Tuesday, August 10, 2010

And, bring on the hearing aid, please!

My inability to understand popular song lyrics is getting worse, to the great amusement of my sons, who can understand anything, including obscure mispronounced rap. Not only do I literally not understand the "enunciation" (if one can properly call it that), but I also do not understand the slang, culture, context--it might as well be beamed down from outer space by aliens.

Lately we (the boys and I) have fallen madly in love with the Seattle band Fleet Foxes. We started with the legendary "Mykonos," and then started snooping around on Rhapsody for the rest of their songs. We also found a fantastic video, a claymation by the lead singer's elder brother. The song is called "White Winter Hymnal," and we have had many discussions about what its possible meanings are/are not. Some of our ideas about meaning are grisly--or perhaps it doesn't mean anything and it's just an exercise in vocal beauty. For such a tiny lyric (the same thing three times and it's over), it's a hauntingly beautiful song with the usual unbelievable harmonies for which Fleet Foxes are known:


Anyway, the first time I heard the song, I of course MISheard it and was more confused than ever, to the boys' great delight. They LOVE it when I make linguistic mistakes and lord it over me with glee. I thought the lines were

The eye was following The eye was following The eye was following . . . (etc.)
The pack of SWALLOWS in their coats
With scarves of red tied 'round their throats
To keep their little heads
From falling in the snow . . .

'Tis a puzzlement, no? I said, "Why would a pack of swallows be wearing scarves? Why would the scarves keep their little heads from falling in the snow? And, swallows are migratory and show up at Mission San Juan Capistrano on March 19th; why would they be flying over the snow in the first place?"

Tyke cracked up, and said, "NO, MOM! It's 'I was following the/I was following the/I was following . . . The pack all swallowed in their coats/With scarves of red tied 'round their throats/To keep their little heads/From falling the snow.' Gees, Mom, you are so STUPID sometimes!"

I still don't understand why red scarves would keep anybody's head from falling in the snow, unless it's a gang-related costume, and unless the Michael referenced later is not part of the correct gang. I have also considered that it was about dogsled teams, but that doesn't really seem to pan out, either. However, the part I find grisly is

And I turned 'round and there you go
And Michael you would fall
And turn the white snow red as strawberries in summertime

Sounds like bleeding out to me. Yeccchhh! But I still love the song and the video, meaning or no.



At 8/10/2010 4:16 PM, Blogger Stefanie said...

I believe Robin Pecknold has said that the song, while lyrically mostly meaningless, was loosely written about a loss of innocence in childhood when his friends, "the pack", changed very quickly and turned their backs on friendships. More importantly, the song was about the beautiful harmonies.


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