Thursday, July 1, 2010

The misunderstood lyrics of Elton John, or How the Souspane Has Figured in My Life

First of all, I have always loved the music of Elton John, ever since the very first song of his I can remember loving, which was "Bennie and the Jets."

Secondly, I have no idea what a souspane is, and even if you read all the way to the end of this post, you still won't know either. That may either be because there is no such thing as a souspane, or it might be because the souspane is a literary device used by songwriter Bernie Taupin when writing lyrics that were designed to throw us all off and annoy our parents. Or it may be that I'm just challenged in some way that hasn't yet been identified by anyone, up to and including the Brown Dirt Cowboy.

All I know is that I think it must be a noun. The souspane.

The souspane didn't make an appearance in Elton John lyrics until I'd been listening to his music for a while, but the first lyric I misunderstood came right there in "Bennie and the Jets" and I wasn't the only one who was fooled by it.

In "Bennie and the Jets," you have your song about a rock band led by a female singer, Bennie, which is confusing in itself. "Bennie" sounds like a boy's name, and there are so many two-syllable girls' names to choose from, like, say, Shelley. "Shelley and the Jets" rolls off the tongue just as fluidly as "Bennie" does, I feel. Anyway. In the chorus, two teens named Candy and Ronnie are asked if they've seen her show -- the "solid wall of sound" -- by their unnamed friend who is excitedly relating the wonders of the concert.

"She's got electric boots!" he gushes. "A mohair suit! You know I read it in a magazay-ay-ay-ayne..."

Considering that Elton John has that British accent and also that he doesn't feel the need to enunciate his words like an elocution teacher in his songs, could all of us really be blamed for thinking the boy said, "She's got electric boobs! Her ma has, too! You know I read it in a magazine."

Although why we'd all care about Bennie's mom's presumably middle-aged bosoms, I don't know. And wouldn't a mohair suit be really itchy?

There were a lot of us at Parkview Junior High School who were grievously disappointed that there were no boobs in the song.

Once we got that all straightened out, along came "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting," which is where I first encountered the souspane, but not before I ran into this bit of confusion:


Well, they're packed really tight in here tonight

And I'm looking for a daughter who'll see me right

I may use a little muscle to get what I need

I'll just [unintelligble for a few words] and shout out "Chick-fil-A!"


Okay, remember that my ears were only about thirteen years old at the time and therefore stupid. In this song, in which Elton portrays himself as a thuggy kid from the wrong side of the tracks, he's not looking for a "daughter," but rather a "dolly." In my world, "dollies" were things like Betsy Wetsy, not girls out looking for a good time in a bar.

And furthermore, Elton isn't shouting out "Chick-fil-A" as if he's hungering for a Chargrilled Chicken Club sandwich. No, he's actually saying "She's with me." Only instead of pronouncing "me" like "me," he pronounces it like "may": as in, "I'll just sink and little drink and shout out, 'She's with mayyyyyyy!'" So I think my confusion is is understandable.

The last verse of the song -- a really fast and noisy song, with the words all run together -- sounded like this to me for years:


A couple of the sounds that I really like

Are the sounds of a souspane and a motor bike

I'm a juvenile product of the working class

Whose best friend floats in the bottom of a glass


Now I'm older and know better, thanks to my friend Betsy, who heard me sing the word "souspane" one day when we were listening to Elton John's Greatest Hits, Volume I and said incredulously, "What did you just say?"

I oblingly sang it again for her.

"Souspane?" she queried, twitching suspiciously around the corners of her mouth. "What's a souspane? Where did you get that? And what is it?"

"I don't know what a souspane is," I answered with dignity. "I just thought it was one of those Englishy words that they don't call it what it is, like saying 'flat' instead of 'apartment' and 'torch' instead of 'flashlight.'"

"A souspane," she said dubiously, a smile stretching across her face. "The sound of a souspane and a motorbike..."

"I picture the souspane as maybe a kind of musical instrument, maybe like a harpsichord," I said, not yet perceiving that I was being mocked. "Because you know the song 'Daniel'? In that song, Elton sings 'The souspane is pretty, but I've never been.'"

Betsy began to erupt in little snorting giggles that increased in volume and intensity until she was holding onto the arms of the chair in which she was sitting, wailing with laughter, her head thrown back with utter abandonment in her mirth, which was at my expense.

"Souspane...." she gasped, tears streaming down her face. "Souspane, oh....AAAHAHAHAHAA!!! HAHAHA!!!!"

Peeved, I narrowed my eyes and demanded, "Well, if Elton John isn't talking about a frigging souspane in those songs, what exactly is he saying? Do YOU know?"

"EVERYBODY knows," she hiccupped, wiping her smeared mascara out from under her eyes with her pointer fingers. "And please believe me when I say that nobody else in the world has ever heard the word 'souspane' in either of those songs. You are so special." Her quivering voice led me to believe that another avalanche of laughter was about to overtake her, so I raised my voice and said:


Betsy managed to recover herself enough to say, "In 'Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting,' he says the he likes the sounds of a SWITCHBLADE and a motorbike. Not souspane."


"Yes, and how you got 'souspane' out of 'switchblade,' I honestly cannot fathom. They don't sound anything alike, even allowing for Elton's slurry pronunciation."

"Well, how about 'Daniel,'" I asked, goaded. "He QUITE CLEARLY says, 'The souspane is pretty, though I've never been.'"

She cleared her throat and declaimed, "'THEY SAY SPAIN IS PRETTY, though I've never been.'"

"Oh," I said lamely. "Spain. Well. You can see how I could have understood 'souspane' out of 'say Spain.'"

"No, I can't," she said frankly. "Number one, because there's no such thing as a souspane. And number two, because the CONTEXT of the SONG tells you that Daniel is traveling on a plane and waving goodbye and all that. Unless, of course, you were thinking that he had his harpsichord-turned-souspane boxed up in a crate in the hold of the plane?"

"Oh, shut up," I said ungratefully. And then went off and bought the cassette version of Elton's greatest hits and a Walkman with some headphones so that I could listen to my music in privacy, without any other nosey person interfering with my understanding of the lyrics and the marvelous, magical, beautiful souspane.


Susan said...

Hahahaha - she's with me, not Chic-Fil-A. Hilarious!

Susan said...

Hahahaha - She's with me..not it!