Monday, February 11, 2008

Rocket Man


I really like my Elton John's Greatest Hits CD. One of Elton John's
most famous songs is "Rocket Man."

"I'm not the man they think I am at home
oh no no no, I'm a rocket man."

It's inspiring, isn't it? Especially with that great rising tone in
the background. To me the chorus evokes a feeling everybody has at one
time or another-- that others think you suck, but inside you've got
greatness.

But then I read the rest of the lyrics and it turns out this isn't
what the song appears to be about at all. Being a rocket man isn't a
metaphor, really, it's literal. He's an astronaut. And it's not
something wonderful, it's lonely, and he's not even all that into it:

"And all this science i don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man"

The song also has some quite mundane observations:

"Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did"

Indeed. Hey, I got an idea, I'll write a song called "Submarine Man"
which will include lyrics like:

"Under water ain't a place to raise your kids.
It's dark even in the day.
And there's only fish to raise them, anyway."

So even though, at first listen, the song sounds inspiring, when you
get down into the lyrics it's about how he's not as great as his
family thinks he is. Saying he's a rocket man is something BAD about
him, uninteresting, lonely. How disappointing. You can see the lyrics
in total at:
http://www.lyricsfreak.com/e/elton+john/rocket+man_10099416.html

Not that lyrics seem to have anything to do with a song being a
hit. Malcolm Gladwell reports in the New Yorker about a software
company that does a fine job of predicting which songs are going to be
hits, just based on the music. There's not even a way to input the
lyrics.

This isn't too surprising to me. Lots of people love songs before they
even try to understand the lyrics.

Interestingly, the same company predicts hit movies based on ONLY the
script. That is, the software doesn't use the fame of the actors and
actresses, the release time, the director, etc. It's a fascinating
article, and I recommend it to everyone.

http://www.gladwell.com/2006/2006_10_16_a_formula.html

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