I yakked so much about this songs illogical popularity (and logical unpopularity) that I didn’t get to blab much about the song itself. In this second part, I’d like to talk a little about the use of humor in song, and give some explanation to those who find this one offensive on moral grounds.
I’m a big humor fan. I especially love humor that’s edgy and maybe makes me a little uncomfortable. I realize this kind of humor is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine and I make no apologies for indulging in it. But also, incongruously, I take my humor seriously. To me there’s nothing more torturous than a lengthy evening of lyrical self-introspection with no comic relief. I think an audience wants to laugh at least a little. It’s an important check on the entertainment box. I also like to slip humor into songs that are mostly serious. To me that seems more true to life.
I admit to having a little chip on my shoulder because the world often sees humor as less important than “more serious work”. Humorous songs almost never win contests or awards. They are diminished as “novelty songs”. Any fool can make us laugh. It takes more depth to make us cry. I’m inclined to think that the two emotions are not mutually exclusive. It doesn’t have to be either/or. The best births and the best funerals make room for both.
There are other challenges that come with funny songs. They’re always a little less funny every time you hear them. They have a short shelf life that way. But that doesn’t keep people from requesting them, often at the very worst times. I’ve had to learn to trust my instinct when I think it’s a bad idea to jump on this horse. I have to guage an audience’s mood and alcoholic content. It’s an inexact science. This song has bombed. Frequently. There’s no accounting for lack of bad taste.
At the risk of sounding defensive, I would like to make some attempt at clarification for those people who find this song offensive. If gross isn’t your thing, I get that. But if it’s the desecration, the disrespect, the lack of human decency or the bad example to the children that pushes your buttons, I’d like to offer a different point of view~
I know something about kids. I am not a songwriter by profession. My livelihood for the last 40 plus years has come from working in schools, daycares, recreational facilities and playgrounds. I’ve spent a lot of time watching children at play. All that child observation has fueled my imagination and creativity in a big way. Some people like to watch birds. I like to watch kids. No, I’m not a creep.
But early on I learned that childhood is a culture all it’s own, complete unto itself. It has it’s own foods, rituals, folklore, songs, beliefs, etc: all the elements of any other culture. I belonged to that culture once, but no longer. I am on the outside looking in. But in watching children play, I’m often reminded that children live by their own rules and laws. When adults are not around, or children forget they’re watching, we might witness what looks like more primitive, Lord-Of-The-Flies type behavior. I would argue that jumping on a dead horse might be a perfectly natural thing for a perfectly wonderful child to do; that our judgement comes from seeing it through our adult lense of how we think children should behave. In my mind, these kids are expressing some small measure of grief through play. You cry your way I’ll cry mine.
To wrap up, I’d like to mention what I kick I get out of sometimes hearing the gender switched in this tune. When women sing this song from a girl’s perspective, (like FauxRenwah’s version) singing “Girls will be girls if you know what I mean” there’s a different dynamic created altogether. It suggests that this seemingly wild and primitive play behavior is not for boys only. And when bossy Joe gets what’s coming to him, a delicious blow is struck regarding male dominance on the playground level. This seemingly stupid little song has been made better by women engaging in the folk process. Thank you for being brave enough to be silly, gross feminists in public! Giddy Up Boing Boing!