“Ask a simple question and you’ll get a simple answer” I was always told when I was a child. Sound advice too, I’ve always thought.
The posing of a question is one of the most frequently used of all poetic devices and is particularly popular in modern songwriting. The problem is that even if the initial query, posed in the song’s title, seems as prosaic as you could wish for, the subsequent elaboration – in a few verses and a catchy chorus – can tend to make it drag on a bit.
But surely, you may think, even in the stoniest of hearts there must be a little space for poetry. And yes, even a grouch such as myself doesn’t mind the occasional tuneful inquisitive ditty, complete with romantic imagery and all that sort of thing.
It’s just that on occasion the temptation to cut through the flannel becomes impossible to resist. Even when Shakespeare asks “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” I’m more inclined to cut him off short with “Are you calling me hot and sweaty?” than let him continue with “Thou art more lovely and more temperate” and the other twelve lines that no-one can remember (apart from the bit about the darling buds of May).
Shakespeare can deservedly be forgiven almost anything, However, I’m less inclined to cut slack for those who labour in his shadow. In particular, the ranks of writers of popular songs, who so eagerly embrace the use of questions as subjects for songs but then insist on banging on about it for the requisite three minutes or so.
The Moody Blues – one of my more favoured beat combos of the sixties and seventies – even wrote a song called ‘Question’ that begins with the line “Why do we never get an answer/When we’re knocking at the door?” It’s catchy enough, but it does go on and conflates several unrelated themes. Which tempts me to cut them off short by suggesting that if nobody opens the door it could be because they look like Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Here are a few more simple answers to over-elaborated question-posing modern classics:
Where have all the flowers gone? It’s the middle of December, what do you think?
Have you ever seen the rain? Not since the last time I looked out of the window.
Why does it always rain on me? Because you haven’t got the brains to go inside, apparently.
Do you know the way to San Jose? What, from here? You really are lost.
Is this the way to Amarillo? I thought you said you wanted to go to San Jose; make your bloody mind up.
Do you know where you’re going to? Look mate, you’re the one who’s just been asking for directions.
What’s the frequency, Kenneth? I think you’ve got the wrong man.
Who are you? Not Kenneth. And I need to see some ID.
How can I be sure? I’m sorry, but epistemology is rather beyond the scope of this blog.
Who let the dogs out? Ah, that would be the chasse. You don’t want to mess with them; they’ve got shotguns and hipflasks and everything.
Why don’t we do it in the road? Gravel.
Do you really want to hurt me? Well I didn’t, but if you will keep asking all these stupid questions, I might change my mind.
How long has this been going on? More than long enough, probably.
Should I stay or should I go? ‘Bye.