Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lyrics vs. technology

Lately I've been going over songs that we haven't rotated onto our set lists in a while. It's a good idea to dust these off every now and again, as it's easier than you'd think to forget the words to your own stuff.

To that end, I practiced a song we hadn't performed in ages, "Good Intentions." In the process I realized that it could do with some revision. The basic setup: the narrator has been sitting around at a diner for an hour, waiting for a friend who never shows up. The problematic passage:
Slide the quarters in the pay phone
Softly ask your answering machine why you're not there
I wrote this in 2002, back before absolutely everyone carried cell phones everywhere. (Or maybe I was the only holdout. I don't remember.) Should I change the line, I wondered? On the one hand, there must still be people out there who can't afford cell phones. On the other hand, pay phones are nearly extinct. If I leave the lyrics as they are, listeners won't assume the narrator is poor; they'll assume the lyrics are dated. Which they are.

No problem, I mused. We never put "Good Intentions" on an album, so I still have the opportunity to bring the lyrics in line with current realities. It wouldn't be that hard.
Dial your number on my cell phone
Softly ask your answering machine why you're not there
Perfect. Except ...

It's one thing to wait an hour before heading to the pay phone to confirm you've been blown off. I can imagine myself doing just that. But it's another thing entirely to wait an hour before reaching for a phone that is attached to your person. Change "pay phone" to "cell phone" in the hypothetical scenario, and any sane human being would wait 15 minutes at most before calling to ask what's up. Change "pay phone" to "cell phone" in the song and it says something about our narrator's character that I hadn't intended to say.

Oh geez. I hadn't thought of this until right now, but the answering machine bit is dated too. You wouldn't call the friend's house first. You'd call the friend's cell.

Maybe I should just leave it alone ...


Jannie Funster said...

Dial your number on my cell phone
Grqab another beer and slump down in my chair?

Or is it a bar stool?

DeppityBob said...

Yeah, that's why nobody likes Jim Croce's "Operator" any more. Pay phones aren't a dime anymore and you wouldn't have to dial an operator to connect you anyway. And if you have to dial 411, it's all automated. So screw whatever that song is about. It sucks now.

(I'm thinking you should just leave it be.)