Friday Morning Download – "Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam

Is it me or do songs that degenerate into post-linguistic revelry provoke the uncontrollable drive to sing along? I have found this utterly ironic – once language moves beyond the framing of a linguistic system (‘La La La’) and into the pure utterance of sound qua sound – we feel some permission to draw closer and want to join in. Here is an example: think of the 1969 song “Kiss Him Goodbye” written by Gary DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer and Paul Leka. Surely one of the most covered songs in pop music given its popularity at sporting events as a trumpet blast to the competition from the soon-to-be winning fans that the game is about up. The lyrics as written are a mess – here is the chorus:

Na-na na-na-na na na na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye Hey hey-hey, goodbye
Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye
Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye
Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye [repeat many times and fade out]

However, even the most staunch and dour churchmen will open his wee gob and belt this out alongside the roaring masses. It is a strange thing to behold – the same devout and earnest churchmen will sit in utter stillness during a song with lyrics drawn straight from the Psalms but ‘refrain’ from joining in the refrain in order to protest the instrumentation of choice.

You can see the same thing in “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down” by The Band (“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and the bells were ringing, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, and the people were singin’. They went La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La, La”) and many other tunes.

Part what drives this home for me is that this is where my daughter joins in as well. Recently we were singing along to Ernie and Bert’s Sesame Street classic “La La La song” where Ernie and Bert try to think of words that begin with “L” (i.e. “La La La Laughter… La La La Lumps in my oatmeal…””) Both girls love this song and belt out their respective choices throughout the 3 minute ditty. My oldest told me the other day why she loves this song: “This is such a fun song, Daddy – I like songs that smile”) .

I am not advocating for barking and howling through a service of worship by any means… but sometimes worship should provide the most guttural points of entry for anyone wishing to enter in. Yes, maybe even language itself moves aside to bid welcome and invite those who can make some noise – any at all – to the congregational gathering of song. I think of this during Christmas when during the candle light services with “Silent Night” some churches will advocate “humming the tune” amidst the wash of silent darkness broken by wee flickering of flame. It still moves me to hear the humming – maybe because there is something there that I can’t put my finger – something I don’t understand that beats deep below my understanding. Maybe we just need to hum along a bit more in church or offer some space for “La La La” every once and a while…and give people the space to join in…

Thoughts?

4 Comments

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  1. Someday soon, I hope, we’ll have a return to the day in which the human voice became akin to yet another instrument — the reason, I suppose, I really like jazz vocal a bit more than I do exclusively jazz instrumental. There is something about the instrumentality about the voice, & the aesthetic potential of its sounds.

    Even more interesting, for me, than the use of non-longuistic sounds — be it ‘la la la’ or beat-box — is when somebody sings or speaks a word, and it becomes something entirely different than otherwise imagined. It’s not simply that such versions ‘make them different’, more dark or more fun, but that they expose the malleability of the linguistic, and the power of that malleability. Greg Dulli, of the much beloved Afghan Whigs, and now of the Twilight Singers, has this down when he is at his best — especially in his cover versions of love songs.

  2. I agree with you Brad – there is something in jazz vocal that approaches the “instrumentality of the voice” that I was trying to get at. I remember going to a Bobby McFerrin concert a few years back with the Seattle Symphony and was spellbound by the ways in which he created ‘music’ – too bad he will always be marked as the “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” guy – quite a visionary talent.

  3. I think that there is something in male vocals nowadays that takes me completely. How often do you get it that gys actually sing these days? Its always talking, screaming, rapping, or someone hopelessly trying to make a tune. But to find someone that truly sings, that’s something that can make my day.

  4. Jeff, this seems to link up in a way w/ my FMD on sigur ros and thoughts about their “hopelandic” singing, which is great! (their new album is out this month, by the way – sometime in the middle, i think.) i think this – what shall we call it, a digression into pre-linguistic sounds, like baby noises that still somehow communicate volumes, or an evolution into post-linguistic communication, pointing toward the possibility that we won’t always have to rely on flawed language to communicate w/ one another.

    Good calls all around on beat-boxing, jazz singing, Greg Dulli, Bobby McFerrin – I’d add Bjork and Tom Waits to the list, for sure. It takes real talent, not to mention courage, to do such amazing and unusual things with your vocal instrument.

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