Deface the Music

I keep hearing this song on the radio that I don’t understand, for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s by one of those R&B groups consisting of three black women who take turns seeing who can sing the most different notes over the course of one syllable. They get all shrill and high-pitched and go, “Ba-BEeee-EEEEE-eeeeee-EE-e-eeEYYyyYY.” OK, we get it, you can sing. Please move on to the next word.

Anyway, the music is an exact rip-off of the song “Hernando’s Hideaway,” from the old musical “The Pajama Game” (whose title song contains the lyrics, “The pajama game is what I’m in/And I’m proud to be in the pajama game,” which serves as a reminder that just because it’s in an old musical doesn’t mean it’s not stupid). The lyrics to this rip-off, repeated a thousand times, are:

“Come on and dance with me, my baby,
Let’s dance till we go crazy.”

OK, I can see dancing until you got really tired, or dancing until you got a cramp in your leg. But dancing until you went crazy? How long would that take? I’ve never known insanity to be a by-product of incessant dancing. And furthermore, why would you do this on purpose? Somehow the woman thinks this is a come-on: “Hey, baby, let’s dance until we’ve lost capacity for rational thought and have to be medicated. Perhaps they’ll put us in adjoining wards at the state hospital!” This is going to bring guys running? We already know there’s a good chance the relationship will drive one or both parties insane; now the woman wants to expedite matters through dance? Quite efficient, this gal.

But perhaps I am nit-picking. You would nit-pick, too, if the nits were swarming around your head like they are mine! A more baffling musical puzzle to me is opera. I’m the first to admit I don’t really understand it, and for a very good reason: It’s in Italian. What, they couldn’t write in English? English has lots of great rhymes, like corn/porn, comet/vomit, baby/crazy and gluteus maximus/Hootie is taxin’ us. Any or all of those would be swell in an opera.

Last week I saw “Rigoletto” (Rigoletto/big libretto), which is about a court jester named Fred. No, just kidding, it’s Rigoletto. As a court jester, Rigoletto of course is the furthest thing from funny. (You gotta wonder what the purpose of these guys was. To be creepy?) Nonetheless, people laugh at him and enjoy his whimsical antics that include splashing water on people’s faces and making fun of a guy who kills his own daughter.

It’s the last part that ticks people off. They’re angry because this guy they pay to crack jokes all the time has actually cracked a joke, if you can imagine. So they kidnap his daughter, thinking it’s his mistress, and in his haste for revenge, Rigoletto accidentally has her killed — which, you’ll recall, is the same sort of folly the mockery of which got him in trouble in the first place. It’s not funny now, though, because it’s in Italian, which is a language we don’t speak. How sad to be tormented and receive no sympathy, all because you communicate in a foreign tongue!

I guess it could have been worse. He could have danced till he went crazy.

You've heard "Hernando's Hideaway" before, even though you haven't seen "The Pajama Game." The song is a tango, and it's come to be musical shorthand for evoking a tango sort of atmosphere.

My mom informs me that in the 1969 film "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?," which is about a grueling dance marathon during the Great Depression, a character really does dance until he or she goes crazy. So maybe it is possible.

The song I referenced, as far as I can tell, is "Dance with Me" by Debelah Morgan, who is actually one person, not three. She sounds like three people on the song, though -- specifically, she sounds like Destiny's Child. All these groups sound the same to me. You kids, with your rock 'n' roll....