Thursday, November 27, 2014

"I don't understand," she said mondegreenly

Just got through with a hilarious conversation about Taylor Swift's song "Blank Space," in which she sings "Got a long list of ex-lovers; they'll tell you I'm insane," but tons of people hear something like "All the lonely Starbucks lovers...."

Haha!! There have been a couple of articles about it. They only give us half-baked ruminations on mondegreens. But they don't really tell you why you misheard the lyric.

The main reason is that she disobeys the laws of English lyric-writing. A pop song should rhyme and scan seemingly effortlessly. When you have to put THE acCENT on THE wrong sylLABle in order to make it fit the musical phrase, you'll always murder the phrase.

For instance, if she were to write a boppy melody that goes, with a steady BOM baBOM BOM baBOM BOMba, "GOT a LONG LIST of EX LOVers," the exact same phrase would be perfectly understood.

Or, conversely, if she kept the same melody and rhythm but changed the lyrics to "Got a longish list of exes" (admittedly a terrible line), then the scansion of the music would match the natural accents of the phrase and you'd understand it.

As it stands, she's constrained herself to say "Gotta long lst-OV-x-LOV-rs"— English is especially strict because of our tendency to assign any non-stressed syllable a schwa sound (that "eh" or "uh") rather than the vowel's normal value. So, speaking it, you'd say "LONG LIST əv EX LOVərs," something very different from the song's "LONG ləst OV əx LOVərs".

Yeouch! "LONG ləst OV əx LOVərs"?!?! Madness!!

That is why your brain goes to the trochaic "Lonely Starbucks." It's the closest thing you can land on.

So, in the language of scansion, the melody, which goes "badaBAAdump BAAdump BAAdump," asks for four trochaic feet in a row (or a pyrrhic and three trochees), but her lyric, "Got a long list of ex-lovers," consists of a pyrrhic, a spondee, an iamb, and a trochee.

got a | LONG LIST | of EX | LOV ers.

Catherine suggests replacing my awkward suggestion with "Got a longish list of lovers." PERFECT!!

got a | LONG ish | LIST of | LOV ers

Swift is pretty much a pop genius, but even pop geniuses can have off days. The best pop songs just pop right out of your mouth, with the spoken inflection matched perfectly by the rhythm and melody. Most "mondegreens" in modern pop result from the songwriter's failure to do that.

Also bothersome: the Nashville girl suddenly goes Cockney with "They'll tell you oim insane." Where on earth did she get that??

My experience tells me some misguided enunciation coach (called, wrongly, "diction coaches" for some reason), heard her "ahm" on the first take and told her to fix it. That's doubly funny because one of the nudgy things that nudges our ears toward "Starbucks" is the long history of r-dropping in American pop music, which is strongly influenced by singers from r-dropping areas, who also "ahh" out our "i" sounds. Ironic!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

a remarkable spaniard

This week, a true original died. Thursday, the Duchess of Alba gave in to pneumonia at the age of 88, in her 14th-century castle in Seville. Her full name was María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart, Silva, Falcó y Gurtubay. No wonder people just called her Cayetana, the Duchess of Alba.

But she wasn't just that. She was also the 15th Duchess of Aliaga, the 4th Duchess of Arjona, the 11th Duchess of Berwick, the 17th Duchess of Híjar, the 11th Duchess of Liria and Jérica, the 11th Duchess of Montoro, the 12th Countess-Duchess of Olivares, the 17th Marquise of the Carpio, the 10th Marquise of San Vicente del Barco, the 16th Marquise of La Algaba, the 16th Marquise of Almenara, the 18th Marquise of Barcarrota, the 10th Marquise of Castañeda, the 23rd Marquise of Coria, the 14th Marquise of Eliche, the 16th Marquise of Mirallo, the 20th Marquise of la Mota, the 20th Marquise of Moya, the 17th Marquise of Orani, the 12th Marquise of Osera, the 14th Marquise of San Leonardo, the 19th Marquise of Sarria, the 12th Marquise of Tarazona, the 15th Marquise of Valdunquillo, the 18th Marquise of Villanueva del Fresno, the 17th Marquise of Villanueva del Río, the 27th Countess of Aranda, the 22nd Countess of Lemos, the 20th Countess of Lerín, Constabless of Navarre, the 20th Countess of Miranda del Castañar, the 16th Countess of Monterrey, the 20th Countess of Osorno, the 18th Countess of Palma del Río, the 12th Countess of Salvatierra, the 22nd Countess of Siruela, the 19th Countess of Andrade, the 14th Countess of Ayala, the 16th Countess of Casarrubios del Monte, the 16th Countess of Fuentes de Valdepero, the 11th Countess of Fuentidueña, the 17th Countess of Galve, the 18th Countess of Gelves, the 16th Countess of Guimerá, the 21st Countess of Modica, the 24th Countess of Ribadeo, the 25th Countess of San Esteban de Gormaz, the 12th Countess of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the 20th Countess of Villalba, the 12th Viscountess of la Calzada, and the 29th Lady of Moguer.

