Monday, June 17, 2013

Ha Ha

This is a country waltz that examines three ideas on the nature of, as the title indicates, comedy. But it is a waltz, a dance for two, and we see how well a jesting joker (to mix my metaphors) dances with a queen of hearts.

One of the ideas of comedy is that of "schadenfreude," laughter at another's misfortune. As Mel Brooks put it: "Tragedy is when I cut my thumb. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer." The other is the truism: "Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone." The third ties them together, the idea of laughing at oneself-- of getting amusement out of one's own misfortune, which means the others are "not laughing at you, but with you."

The song begins with the first idea: "You'd think it's funny/ if I got a pie in the face/ One's man's disaster is another man's laughter."

In the chorus, the speaker explains, "laughing is all I do." However, the listener might think this is a reaction to his being single: "You've only known me since I've been lonely/ So you don't believe it's true." When attached, we assume, the speaker might be more serious; he assures us that no, he laughs even while in a relationship. Hmm.

The next line tweaks a saying by adding the word "an." The saying is "I don't know you from Adam," the Biblical primogenitor standing in for any random human.

He speaks to the listener, whom we now know is a woman, as he says he doesn't know her from "Eve." His pick-up line is: "We've only got boredom in common/ Why don't we... leave/ And go... laughing all over the town." A cheap date, to be sure.

But then he makes a counter-assertion to the one above. He repeats the idea that she might assume he is different when in a relationship... but this time confirms it: "I'm different when I'm fooling around." Well, not that different, if that is the expression he prefers for intimacy, and the level of intimacy (simply physical) that his is capable of achieving.

The next line is worthy of Shel Silverstein: "One time I laughed all the way/ From Flagstaff, Arizona to Baton Rouge," which not only rhymes on the beat instead of at the end of the line... but finds the two American cities named after, of all things, poles ("Baton Rouge" is French for "red stick"). He continues this shaggy-dog story by saying this trip wearied him so greatly that, on arrival, he slept, Rip van Winkle-like, "for nearly a year." This laughing-all-the-way story may have a double meaning-- it may represent a series of performances on tour, a series of dalliances during a journey... or both (not all groupie stories are untrue).

Now that he has made this confession, he also confesses his affection for the woman he is addressing: "I could have been dead," he says, at least emotionally, "But I met you instead/ Now everything's perfectly clear."

Uncharacteristically, we wind up with "the moral of the story," which is: "Laugh, or the joke's on you." (Would that Fat Charlie the Archangel, from "Crazy Love Vol II," would have learned this lesson so young!)

Then the song ends with that same assertion: "You've only known me since I've been lonely/ So you don't believe it's true." The antecedent of "it's" is unclear; she doesn't believe what's true? Is he saying that she doesn't believe in not taking oneself seriously? But what would that have to do with when she met him?

Or is he saying that she doesn't believe that he has absorbed this lesson, and that he feels that knowing her has been valuable? This must be what is meant. On the one hand, if one doesn't take anything seriously, how could one learn anything? On the other, if one doesn't take anything seriously, one doesn't take oneself seriously, either-- and so he did not need her to learn this insight at all; he already behaved that way.

He does try to assure her that he is different in relationships, but he falls short, by admitting he only sees them as a chance to "fool around." While she may feel glad that she has had somewhat of an impact on this speaker, and she is probably attracted by someone who can be self-deprecating, she should still be wary of a relationship with him.

After all, he has said outright and repeatedly that he takes nothing seriously: "Laughing is all that I do." If so, how could he take her, or their love, seriously? If it's true, it's nice for him that he has learned from her to laugh at himself. But that isn't the basis for anything... serious.

Musical note:
Sean Lennon, son of Paul Simon's contemporary John Lennon-- and so Harper's musical cousin of sorts-- plays celeste on this track.

Next Song: The Shine

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