The Words

I’m fascinated/confused by this idea that people listen to music without giving a fuck what the words are. It came up at the Hooded Utilitarian and it still blows my mind. What, then, do people sing in the shower, if they don’t know the words to songs?

This morning I sang in the shower “Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight, Lady?”

And I thought about how our parents would always put on “The Red-Headed Stranger” in the trailer while we were camping so that we would fall asleep while they were out talking or playing cards.

And then I was kind of bummed that I didn’t know the words to “Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?”

Because I would have sung that. Ha, you know, it’s kind of beside the point I’m trying to make (which is a meandering point anyway), but you know that Charles Wolfe would have known who the fiddler on this recording was, either just because he knew who Charlie Poole’s fiddler was, or because he’d listen to it and be able to make a guess just by sound (Wikipedia suggests it’s Posey Rorer). I really like Poole’s version because I feel like we’re listening to something that is recognizable as proto-bluegrass–the heavy fiddle, the plinky, show-off-y banjo, the nasal singing.

But I would not have sung “Red River Valley,” because it’s so sad.

Anyway, if you don’t know the words, aren’t those the same song?

4 thoughts on “The Words

  1. Music is background to me, rather than entertainment all on its own. I rarely know the words to a song, with the exception of whatever hook it has.

  2. So W–are you saying you never go to a concert or show to see and hear music and never big music because it’s grabbed you to play again and again? Both of those would seem to add up to choices and focus more than “just background.” (Anybody who makes or cares about music and sees it as something important knows well that many people do indeed just see it as a sort of background utility, but then, I guess Rembrandts are just a ilttle useful decoration, background-visual wallpaper for some, too )

  3. I listen to music with lyrics in languages I don’t know. And I know most of the world does too; we Americans are the exception in almost always listening to music in English. But when it’s English, I do pay attention to the lyrics. I just also like some other stuff too despite not knowing what it’s about. I like the feeling rather than the whole package.

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