That’s Him/You Don’t Know Me
Maybe I’m late to the party on this one, but while I was cleaning the house the other day, Ray Charles came round on the iPod singing “You Don’t Know Me.” And I’ll be Connie Frikkin Hopper if the first half of the verse of “You Don’t Know Me” isn’t nearly identical to the first part of the verse of “That’s Him.”
I have no conclusion to draw from this. I certainly have no reason to think it’s anything other than coincidence. In fact, it’s more interesting it if it is coincidental, because that means there are at least two writers out there who stumbled on the same thought and built from it songs that lots and lots of people responded to.
Hum it … it’s almost like an incantation, the way it weaves the melody into the gentle descent of the passing tones from the I-chord to, to the
vi VI7, and then down to the ii and then another slow fall to the V7. Maybe some music theorists or musicologists or neurologists or some kind of someone can jump in here and help explain what’s going on, but there seems to be something almost primal about the seemingly intrinsic appeal that many melodic progressions from one chords to minor-sixths have. Or maybe I’m the only one who finds them captivating and enthralling. In which case, is my shrink in the house?
For “You Don’t Know Me”/”That’s Him,” the structurally similar musical phrases of their opening bars seem almost to release an ache derived from equal parts nostalgia, regret, longing, memory, and something like dismay … which is appropriate for both songs, though in different ways. Both Charles and Kim Hopper sing the lines at this point in a way that drags out the syllables and elongates the phrasings to accentuate the sense that the song is pulling us along slowly, difficulty, but inexorably, toward some important realization that would have remained at best partially grasped if you hadn’t groped half-sighted down this path: You don’t know me. That’s him. Yes, yes … ah, ok, now I see.
It makes me giggly to stumble on to these kinds of unlooked for symmetries (I actually shouted over the vacuum when I was finally able to figure out what was going on) - intertextual moments, we called them, in grad school (I know … I know). If I hadn’t heard Ray Charles, it never would have occurred to me to think so seriously about the I-vii-
viVI7 movement, and hearing it, thinking about it, picking out the chords on the piano … it reminds all over again why I love to write about this stuff so much. For just a second, I get to participate in the aesthetic mastery of the world around me, marshal it for a purpose that feels grander than the self, but without overtaxing my very shallow well of musical ability.