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Thursday, December 4, 2014

You took advantage of me

Lorenz Hart was one of the greatest lyricists of the "Great American Songbook," especially in his collaborations with Richard Rodgers. Take the song "You took advantage of me."
I'm a sentimental sap that's all
What's the use of trying not to fall
I have no will
You've made your kill
Cause you took advantage of me.
A love song that's not sentimental. Hart really wasn't a sentimental guy. So the first line is about how the protagonist is a "sentimental sap." There's self awarareness here. Making a kill, or a killing and taking advantage of someone are not good things.
I'm just like an apple on a bough
and you're going to shake me down somehow
so what's the use
you've cooked my goose
cause you took advantage of me.
Having one's goose cooked is not a good thing either. It's an idiom that means you've had it, you're done for. Of course, there's a tradition of love poetry in which the lover is basically done for. Love is a destructive force that kills one's will. Hart was up on his courtly love tropes.
I'm so hot and bothered that I don't know
my elbow from my ear
I suffer something awful each time you go
and much worse when you go.
He gets a lot of mileage from idioms like "hot and bothered," which means sexually aroused. I'm putting all the idioms in bold face. Another courtly love, Petrarchan trope: both the presence and the absence of the beloved are troublesome. Back to the final A section of the song:
Here I am I with all my bridges burned
Just a babe in arms where you're concerned
So lock the doors
and call me yours
cause you took advantage of me
Two more clichés / idioms. Burning bridges is cutting off connections with other people. A babe in arms is an innocent, defenseless person. You don't describe yourself that way, so once again, there is an ironic self-awareness here.

Prosodically, it's perfect, with the long couplet / short couplet / refrain structure.

The best love songs are not "you're wonderful," but "I fell for you even though you're not so wonderful, and I'm pretty much screwed." All the negativity here works wonders. All the cynical clichés.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


"All love songs must contain duende. For the love song is never truly happy. It must first embrace the potential for pain. Those songs that speak of love without having within in their lines an ache or a sigh are not love songs at all but rather Hate Songs disguised as love songs, and are not to be trusted."