4 feb 2011

...and you never will

The lyric of Ellington's song "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" is curious. The idea is that the two lovers are separated but the persona singing the song wants to keep the other lover from breaking off the affair. Though I've been seen with somebody else. Another kiss might cloud my memory, etc... So the song ends: "Do nothing till you hear it from me / and you never will." The ostensible meaning is that you will never get news of my infidelity from me. But the song itself has given its message very clearly. The last line, then, means "you won't ever hear from me again, we're through."

Do nothing till you hear from me,
Pay no attention to what's said.
Why people tear the seams of anyone's dreams
Is over my head.

Do nothing till you hear from me,
At least consider our romance.
If you should take the words of others you've heard,
I haven't a chance.

True, I've been seen with someone new,
But does that mean that I've been untrue?
When we're apart,
The words in my heart
Reveal how I feel about you.

Some kiss may cloud my memories,
And other arms may hold a thrill,
But please, do nothing till you hear it from me--
And you never will

6 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Why do you think it means "we're through"? I think it's equally consistent with the interpretation, "Please disregard the evidence of my infidelity -- I want to cheat on you without consequences." One trusts a self-respecting partner would respond, "We're through", but I don't think the speaker is quite saying that.

Jonathan dijo...

Yes, that's a little more accurate. Either way it's a double meaning. "We're lovers forever" or "I've already left you for someone else for all intents but I want to keep you in reserve."

Unless ONLY the negative meaning is operative. Don't listen to that gossip about me being with someone else. Of course, that gossip is true, but still, you don't have to break if off with my until Isay it's over. And of course I'll never say that; I won't even bother to do that, preferring to leave you hanging forever. It's a very devious variation on the "I'll love you forever" love long.

Thomas dijo...

The Danish poet Henrik Nordbrandt has the following variation on this theme (my translation):

You, whom I love, and who thinks
that I love another.
I love you so intensely these days
because I have fallen for another.

I think your reading, if you'll pardon it, presumes a somewhat "square" or "bourgeois" idea of infidelity. Ellington is saying that he has not "been untrue", though he has done things that might be taken that way. Perhaps he has, in his loneliness while on the road, sought consolation, a kiss to cloud his memory of his love at home. The song expresses the fear of the (inevitable) rumors reaching her before he gets home again to show her how he feels.

I'm a bit square about this sort of things myself, of course. But I think Ellington is making a case for a more complex, hipper kind of fidelity.

Jonathan dijo...

Sure, but you've just rephrased the ostensible message of the lyric. Don't worry, these dalliances don't mean anything. You'll never hear from me that I've found another love.

There is a way to save that last line from being a double entendre, but I'm not convinced. The pungency comes from the irony, and your hipper reading is, ironically, less ironic and straighter.

Vance Maverick dijo...

FWIW, the lyric is credited to one Bob Russell (author also of "He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother").

Thomas dijo...

I think we may also have different ideas about what "the words of others" say. If the rumor is "He's leaving you for someone else," then those rumors are untrue. If she leaves preemptively that would be a tragedy.

I actually don't know how hip irony is. I'll have to think about that.