Scrounging for in-class activities, I’ve started playing songs for my students in order for them to practice pronunciation and generally expand their vocabularies. So far, we’ve listened to: “Suddenly I See,” by the indomitable KT Tunstall; “Do You Realize,” by the Flaming Lips; “Take Me Out,” by Franz Ferdinand; and, finally, “Big, Big World,” by none other than Emilia. That last one was a concession made to one of my more demanding classes, as they did not care for “Suddenly I See.”
Teaching a song does make you think a little harder about what its saying. It also makes you stretch as much as possible for some kind of meaning. For instance, here’s what I came up with for “Take Me Out” (which I picked only because it was a fun rock song):
It was a common belief in Europe up through the Elizabethan Era that when a person orgasmed, they lost a little bit of their “life energy.” Subsequently, another way of saying “to orgasm” was “to die.” Now. Looking at the lyrics (“So if you’re lonely/You know I’m here waiting for you/I’m just a crosshair/I’m just a shot away from you/And if you leave here/You leave me broken, shattered, I lied/I’m just a crosshair/I’m just a shot, then we can die/I know I won’t be leaving here with you”), I picture a guy standing at a bar in a disco, getting a drink and scoping out the ladies. He spots one and he beckons to her, telling her that he’s here if she’s lonely. He tells her he’s a crosshair, a shot away from her, meaning (as I see it) that if she would just look at him she would see how close he is. He jokes a little about Romantic notions of love (being “broken” or “shattered” when you’re love leaves) to this complete stranger. Then he says “I’m just a shot, then we can die.” So here’s where the Elizabethan “death” comes in (heh … comes in (hey-ohhhhhhhhh!)). He’s saying point your guns at me, baby, and we can “die.” Ohhhhhhh yeah …
Now, not wanting to explain what an “orgasm” is to my students, who are possibly the most sexually naive people on the planet (they know nothing about sex, they aren’t allowed to date in high school, they rarely date in college … when I even mention Christina in class, they all go “OooooOOOooh”—not unlike a studio audience watching Kelly Kapowski peck Zack Morris on the cheek), I told them instead that it was believed in Europe that you died a little bit when you fell in love. For my later classes I made up some BS about how your souls came together and it was your lonely soul that died and was reborn together with the soul of your love. Whatever. So “Take Me Out” became not a song about some dude trying to get laid, but a man searching for love … at a dance club. He’s not confident (“I know I won’t be leaving her with you”) but he’s persistent (why the lyrics repeat so much in the second part of the song). Thus, the “take me out” of the song becomes both: “Take me out on a date” and take me out—as in, kill me—so we can fall in love (or … have orgasms, whichever you want to believe).
So all of this was fine until I wrote out the lyrics to “Big, Big World,” which, by the by, is, like, one of the vaguest songs about love ever. I hit a bit of a snag on the chorus. “But I do, do feel that I do, do will miss you much.” I do will miss you much? Nevermind the “do will” part. Is “miss you much” right? I guess you can miss a person very much … “I miss you very much” … That’s grammatical, right? But to just miss someone much? … They all knew the song, which didn’t help. How do you tell a group of students that they’re learning a song that doesn’t use standard grammar and break their spoony little hearts? Well, I could not.
So now I’m lying to my students about European beliefs and teaching them non-standard grammar. I am clearly the greatest teacher alive!