Thursday, May 6, 2010

Under the Hood of "Drive my Car"

I recently got the opportunity to explain to my seven-year-old daughter the meaning of the lyrics to "Drive My Car".  She's a naturally curious and pensive child (she once announced to me, out of the blue, "The Beatles say 'she could steal, but she could not rob,' but that doesn't make any sense, because those words mean the same thing"), and she wanted to understand what was really going in this catchy little beep-beep, mmm, beep-beep, yeah tune.

In the process of breaking down the lyrics for her step-by-step, I found myself really getting a fuller appreciation of the biting "bitchiness" of the song's antagonist.  I found myself laughing even as I was explaining the words to my daughter, and thinking, "Wow, this is actually quite a brilliant set of lyrics."

Care to take another look at them with me?

I asked a girl what she wanted to be
And she said, "Baby, can't you see?
"I wanna be famous, a star on the screen,
"But you can do something in between."

"Baby, you can drive my car
"Yes, I'm gonna be a star
"Baby, you can drive my car
"And maybe I'll love you."

Mars obviously has some level of interest in Venus, and is trying to strike up a conversation.  But before he gets a chance to move beyond a few words of inquiry, she steps in and dominates the conversation with an obnoxious amount of prattle.

She's got some serious chutzpah, too.  He hasn't yet indicated a desire to win her heart, much less serve as one of her employees, but that's exactly where she's "driving" this conversation.  

It's this sort of condescending stance, a bit of patronization: "I'll allow you to do my bidding, you lucky thing."  But her bow-down-and-worship-me attitude has nothing to back it up, at least not yet; she only wants to be famous, which means she isn't famous yet, and so has not earned the right to be an overbearing snob.

The final line of the chorus has the most bite, I think: "You can work for me, you can taxi me around town whenever I feel like it, and maybe you'll be fortunate enough to get some love from me.  I might stoop that low, my little servant-boy."

I told that girl that my prospects were good
And she said, "Baby, it's understood
"Working for peanuts is all very fine
"But I can show you a better time."

As we round the corner into the second verse, it seems like Mars might be backing off just a bit: "Thanks, luv, but if I need a job, I know where to find one, I'm not that hard-up."  Her response maintains a high level of passive-aggressive snobbery: "Sure, sure, honey, you go ahead and find a minimum wage job, if that's your thing."  Implied here is the assumption that he couldn't possibly find a career more rewarding than the one she is offering him, that his only other option would be "working for peanuts."

But she realizes she might be losing his interest, I think, and so she sweetens the offer with a teasing little innuendo, a thinly-veiled allusion to the possibility of sexual pleasure: "I can show you a better time."

I told that girl I could start right away
And she said, "Listen, babe, I got something to say
"I got no car, and it's breakin' my heart
"But I found a driver, and that's a start."

Apparently Mars found the sexual tease too hard to resist; he's ready to go, and in fact, he can start "right away!"  And this is where he gets the rug yanked out from under him: Venus began her twisted little seduction based on something she hadn't even achieved yet, namely, the power of stardom.  And now that she's finally gotten him to agree to drive her car - to be her slave-boy and part-time boy-toy - she reveals that she doesn't even have a car!  But that's not even the best part.  The best part is that, even with her charade fully exposed, she still refuses to drop the stance of superiority.  The whole facade has collapsed in on itself, and she doesn't realize it!

The punch-line all comes down to this: You should be my driver because I'm going to be a star someday.  Ok, I'll be your driver.  Actually, I don't have a car, but you should still be impressed by me - I'm a pretty big deal, after all, I have a full-time chauffeur.  Uh, yeah, I know, I'm your chauffeur, remember?  You know you adore me, just admit it.

Clever, clever writing, and so succinct!  Three short verses and a chorus, disappearing into the horizon with a sassy little series of beep-beeps.  

And to think Len-Mac almost threw this one away ...

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