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Friday, April 27, 2012

Heavy on the Light Verse

I WRITE LIGHT VERSE. I also write song lyrics. I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that such efforts best succeed when they’re rhymed correctly, if rhyming is appropriate.

I received the parody lyric presented below some years back, and fortunately cannot remember who forwarded it to me. It also figures in an urban legend suggesting the Julie Andrews actually sang the horrible thing, which she didn’t.

Another thing I can’t remember is whether I sent my annotation to whomever forwarded the parody lyric to me. I hope so. What’s written below should give warning to the untrained parodist: you probably don’t know what you’re doing.


What's needed here.
Here’s the problem with trying to parody someone like Oscar Hammerstein. You have to know the rules of scansion and rhyming. And you have to know how to set up a gag so the payoff is as effective as possible. Let’s see what we’re working with here:

These are a few of my favorite things

Is this meant to be the title? If so, the title is merely “My Favorite Things.” It doesn’t work as an opening line, and messes up the quatrain.

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings,

“fittings” and “knitting” don’t rhyme properly.

Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favorite things.

Ditto “string” and “things.” In the original, the line is “Brown paper packages tied up with strings.” For a parody, this should be a payoff line. You’re constricted by the need to rhyme with “things,” but a quick check of the options suggests the following: “Wasting the time that retirement brings,” “Wrapping your butt in disposable slings,” etc.

Cadillacs and cataracts and hearing aids and glasses,

“Cadillac” and “cataract” and “hearing aids” are dactyls; because it’s a 3/4 time song, the rhyme scheme calls for bacchius feet, each built from a spondee and the word “and.”

Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,

Ditto “Polident” and “Fixodent.” Also, those are both dental adhesives. It’s funnier to use just one and to find another complementary product. Also, rhyming “glasses” with “glasses” is as weak as poor poetry can get.

Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings,

This is just a list with no sense of progression. Although even the original is cloying, at least it’s skilfully assembled.

These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak,
When the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favorite things,
And then I don't feel so bad.

We’ve gone from a circumstantial to a physical phenomenon with the first two thoughts, and the physical aspect is continued in the next line. Again, continuity is important. In the original, two painful experiences give way to depression: “When the dog bites/When the bee stings/When I'm feeling sad.” This stanza could be salvaged by taking an unexpected turn in line three, e.g., “When my wife goes mad.” Or rewrite the last line to be consistent with the theme of the parody, and re-fashion the stanza; e.g., “With my hearing/ Disappearing/With each shiny pill/I simply remember those favorite things/And then I feel older still.”

Hot tea and crumpets, and corn pads for bunions,

“crumpets” is a wishy-washy choice in this context.

No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,

“spicy hot food” doesn’t scan properly; the “bunions-onions” gag is weakened by using the less-common term first.

Bathrobes and heat pads and hot meals they bring,

“hot food” in line two and “hot food” here resonate too plangently. Also, “bring” and “things” don’t rhyme. And the ache-abating device is commonly termed a “heating pad.”

You're making Trane unhappy.
These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no fear of sinnin,

“confused brains” doesn’t scan properly, and is too nonspecific to be funny. “Sinnin’,” rendered colloquially, needs an apostrophe, but there’s no reason not to use “sinning” and “thinning.”

Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinin,

“Thin bones” doesn’t scan; “thin” and “thinnin’” clash and the latter is spelled wrong.

And we won't mention our short shrunken frames,

But we did. Making it a weak joke. Also, “frames” and “things” – you’ve guessed it – don’t rhyme.

When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache, when the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad.

The rhyme scheme is thrown away here, on a quatrain that should end this ditty with a chuckle but is hardly amusing. In the end, the whole thing is an amateurish piece of work, and it takes a fevered imagination to think Julie Andrews would look twice at such crap.

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