Thursday, September 01, 2005

Kansas City, Mondegreens, Litanies and Katrina

I have a mental tic that no one else I know seems to share -- at least no one I know will admit to it. This is it: whatever is on my mind, however subliminally, comes out in a song that I cannot let go of. I don't mean the old commercials that go 'round your brain. This is somewhat different. The song is dependent on whatever my preoccupation is, though I'm not always aware of the connections between them. Sometimes, when someone asks why I’m humming a particular song — why do people do that? Why do they ask you “why”? — I have to sit down and think about it. Ah well, any excuse to sit down.

Today, I’ve been singing “Kansas City.” It took me awhile to figure out why that tune, but finally, it made sense. And if you stick with me through this, you'll find out why, too.

Do you remember "Kansas City"?

I'm going to Kansas City
Kansas City here I come
I'm going to Kansas City
Kansas City here I come
They got a crazy way of loving there and I'm gonna get me one

I'm gonna be standing on the corner
12th Street and Vine
I'm gonna be standing on the corner
12th Street and Vine
With my Kansas City Baby and a bottle of Kansas City wine

Well I might take a plane I might take a train
But if I have to walk I'm going just the same
I'm going to Kansas City
Kansas City here I come
They got some crazy little women
there and I'm gonna get me one
Now I thought I knew who wrote "Kansas City: Chuck Berry. Turns out he didn't and not only that, I can't find it on his discography. However, in this search, I ran across alternative lyrics:

I'm goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come
Yes, goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come
They got a crazy way a-lovin' an' a I wanna get me some

I was standing on the corner, of 12th Street and Vine
Yeah, standing on the corner, of 12th Street and Vine
With my Kansas City woman an a bottle of Kansas City wine

Well I might take a plane, I might take a train
If I have to walk, I'm going there just the same

I'm going to, Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come
They got a crazy way a-lovin' an I wanna get me some
Oh yeah

Keep your hands off of her, don't belong to you
Keep your hands off of her, don't belong to you
She's mine all mine, no matter what she do
Well I might take a plane, I might take a train
If I have to walk, I'm goin' there just the same

I'm goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come
They got a crazy way a-lovin' an I wanna get me some
They got a crazy way a-lovin' an I wanna get me some
They got a crazy way a-lovin' an I wanna get me some!
Yeah!
These lyrics are credited to Jimmy Witherspoon and Albert King. However, when you look them up, only Jimmy Witherspoon gets the credit. Interesting. Albert King wrote "Hound Dog" -- yes, Elvis' song. Jimmy Witherspoon has some dysphoric lyrics in his oeuvre. My favorite line is I'm too old for the orphans and too young for the old folks'home. That man could've used some modern medicine.

And it is this second site which gives the alternate lyrics. Is this a case of mondegreens? Probably. It's a common phenomenon and some of the mistakes are hilarious.

Mondegreens, in my opinion, are the result of the poor diction of many singers. On the other hand, it is harder to comprehend words when they are sung as opposed to hearing them spoken. Some audiologist has probably told us why but I know better than to google that one. I'll get lost in all sorts of audiological tangents. Lord, it was bad enough when I just had the dictionary as a distraction. Google is downright dangerous.

Not surprisingly, the term 'mondegreens' comes from an Irishman's anecdote:

This term was coined when an author was referring to hearing "upon the green" as "mondegreen". Malachi McCourt, brother of Frank who wrote Angela's Ashes, titled his autobiography A Monk's Swimmin' which is how the little Irish boys heard the line from the Ave Maria/Hail Mary "blessed are thou amongst women".
Which reminds me of one of my mother's stories, but, my students, it is a story which will require background reading(this won't be on the quiz so cut out the moaning in the back of the room):

In the old Catholic days, pre-Vatican II, we said litanies. They were a kind of chanting prayer, usually devoted to a particular saint or to some aspect of God. One of my favorites was the one to the Blessed Mother. Its poetry moved me, even as a child.

Here's how it was done: the priest would say a phrase or sentence, and the congregation would respond. I don't ever remember them being sung, though they should have been. So, the priest might intone (BVM's litany of praises) "Star of the Sea" and the congregation would respond "ora pro nobis" (which after Vatican II became "pray for us" and post-post Vatican II, as the damage trickled down, litanies were done away with all together). There were many long lists of praises. Here is an excerpt from one of those for Mary:

Mystical rose,
Tower of David,
Tower of ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,
Morning star,
Health of the sick,
Refuge of sinners


For each of these, the response would be a rhythymical "pray for us." Chanted in the waning evening light coming through the stained glass windows, such prayers had a soothing effect. The trick was not to be impatient for the end but to surrender to the rhythms of the antiphony.

