, buddy, okay? Don't press your luck! And chica, don't let a man sweet-talk you with all that beautiful stuff into doing something you don't want to.

The neighbors might think 
But, baby it's bad out there    Yeah, we get it. The weather's bad. She's still trying to leave.
Say, what's in this drink?    ROOFIE!
No cabs to be had out there
I wish I knew how
Your eyes are like starlight now
To break the spell    WTF did you put in my drink... I feel funny...
I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell     No running away now...

I ought to say no, no, no sir    So say it! Don't let him bully you.
Mind if I move in closer?    What part of 'I really should go' would make you think that?
At least I'm gonna say that I tried
What's the sense of hurting my pride?    WHAT? Is this like the old-time equivalent of "If you loved me, you'd do it"?
I really can't stay
Oh baby, don't hold out   Don't hold out, PUT OUT!
Ah, but it's cold outside    No, don't succumb to his pressure!
Baby, it's cold outside    

I simply must go
But baby, it's cold outside
The answer is no    You tell him!
But baby, it's cold outside
The welcome has been
How lucky that you dropped in     (Cue maniacal laughter and evil hand-rub)
So nice and warm
Look out the window at that storm

My sister will be suspicious
Gosh, your lips look delicious
My brother will be there at the door
Waves upon a tropical shore
My maiden aunt's mind is vicious    In other words: People will be looking for me, you creep!
Gosh your lips are delicious     He just kissed her... even after her all her protests
Well maybe just a cigarette more    Where's your backbone??
Never such a blizzard before 

I got to get home
But baby, you'd freeze out there
Say, lend me your comb
It's up to your knees out there
You've really been grand    Has he, really? Sounds more like he's been a jerk.
I'm thrilled when you touch my hand
Why don't you see
How can you do this thing to me?    By 'this thing' I assume he means be such a tease.
There's bound to be talk tomorrow
Think of my lifelong sorrow
At least there will be plenty implied
If you caught pneumonia and died   WHAT?! This could be either another attempt to guilt her into staying, or a thinly veiled threat, as in, if you leave, you might "catch  pneumonia and die"
I really can't stay
Get over that hold out    He's gonna get what he wants
(Together:) Ah, but it's cold outside     

So, you see how a girl could misinterpret this little ditty as being an account of date rape, right?

Oh, and if you're really dimwitted enough to think this song is actually about date rape, please take a look at this.

In the next installment, I'll take a look at another very old song that makes me giggle with its unintended sexual innuendo.

06 December 2011

Totaled Up and Bagged: Ridiculous Christmas Lyrics

We've been playing Christmas music at my day job since... wait for it... November 1st. So I've had a lot of time to listen to and analyze a lot of lyrics. Instead of giggling to myself at work over some of the stupidity and/or unintended sexual innuendo in these Christmas songs, I thought I'd bring the joy to you, my dear readers. However, before I could even write my first post, a friend and fellow writer posted a brilliant note to Facebook picking apart the lyrics to a Dan Fogelberg song that I've always found annoying. His comments made me laugh, so I asked if I could post it here for you all, and he obliged (thanks, Ty!)

Give a nice Jello World welcome to Ty Unglebower, a freelance writer and actor who is just Too XYZ to conform to a typical nine-to-five kind of existence. And he loves power ballads. Can you say awesome? Check out his blog for more of his thoughts, and follow him on Twitter (@TyUnglebower).


Allow me here and now to lambaste, ridicule, mock, and overall hate that most holy of Christmas tunes…Dan Fogleberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.” (Great homonym, huh?)

For the uninitiated, this ditty has nothing to do with Christmas, save for the events taking place on a snowy December 24. Beyond this, it has no holiday connections whatsoever. The lyrics are garbage, and the tune is so wispy and whiny that you can do nothing with it. You cannot slow dance to it, or make out to it or anything. Listen for it this holiday season on ANY wall to wall Christmas station. You are bound to hear it sooner or later.

And now, join me, as I follow Dan, assisted by his actual lyrics, on his chance encounter with a former lover, whilst at the supermarket. Here we go…

Met my old lover in the grocery store,
The snow was falling Christmas Eve.
I stole behind her in the frozen foods,
and I touched her on the sleeve.

For starters, who the hell opts to go to the grocery store on Christmas Eve? Even if I ever had to, (which I seriously doubt), few things would make the already hated chore of grocery shopping worse than running into an ex-lover. I may not be able to avoid it, but I sure as hell would not call attention to myself.

Either way, who “steals” behind somebody? What kind of creepy bullshit is that?

