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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dogging Johnny Cash

Nancy and I were on a long car trip to the Gulf this weekend and listened to - among other things - a Johnny Cash CD. Be it said, I love Johnny Cash, but there's one of his songs I just hate.
Ring of Fire has got to be the dumbest song ever written. My friend Mike Dockins rages against a song that promises to take a lover to the Milky Way "and even Mars." "You can't say 'even Mars' like that's a topper! Mars is closer than the Milky Way. It's like saying we're going to Europe and even Alabama."
Apart from the incongruous and strangely appropriate Mexicali trumpets, "Ring of Fire" is the song that gets my goat. Listening in the car I figured out why. At least part of it has to do with figures of speech. I wrote down a stanza and identified the figure of speech used after each line.

The taste of love is sweet (Synesthesia - love doesn't have a flavor)
When hearts like ours meet (Metonymy - hearts don't really meet, lovers do)
I fell for you like a child (Dead metaphor - he didn't really "fall" and simile - he compares himself to a child.)
Oh, but the fire went wild. (Metaphor - comparing love to a fire)

Five figures of speech in four lines! The lines don't quite scan,but the real problem is they don't make sense. Are these hearts bumping into each other or eating something? Is this kid falling or playing with matches? Maybe he's falling while playing with matches.
Now so you don't think I'm picking on Johnny, I'll give some lines from a song I adore, Folsom Prison.

I bet there's rich folks eating in a fancy dining car
They're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars.
I know I had it coming, I know I can't be free,
But that train keeps a'moving, and that's what tortures me.

What I love about it, is the prisoner's vision of the good life. They're not drinking champagne or even whiskey; it's coffee, the sort of thing you might really miss behind bars. And locked in his cell, he imagines others also inside a room, a dining car - the intervening fields between the prison and the railroad and the empty miles beyond are too alien to his experience to touch his imagination. It's the thought being in a moving car that tortures him.
Anyway, Johnny, you know I'm still a fan even if I don't like "Ring of Fire." And I admit those trumpets are pretty cool. "Buh-ba-duh-ba-da-duh-duh-duh, Buh-ba-duh-ba-da-duh-duh-duh."

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