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Me and “Me and Bobby McGee”

10 Jun 2015

NOTE: If this blog-post reads weirdly, it’s because I was listening to Diamanda Galás‘s “Divine Punishment & Saint of the Pit” while writing and editing it.

The Actual Blog Post

I don’t consider myself to be a Janis Joplin fan. I don’t dislike Janis Joplin; I just kind of don’t really consider her. The only reason she’s even on my musical radar is that I’m a Willie Nelson fan, which means that I’m ambiently aware of Kris Kristofferson and Kris Kristofferson wrote “Me and Bobby McGee,” a version of which was, of course, sung by Janis Joplin.

Like my feelings for Janis Joplin, I don’t really feel one way or another about her rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.” I think it’s probably possible that “freedom,” loosely and in some circumstances, could be another word for “nothing left to lose,” but I don’t agree that merely “feeling good” is good enough for anyone — we should all strive to take in the bigger picture.

All of that said, I have, and for years have had, a very particular fascination with a part of the Janis Joplin version of “Me and Bobby McGee” — specifically, what I think of as “the end sort-of scat-singing part”.

I get the feeling, both from talking to a lot people and from actually being a person myself, that, from time to time, many of us fantasize about heroically saving the day. Some of us dream about throwing the winning pass, some of us dream about wrestling a gun[person] to the ground, and, hell, some of us even dream about saving the children from falling off of the cliff at the edge of the rye field.

My hero fantasy goes like this: I’m sitting alone at a packed bar*, visibly not interacting with anyone when, all of a sudden, the public karaoke starts. For a half an hour or an hour, everyone at the bar is taking part and singing their favorite songs. At some point, one of the karaoke ringleaders walks over, feeling bad that I’m not joining in, and asks me if I’ve ever sung karaoke before to which I respond, “From time to time,” without looking up — like a cowboy. “Would you care to give it a try?” the nice person asks. “Sure,” I say.

And then I get up and an-NI-hilate “Me and Bobby McGee”. It’s not just a, like, high-energy, man-that-guy’s-got-a-lot-of-heart annihilation, mind you — it’s a totally spot-on, photo-realistic reproduction of the original, complete with a syllable-for-syllable recreation of “the end sort-of scat-singing part”.

While I’ll almost definitely never be and would never even really WANT to be in the fantasy scenario I outlined above, I do hit the karaoke pipe every so often and figured it might be fun to give this a try. So, last week, after being repulsed by the imprecision of lyric sites the web over, I bought an mp3 of the Joplin-ized “Me and Bobby McGee,” imported it into Digital Performer, and set the auto-rewind to the beginning of “the end sort-of scat-singing part” in an effort to really get in there and see what was going on, lyrically speaking.

We all know about the “la”s and the “da”s, but it turns out there are a bunch of “lo”s, some “na”s, three “ho”s, and a possible “ha” (depending on how you’re feeling) among a bunch of other, like, country/blues-rock exclamations.

What follows is my lyrical-transcription† of “the end sort-of scat-singing part”. You can listen along (headphones are suggested) here:

La da da la da da da
La da da la na na da
La na da la la da la da Bobby McGee
La da la da la la
La na na da da
La (ha)-la la la la Bobby McGee
La da da la na na la na na la na da
La na na la na na la na na‡
Hey now Bobby lo na Bobby McGee
Lo na lo na na la na na
Lo na na la na na la na na la na na na na na
Hey now Bobby lo na Bobby McGee
Lo’ when I’m callin’ my lover§
Callin’ my man
I said I’m callin’ my lover
just the best I can
Hey now Bobby now
Hey now Bobby McGee
Lo da lo na lo na lo na lo na lo na lo na lo-la
Hey hey hey Bobby McGee
Ho (ho (ho))
[piano solo]
Hey hey
[organ and guitar solos]
La da lo da lo da lo da lo da lo da la da la
Hey hey hey Bobby McGee

I’m aware that some of my “la”s could probably pass for “lo”s and vice versa. All I can say in my defense is: That’s country/blues-rock, baby!

The Bonus Section of This Blog Post That Wasn’t Meant to Be

My plan for this blog post, in addition to providing my transcription of “the end sort-of scat-singing part” of Janis Joplin’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee,” was to provide the audio of me actually singing the part. After tracking down a vocal-less version, a few days of practice, and a couple of different personally annotated iterations of the libretto, I felt like I could do it. I’d be way up in my head voice, but I was doing this breathy air-thing that made me sound super rough and Joplin-y.

Rather than weigh myself down with the burden of performing AND engineering, I contacted my pal Scott Craggs over at Old Colony Mastering (that’s his thumbs-up in the photo on the main blog page) to see if he had a free minute to set up a mic, dim the lights, and sit behind the controls while I went for it. That conversation ultimately went well, despite starting like this:

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 5.11.46 PM

Long story shah-zizzle: I went over to Scott’s, we set up the mic, dimmed the lights, and did a few preliminary takes, the result of which sounded like a soloist from a boys choir attempting to sing “Me and Bobby McGee” having never heard the song, but having spent a lot of time with the sheet music — just, like, castrato levels of clarity. The roughness that I thought I was conjuring when I was walking around the house thinking that I sounded like Janis Joplin was utterly absent from the recording.

The Takeaway

Here are some of the things I’ve taken away/learned from writing this blog post:

1. For some reason, I don’t sound like Janis Joplin.
2. My friend Scott is always there for me in a pinch.
3. Most lyric sites don’t really get in there the way I’d like them to.
4. The music of Diamanda Galas is appropriate for any and all occasions.

*This would already never happen. (back)
†I’m guessing that BJ Warshaw would consider this to be a transliteration. (back)
‡The jump down to the C# for this fancy-pants, first-inversion A-major triad is, without a doubt, the most difficult figure to sing in “the end sort-of scat-singing part”. (back)
§This is the only “lo” that I feel might be an abbreviation of “Lord,” so it has an apostrophe. (back)

In Blog, Hard Bloggin', Just For Fun, Total Friendship

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