I suspect my mother was one of those impatient children. She and her girlfriends, feeling quite naughty, would deliberately change "ora pro nobis" to "oh, wrap your nose up," giggling and nudging one another. Little rebels they were. In effect, they deliberately created their own mondegreen. When she told me this story I was quite young and found it amazing that my mother could be so naughty. Those are the stories that make our parents seem a bit more human.

Here's a good mondegreen someone submitted for Amazing Grace:

The real lyrics were:
Amazing grace
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me


But I misheard them as:
Amazing grace
how sweet the sound
that saved some tents for me


If you go to the site, you can look up songs you may have wondered about and get the scoop on some famous mondegreens. For example, did you know that Hendrix's "kiss this guy" was not a mondegreen but a deliberate piece of schtick he used to do onstage? That's more amusing than the fable. You can also submit your own misheard lyrics. For example, in "Kansas City" the singers always stretched out the word "Vine" into several syllables in order to make it fit the notes. To my young ears, it sounded like "12th Street and Bottom." That puzzled me, but I figured if you can have a "High Street" then why not a "Bottom Street"? I imagined someone saying "yeah, things have gone downhill. I've hit Bottom."

But I digress (digression is how I live my ADDled life): I started out way back there wondering why can't I stop humming "Kansas City"? Simple. Underneath my daily routine, I am thinking of the mess on the Gulf. Outside the sun is shining and the air is so dry the basil and impatiens are wilting. Inside the house, it is cool. The computer is connected, the lights go on, everything is as usual. Dinner will be on time, there is clean laundry -- some of it even put away. But in Mississippi my doppleganger, if I have one in ol Miss, is experiencing something from another world. And so I think of her and her family and her house of memories covered in mud. If it's even standing.

I don't have television images to watch, but I lived briefly in New Orleans and lived long enough in Florida (where I was born and grew up) to have seen a few hurricanes. Thus, I don't need the images to be able to see in my mind's eye what the horror was and what this new one is now. If I had been there, definitely on Monday I'd have booked. Hurricane parties eliminate some members of the lower levels of the gene pool.

Well I might take a plane, I might take a train
If I have to walk, I'm goin' there just the same...
Goin' to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come...
No wonder the Baron insists on living on a plateau. In order for the James River to work its way up this ridge, the polar ice caps would have to melt. To the Baron, water is to drink and to visit. You never go to live there. Remind me to put that in The Little Book of Reasons I Married This Man.

8 Comments:

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Malabo said...

Not Exactly What Madison Had In Mind
University of Virginia law professor Vincent Blasi recently concluded that James Madison didn't understand the importance of the First Amendment until 10 years after he authored it.
Great blog here!

I have a ariens snow blowers 2 cycle blog, with resources about ariens snow blowers 2 cycle

Check it out if you get a chance!

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

Excellent blog you have here! I'm bokkmraking you right now!

Water, in the "branch" variety, is also occasionally used to mix with bourbon.

Or "borubno", as we dyslexic spam bots say.

 
At 4:51 PM, Blogger Dymphna said...

malabo--

the "mal' part is right you stupid malbot.

Take your snowblower and blow it out your...

...nevermind.

 
At 1:55 AM, Blogger nellodee said...

a mondegreen from my older brother's davy crockett tape--the lyrics were
"kilt him a bar (bear) when he was only three"
i always sang
"killed in a bar when he was only three"
do mondegreens have to make sense?

 
At 7:05 AM, Blogger Baron Bodissey said...

Nellie -- I remember that song from when it was new...

Mine was from "God Bless America":

"Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from a bulb."

I understand that this one is very common.

 
At 9:17 AM, Blogger Dymphna said...

Princess N--

Mondegreens don't have to make sense The word "mondegreen" is what someone heard for "upon the green" -- though "A Monk Swimming" is sure pretty wonderful.

My mondegreens have been so long corrected now that I can't remember them. But you ought to visit the site (linked on the post) and look at them. Also, you could register your Davy Crockett mondegreen. They welcome additions.

The Baron's Boy had a wonderful dyslexic word when he was little that we still use. I think he got it from "Calvin and Hobbes" since that's where he learned to read. When he was annoyed with someone, he'd call them a "dwimmit" - his version of dimwit. I like his word better.

 
At 12:21 AM, Blogger bluesdriver said...

Kansas City was originally recorded by Little Willie Littlefield in 1952, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller (their first big hit),and subsequently recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1959 (a big hit for him, often considered the definitive version).
Hound Dog was initially performed by Willa Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton live on the Johnny Otis show after being handed the lyrics written on a paper bag from Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. She was the first to record it in 1953.

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger Dymphna said...

Thanks for the information, bluesdriver...

I am sure it must be the Wilbert Harrison version that I remember so well. He sure did drag out the word "Vine".

I'll have to look up that first version of "Hound Dog". Elvis pulled a lot of black music across the line.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home