Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More song lyric confusion...

For the last few weeks, our kids have been requesting that we sing "Country Roads" at bedtime.

(The other favorites right now are "Sweet Baby James" and "I'll Walk in the Rain By Your Side." This is the fault of a certain aunt with whom we visited in June and July and the people behind the Rise Up Singing songbook. That's right Pete Seeger: you and your buddies have made our bedtime a rather drawn out affair.)

The first stanza of "Country Roads" drives me crazy, because I can't figure out what the subject of "blowing like a breeze" is:

This site has this for the lyrics of the first stanza:

"Almost heaven, west virginia
Blue ridge mountains, shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze."

I have trouble imagining how mountains can blow like a breeze. But this is how I have always heard it in my head:

"Almost heaven, West Virginia: Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees; younger than the mountains, blowing in the breeze."

I can almost get my head around mountains blowing in the breeze. Really the trees on top of the mountains would be swaying a bit in the breeze which might give the impression of the mountains moving a bit in the breeze.

So perhaps my mishearing the lyrics was my way of correcting the imagery for myself.

Trees can blow in a breeze (but can they blow like a breeze?) more easily (or more litarally I should say) than mountains. However, I don't see how the last phrase can really modify the trees unless you allow for shifting the phrases to fit the rhyme scheme. I guess this would have sounded awkward:

"Life is old there, older than the trees blowing in the breeze, but younger than the mountains which give off the effect of blowing in the breeze because of the trees on them"

My wife insists that proper parsing is:

"Life is old there. [Life is] older than the trees. [Life is] younger than the mountains. [Life is] blowing like a breeze.

This interpretation has some merit (although I was dubious about it when she first proposed it) especially if we consider an important folk music intertext : if the answer can be blowing in wind, I suppose life can blow like a (or in the) breeze.

(Don't get me started on how little sense "Sweet Baby James" makes. But there is nothing cuter than my three-year-old belting out "There is a young cowboy..." at the top of his lungs.)


JSE said...

I have to admit, I always sing this as "younger than the mountains, teeming with disease."

Anonymous said...

Yeah and how can life be older than the tree's, yet younger than the mountains??? I mean which came first the mountains or the trees on the mountains? Makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

The lyrics are 'Growing like a breeze' not 'Blowing like a breeze' and it refers to 'Life'. Life grows (not blows) so it makes sense.

The earliest forms of life on earth were more primitive than trees and existed before trees. Mountains, however, existed before there was any life on earth. Hence life is older than the trees and younger than the mountains.