She actually said Playing, not Praying...

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/06/28 16:16 -04:00, original URI:

Nothing technical, feel free to pass, you know the drill...

Last night was not according to plan.

I kind of got stood up.

Well, not exactly.

We had sort of made plans but we're both pretty busy so this kind of thing happens.

The upshot, I ended up spending a quiet evening at home.

I chatted with Andrea a bit, via IM (she is trying to watch the phone bill a bit better than she has been, so no calls for a while).

With permission, I'll provide the [edited] conversation:

Andrea: I have a question for you
Michael: shoot.
Andrea: I know you have strong feelings about song lyrics
Michael: yes...
Andrea: what if a song has really strong meaning for you with the lyrics you thought were there?
Michael: thats a good point
Andrea: its not like I am obliged to be true to the artist's vision. I don't even know the artist!
Michael: so, what song in particular has you tied in knots here?
Andrea: what makes you say that?
Michael: cmon.
Andrea: so presumptuous. why can't I just be talking philosophically?
Michael: you can. But you aren't...
Andrea: fair enough
Michael: so tell me
Andrea: well, I don't want to offend you
Michael: ship sailed, and sunk. you can just tell me :-)
Andrea: its one from your girlfriend
Michael: who?
Andrea: an aimee mann song
Michael: ???? Aimee isn't my girlfriend.
Andrea: its an expression, let it pass
Michael: okay. so what's the song?
Andrea: video?
Michael: The Forgotten Arm, 7th track.
Andrea: you know that doesn't make you more attractive to women, right?
Michael: I'm aware of that. But I'm not on the prowl now.
Andrea: ship sailed
Michael: and sunk.
Andrea: I didn't say that. Waterlogged, maybe.
Michael: anyway, about Video....
Andrea: what I originally thought the song was ended up being totally wrong. I put the quotes in the chorus somewhere else, and I thought the word after video was PRAYING, not PLAYING. then I looked in the liner notes and saw that I was just all wrong.
Michael: That's okay. You basically might have made the song sweeter. Nothing wrong with that.
Andrea: really?
[I then reminded her of here, where I point out that although there are limits in general I don't mind this]
Michael: Look at the song before and the song after. The romance becomes less and less hopeful with each song. Making the song sweeter delays the inevitable by some fraction of 3.5 minutes. No shame in that.
Andrea: really?
Michael: yes, really. I mean it isn't too much -- it is either one quoting the other, or the other actually saying that part. Not too much difference except some of those words actually being said just make it warmer, I think.
Andrea: And what about the word mistake?
Michael: Well, that one I like thematically, and there is an interesting linguistic aspect, too.
Andrea: I sense a blog in the future.
Michael: Could be...

And in fact, it is. You're reading it, right now.

The line we're talking about, in the context of the first verse and chorus, runs like this:

Tell me why I feel so bad, honey --
TV's flat and nothing is funny.
I get sad and stuck in a cone of silence.
Like a big balloon with nothing for ballast,
labeled like a bottle for Alice --
drink me down or I'll drown in a sea of giants.

And tell me, "Baby, baby, I love you.
It's nonstop memories of you.
It's like a video of you playing.
(It's all loops of seven-hour kisses, cut
with a couple near-misses). Back
to the scene of the actor saying:
tell me, baby, baby – why do I feel so bad?'"

Maybe you can see what I mean if you look at the quote -- the theme is the same whether one is saying "tell me this" or it's a combination of that and the other actually doing some telling. The meaning doesn't change.

But the difference between

It's like a video of you playing.


It's like a video of you, praying.

is interesting from a language standpoint.

First there is the language side -- whether we are talking about what the video is doing (playing) or what might be in the video (praying).

The fact that the lines that follow cross sentence boundaries make inserting a pause there plausible, which in turn makes the change in lyric plausible, too.

Though in the end, praying does seem a little out of place, since the rest of it is about classic movie scenes and such. If I play the song and my eyes are closed I can almost hear it like she did, but the word doesn't seem to fit, then.

And of course there is the whole L vs. R distinction that in English we like to act is so different yet the actual sounds are close enough that mistakes such as mishearing which one is used can be quite common -- even when a language does distinguish them, like English.

I don't know if that makes this difference in some way different from the Flap D thing in some European languages that we can't distinguish in English or not. Though I'd be interested in knowing if it is a different kind of issue or not. Are the things that sound the same to some people really similar to the things that sound similar to us? And can training/habit only go so far in making unique distinctions?

Or are Americans just retards at this sort of thing?

As a side note, I was guessing about the length of the song. It turns out that the length of Video is 3:35, not 3:30.


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Doug V. on 30 Jun 2008 3:30 AM:

Dude, your friend is right. Knowing the track and album of a female singer's song is not the way to impress some other girl.

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