Also, the term “frozen foods” is extraordinarily unsuited for just about any song, a ballad in particular. (Which, in theory, this is.) I am not saying it would never be appropriate, but any song that would meld these words successfully into its story arc should not posses the pretense that this song does. Moving on…

She didn't recognize the face at first,
but then her eyes flew open wide.
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse,
And we laughed until we cried.

I’ve laughed until I have “cried”, that is to say, had tears in my eyes, three, possibly four times in my whole life, including childhood. Point being, it doesn’t happen often, and while I grant that different things tickle different people, what sort of sheltered existence do these two people have to be living to find transcendental hilarity about a spilled purse?

We took her groceries to the checkout stand,
The food was totaled up and bagged.
We stood there lost in our embarrassment,
As the conversation dragged.

If this were any other song, “frozen foods” would be the worst lyric in the piece. But Fogleberg tops himself with what has to be the only such reference in ANY song ever, by singing the phrase, “totaled up and bagged”.

Lost in embarrassment as the conversation dragged…that’s generally, when I say, “nice to see you, goodbye.” Or in this case, I suppose I would add, “Merry Christmas.” Either way, I’d leave. Why push an already awkward moment? But do they leave it at that? No…

We went to have ourselves a drink or two,
But couldn't find an open bar.
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store,
And we drank it in her car.

Couldn’t find an open bar on Christmas Eve. You don’t say.

But no problem…you can drink a 6 pack IN HER CAR! Where is the missing verse describing the two of them being hauled off and booked for public consumption?

If I were actually dating this girl, that would feel a bit tacky to me. Even worse when it’s an ex…

Then the first of what seems like 90 recitals of the chorus…

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

If spending time with your ex in her car at the parking lot of a liquor store in the snow on Christmas Eve away from your family while throwing back a few doesn’t get you past the emptiness, nothing will.

And by the way, how fucking ridiculous would it be to lift up a beer can, or any drink for that matter, and utter the words... "To innocence!"

She said she'd married her an architect,
Who kept her warm and safe and dry,
She would have liked to say she loved the man,
But she didn't like to lie.

So you’re keeping her away from her family as well?

And sweetheart, get a backbone and leave if you don’t care for hubby…there are other places to stay dry. Perhaps it’s shit like this that forces her to drink…

I said the years had been a friend to her,
and that her eyes were still as blue.
But in those eyes I wasn't sure if I
saw, doubt or gratitude.

It’s doubt, if she’s got any taste. But then again, she’s sharing a 6 pack in a parking lot with Dan Fogleberg, so all bets are probably off.

Also, what a hatchet job Fogleberg did with the rhythm on this verse! Even if you know the song, you’ll choke on this verse. And why keep it? The message of this verse was so profound he couldn’t part with it?

She said she saw me in the record stores,
and that I must be doing well.
I said the audience was heavenly,
but the traveling was hell.

I quote verse two of this same song…”she didn’t recognize the face at first”.

But if she knew your face from the record store, why didn’t she recognize you at first?

A slightly altered chorus follows…

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to now.
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness,
But neither one knew how.

We drank a toast to innocence,
We drank a toast to time.
Reliving in our eloquence,
Another 'auld lang syne'.....

Please, PLEASE tell me that any reference to “eloquence” as it pertains to these two jokers is very much tongue in cheek. If I had to choose 1,000 words to describe this song, “eloquent” would not even make the list…

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired,
And running out of things to say.
She gave a kiss to me as I got out,
and I watched her drive away.

Just for a moment I was back at school,
and felt that old familiar pain.
And as I turned to make my way back home,
the snow turned into..........rain.

The finale.

To begin with, “beer” cannot be empty. A can can be empty of beer. Or a beer can can be empty. But beer itself is not empty. I’d forgive it as poetic license, if Fogleberg hadn’t pushed the boundaries of the English language about 14 times in this song already by this point. Or if there were any proof he was a poet.

Also, hard to believe you ran out of things to say, when there is no indication at all that either one of you said a damn thing of substance in the first place.

So she kissed you and you get out. Hey, babe, how about at least a ride back to the grocery store where he left his car?! Not that it matters; he appears to be walking home, not back to the grocery store anyway.

And Danny boy, nice way to treat the woman you loved so much; let her down three beers at least, and drive away as the snow turns into rain. Nothing dangerous there.

Not to mention the fact that he left the grocery store without getting whatever the hell he went in there for in the first place. Less surprising is the complete lack of any entourage on the part of Fogleberg at what was supposedly the height of his popularity. (When nobody, I suppose, could get “Leader of the Band” out of their heads.) Says something that even then, he was alone and void of human contact, except for a chance meeting with an ex.

Ironically, he describes his life as being nearly as vapid, aimless and pathetic as the song itself turns out to be.

I love Christmas Spirit…