Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Now Playing

In their well-known book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that metaphor is not simply a literary device but an irreducible part of language itself. Moreover, metaphors have a cognitive function, structuring our thoughts and perceptions. A predominant metaphorical concept that governs our perception of life, they argue, is “life is a gambling game.” Some examples they provide to illustrate this metaphorical concept are, “I’ll take my chances,” “The odds are against me,” “He’s a real loser,” “He’s bluffing,” “Maybe we need to sweeten the pot,” “That’s my ace in the hole,” “That’s the luck of the draw,” and so on. The point is, these metaphors reveal how we perceive life, not gambling—life itself is perceived as a gamble, one filled with great risk. Lakoff and Johnson see these kind of common linguistic expressions as “speech formulas,” “fixed-form expressions,” or “phrasal lexical items”—they function “like single words, and the language has thousands of them.” Since popular song lyrics are so dependent on colloquial and vernacular expressions, it should therefore come as no surprise that they are loaded with “speech formulas” and “fixed-form expressions.” A song such as Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” isn’t simply about gambling, it’s about life itself, a way not only of imagining life, but a way of living it. In the gambler’s words, the singer says, “I found an ace that I could keep”:

You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done

The gambler’s simple, homespun words have the force of a homily. Many pop songs have applied the metaphor of “game” and “gambling game” to life, as the following (short) list reveals.

Playing Games, A-Z
Abba – The Name of the Game
Blood, Sweat & Tears – Go Down Gamblin’
Ray Charles – Blackjack
Bob Dylan – Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts
Tommy Edwards – It’s All In the Game
Shirley Ellis – Name Game
Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – The Game of Love
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
Larry Gatlin – Love Is Just A Game
The Hollies – Son of a Rotten Gambler
INXS – Deliver Me
Alan Jackson – Just Playin’ Possum
Kansas – Play The Game Tonight
John Lennon – Mind Games
Steve Miller Band – The Joker
Graham Nash and David Crosby – Games
Otis Redding – The Match Game
The Alan Parsons Project – Games People Play
Queen – Play The Game
The Radiators – Life’s A Gamble
Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
Sonny and Cher – Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Joe South – Games People Play
Talking Heads – Slippery People
U2 – The Fool
Van Morrison – The Healing Game
Amy Winehouse – Love Is a Losing Game
XTC – Complicated Game
Neil Young – Cowgirl in the Sand
Frank Zappa – A Game of Cards

No comments: