Long ago, when I was a small child in Mesa, Arizona, we would sing “Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer” in school.

(I can only imagine what a horror this was for our teachers, now that I think of it–while we had the usual sort of school set-up, we were handed off to other teachers for Music and P. E., so you gotta imagine they heard different groups of small children singing Rudolph six to eight times a day.

…I have no idea why we were singing Rudolph in P.E., now that I think of it, but we were.)

Anyway, because of the way the verses are enunciated, the last line was always pronounced as “You’ll go down in his story!”

Since nobody of my acquaintance prounounced “history” as “his story,” it did not occur to me that this might refer to history rather than “his story.” His, obviously, being Rudolph.

So being quite young–third and fourth grade, and I had skipped second, so around seven or eight–I figured that the song was, at this point, addressing the listener.  Earlier in the song, “you” would even say it glowed, addressing the listener, and it would be nonsensical to say that Rudolph would go down in his own story, because of course he would. Everybody is in their own story. They’re the main character.

Obviously, therefore, this song was promising that the listener would go down in Rudolph’s story, just for having listened to (or perhaps sung) the song.

In my defense, it’s not like the idea was totally without precedent. I mean, the shepherds didn’t do jack in the Christmas story except have an angel show up and tell them a thing. Much of the Bible accessible to seven-year-olds with disturbingly high reading skills seemed to consist of people minding their own business and winding up immortalized in text because an angel showed up trumpeting “FEAR NOT!” or wheels of fire appeared or whatever.

I believe I pictured a list of names or something, or perhaps an enormous crowd of people. (Again, there was precedent! Santa had lists of names! The weird evangelical church my stepfather was dragging us to was big about names being writ and so forth and everybody else being banished to the pit, circa Revelations or so, and Christmas as a holiday was very muddled up between the sacred and secular for a seven-year-old.)

However, I was also as cynical as only a small child can be (anyone who thinks children are fountains of joyous innocence does not spend much time around them or has forgotten a LOT) and I figured that TONS of people had sung the Rudolph song over the years. And if every single one of us was going down in the story of Rudolph, that would be a long list of names. Too many to have any relevance. We would be a vast, faceless host. Lots of us would be dead, except historical people didn’t exactly die, they just became fixtures of books, so I think I figured that we’d all be standing around in some weird historical not-dead fashion.

(I had no idea how old the song was, but since carols were all like super-old, presumably Benjamin Franklin and other personages would also be there. I remember Franklin specifically, because I was fond of the book about Amos the rat at the time. It would be okay to be in the crowd next to Franklin, but really, what were the odds?)

So Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was promising that we would go down in Rudolph’s story, but so would millions of other people, and at that point, why would you even bother? It was a stupid thing to promise, and nobody would ever read all those names or care about all the people who were supposedly going down in this story.

This bred an intense resentment of Rudolph and the song, which I have still not entirely shaken.

Everybody have a fabulous holiday, and please, if you go caroling, enunciate carefully. Think of the small cynical children!

  • reply Mean Waffle ,

    I have to say that I see this as a funding question. No matter how carefully you enunciate, Mondegreens are possible. That’s just the way that the brain works.

    I went to an elementary school that had music every Friday. For some of the established songs, we would just sing along, but usually, and whenever we were learning a song, definitely, we had a mimeograph sheet with the lyrics printed on it. It helped to keep up while we were learning and even later it helped us sign the third and fourth verses of songs that usually aren’t taken that far.

    They were collected at the end of each session and re-used, so they can’t have been that expensive. They would have taken time to create, granted, but they improved Friday Music a lot. If only you had had a mimeographed lyrics sheet, you could have spent your time creatively misconstruing other things.

    • reply Tom V ,

      I had forgotten all about Amos. Thanks for the reminder.

      Tom

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