Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Slimbo-Lyricology: "Wish You Were Here"

So we've covered the honky tonk song.  Next up, my take on the old Appalachian suicide song. (Of course, the genre is really much older: songs that migrated from the British Isles to the American hills; reinvented themselves in this new enclave; got turned into bluegrass songs, commercial recordings, which got listened to a whole bunch by yours truly;1 whose brain blenderized them and plunked out this song (which then gets rendered as bare-bones garage rock).)2
The day I was born I cried and I cried.
My momma held me near.
The night you left I cried like a baby.
Oh, how I wish you were here.

You're gone, gone, gone.
I'm all alone.
You never shed a tear.
There ain't nothing for me in
This old world.
Oh, how I wish you were here

The first time I lived was the day you loved me.
I lived every day you were near.
The first time I died was the night you left me.
Oh, how I wish you were here.

You're gone, gone, gone…

The next time I die is gonna be the last time.
Perhaps you'll shed one tear,
And remember the love I thought would last forever.
Oh, how I wish you were here.

You're gone, gone, gone…
One of the curious aspects of this particular lyric structure is that every other line has to end with a word that rhymes with "here". I didn't plan it that way, but it worked out fine.

1 I didn't just listen to the commercial bluegrass stuff. I was also obsessed for a while with Lomax-ian field recordings.

2 I've read grammar books that say various grumpy or complicated things about nested parentheticals. But I'm a programmer and we use these constructs all the live-long day. (Some programming languages use almost nothing but nested parentheticals.) I don't see the problem. Up with nested parentheticals! Down with grammar-grumpiness!


  1. Have you really read grammar books complaining about nested parentheses? I can't imagine they would ever address the topic, since it's so stylistically weird. I don't think I've ever read published prose with nested parentheses-- not in a newspaper, not in a book, not in advertising copy. Nor on hand-written menus, or some such trove of common style snafus. Maybe DFW?

    I think they're apt for you post, but that's because I consider you the DFW of bluegrass-blogging.

    1. Point by point:

      1. Yes, I have read about the subject (since I do a lot of it), and I've seen a couple of flavors of recommendation:

      a. Use a complicated set of different symbols as you nest further and further: (…[… etc. …]…) This is annoying and unnecessarily complicated. (In programming, we nest parentheses inside parentheses (inside parentheses) and it works just fine. Same symbol. Same intent.)

      b. Just don't do it. Rework the sentence so the nested parentheses aren't required. For fancy Standard English, I agree. But I abuse English as a hobby, so for Slimbo-bloggy style, they're fair game. (And my brain thinks in nested parentheses (and footnotes (and lists)) so why shouldn't I write that way?)

      2. Yes, David Foster Wallace uses them abundantly — and also footnotes. The first time I stumbled across his work, it sort of freaked me out: like someone had taken my own stylistic quirks and amplified them by an order of magnitude. (And more generally, his brain seemed to run much like mine, but again, taken to an extreme.) Note: I've just been dipping into Infinite Jest for a second time, so perhaps its no coincidence that I'm pondering baroque grammatical constructs.

      3. I am honored by your bluegrass-comparison.

  2. I agree with you on (a.) It's interesting to me that parentheses are not one symbol-- like the dash, comma, or period-- but a pair of symbols. And they have to face complementary directions to make sense. Put right-facing ones where some left-facing ones should go and your nested parentheticals immediately become nonsense.

    On (b.), I think it might depend on whether you take the spoken word-- in which there are no punctuation marks-- as the ideal for writing. This is related to the fact that in older texts, punctuation tends to be less syntactical and more rhythmic-- that is, a comma is merely a direction to pause, and a period to pause longer. And really old writing didn't even use punctuation. So maybe the farther we get from the spoken word the more we drift into the punctuation-drenched world of DFW. Any way, you said you think in parentheses. Do you speak in them?

    1. a. Yeah. I suspect complicated nested parentheticals would be almost unreadable by humans. The mirror symmetry adds clarity. (We geeks use all sorts of tools and tricks to keep these structures as clear as possible.

      b. My words do sometimes tumble out in this mode — starting a sentence, forking off into some side note, and perhaps a further deviation, then returning to the main, thread, etc. Though of course it's far looser than the written structures. (Semi-tangentially (eh, see?): footnotes also mimic certain coding structures — they lingo varies but basically we call sub-routines or -method. You have some main algorithm, some main line of thought, some main algorithm you're specifying. But putting every step of the instructions in one big linear sequence quickly gets cumbersome and unreadable. So we break out little pieces into sort of sub-algorithms, and we break those out into a different piece of text, and then we just reference those from the main line of logic: "go do this other complicated thing that I don't want to spell out here, and when you're done, come back here...". Footnotes/sub-routines — they occupy similar corners of my brain.)

  3. Kirsten in Chi-town8:34 PM

    fascinating! (!(?))