All that makes her not only the grandest grandee in the world (with more titles recognized by an existing government than any other person on earth), but one of its great landowners: if you planned it out the right way, you could walk from Spain's eastern border to its western one without ever stepping off her property.

Her marriage to a (lesser) noble in the 40s was Spain's last great feudal wedding, and one of the century's most dazzling — her jewelry alone was worth 15 million in today's dollars. But, for such a pedigreed figure, she was unbound by the restrictive rules of her class and time. After her first husband died, she married her confessor, a defrocked Jesuit priest; more scandalous, he himself was an ilegítimo, a bastard, having entered the priesthood in the first place by the old path of having been left on the church doorstep. The public was shocked; Cayetana, no respecter of persons, went right ahead. When he died, and she planned to marry a civil servant 25 years her junior, her family rebelled, no doubt concerned that he was in it to rob them. Her response was to simply sign over all their inheritances to them early, and marry the man. At the wedding, the 85-year-old countess/duchess/grandee kicked off her shoes and commenced to dance flamenco.

She loved dancing; she owned Christopher Columbus's first map of the Americas; she wore giant floppy hats, bright hippieish dresses, and fishnet stockings. By dint of various aristocratic fine-print, she was free to enter Seville Cathedral on horseback with impunity, didn't have to kneel before the Pope, and, whenever she ran into the Queen of England, the Queen had to curtsy to her.

No doubt a flawed human being, she nonetheless got the answers right again and again. Under that resolutely frizzy crown of hair was a brain that understood that her power and privilege could buy her the freedoms that few women of her place and time could enjoy, but which we should all aspire to — not the puny freedoms of riches and leisure that we too often settle for, but the real freedoms of the human spirit: to see people for who they are and love them and associate with them regardless of what others think, to recognize love when it comes your way, to do a stomping dance when you feel like it (and to put in the work so that you're in shape to do it).

When you preserve the Glory of Spain by gathering it in such concentration and then squandering it so happily, there's a name for it: kenosis.

Farewell, Cayetana, nobody's duchess, a spirit as free as ours were all created to be.

My favorite story? When she was 62, a lifetime of rebellion against society's rules found its peak: she curtsied to the Queen.

Friday, November 14, 2014

meat and buns and supply and demand

If you want to be thoroughly confused about the free market, consider the strange case of Kim Kardashian. There is, after all, hardly a shortage of pictures of women's naked backsides on the internet. How on earth does she get this kind of attention for something with which the market is so glutted?

I feel the same way about Sports Illustrated every year: it's nothing other than marketing genius that somehow makes a legion of people wait in eager anticipation for the release of ... a magazine with pictures of models in swimsuits.

With the McRib, McDonald's is basically a commodities trader: whenever pork prices fall below a certain margin, they roll it out and make money, benefitting additionally from the scarcity. No mystery there. But imagine a situation in which every year McDonald's introduced ... a hamburger, and people went nuts, even though they and every other hamburger place paper our world with hamburgers. We could only conclude that it's some sort of sorcery that's overriding the usual laws of supply and demand.

All this makes me hungry for Girl Scout cookies. Dang it! It's not February! How in the world will I get hold of the exact same mint chocolate cookies that are always available everywhere in every grocery store? Oh well, I'll just have to wait.

Monday, November 10, 2014

i loved your kids

I worked with teens at our church from my own teen years until almost the age of 40. I'd love to gather all their parents somehow and say, "I loved your kids! And, whatever your experience with them was, I feel fortunate because I suspect I got their best. As an adult who had no temporal authority over them, I got their deepest and truest thoughts, their most uninhibited laughter, their fresh insight. I loved every minute of it."

I got probing questions about the big-brush issues like how we know there even is a God at all, and the most fine-point issues like whether the Salmanticenses were heretical, and all in between. I got the most direct please-help-me pleas like "I've started doing drugs and I'm not sure my parents know but I'm not sure I can quit," and roundabout inquiries about whether this or that constitutes rape or whether I think smoking marijuana is a sin. (I derived great pleasure from dispensing guidance that, if followed, would lead kids toward a long, healthy, Christ-loving future with no baggage, without ever nagging or resorting to because-I-said-so.)

Most of all, I just got to see them being themselves, trying on different selves to be, and interacting with each other.

God designed these people to be choosing careers and getting married and establishing households and bearing children during their teen years; we have placed a near-impossible burden on teens by denying and delaying those steps. Nearly every clucked-over pathology attributed to teens can be traced to the frustration of those very real — biologically-mandated — urges to live in one's own space and deal with the opposite sex and take care of babies and escape parental authority and make one's own decisions.

Merely respecting them, respecting the fact that they are fully people, respecting their interests, respecting this burden society has placed on them, will buy us all much. I always tried to do so with the kids I worked with, and, goodness, I hope I can remember to with my own children, which as we all know isn't guaranteed.

Meanwhile, I cherish those generations of kids, now adults with their own kids. I loved getting up early in the morning for them, staying out late with them, ingesting probably half a ton of semi-good food with them at EZs and Alamo Cafe, studying and studying to bring solid and memorable teaching to them. Most of all, I loved your kids. I saw many of them at their best, and I loved them.