Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Snow Patrol -- Chasing Cars

I've heard Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" on the radio a few times now, and I really like the song. It's touching, poignant, and all that gooey stuff. But one thing always sticks in my craw when I hear this song -- and keep in mind that I'm a copy editor.

The refrain for this song starts like this:

If I lay here,
If I just lay here,
Will you lie with me and just forget the world?

The problem, of course, is the verb. "Lay" takes a direct object. The grammatical way to write this lyric is

If I lie here,
If I just lie here,
Will you lie with me and just forget the world?

Now, I can take a little rule-bending. I'm not the stickler that this post might make me out to be. But in this case, by not using the correct verb form, the lyric misses a whole double-meaning that could have given this song three times the depth. The double-meaning is, of course, that "lie" also means "to tell an untruth."

With "lie" meaning "to recline" (or to simply use the current lyrics), this refrain is a straightforward love song, and the question is nearly rhetorical. But if you read the "lie" to mean "to tell an untruth," the question asked in this lyric becomes, "Is it better to live in a beautiful lie or to live with the ugly truth?" -- the topic of many a Philip K. Dick short story.

I don't assume that the guys of Snow Patrol are grammatical idiots. I think the fact that they got the correct verb form in the third line but not the first two points to the idea that, for some reason, they deliberately avoided the double-meaning. But I can't for the life of me figure out why. The surrounding lyrics in the song are just as meaningful, of not moreso, with "lie" as with "lay."

Perhaps (and if so, this just ruins the song for me) they were going for a double-meaning with "lay" -- "to have sex with." If this were true, the refrain is actually a man begging a woman to be submissive:

If I lay (have sex) here, will you lie (just lie there and do

Or, and I just thought of this, perhaps I'm reading the wrong version of "lie." Maybe he's asking her to keep their affair a secret.

If I lay (have sex) here, will you lie (tell untruths) with me?

The only problem with these interpretations is the word "just." "If I just (have sex) here"?
Hmmm. Comments appreciated.


sharon said...

well, i for one love this song. as you said, very poignant. a simple message, or so i thought, until i read your post ;) i think i like the simple message of forgetting life for a while and spending a moment with someone special. but then again i tend to be a simpleton at times and am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination ;)

Rudy said...

Oh god I have to re-write this all again as I just lost it.

I think you're right Andyman. This is both a simple love song and a critical view of how we look at life as humans. However, you think this isn't the case simply because the lyricist hasn't used the correct form of the verb in the first two lines of the chorus. Do you not think that the incorrect verb form actually draws your attention to the doubel entendre? I'm sorry if I don't make sense....It's not an easy thing for me to do :) but here is what I beleive the meaning to be:

If I lay here (simply lay here in your arms), if i just lay here (simple as that, lay quietly peacefully in your arms) will you lie with me (will you also just lay here happily with me) and just forget the world (but also will you help me lie to myself, tell myself the wrong doing and the violence and the materialistic crimes do not happen)

Do I make sense? He's actually helping us realise the difference between the two forms. One has a double entendre and the other does not (well it may have a sexual entendre but I really doubt this is likely). Maybe we wouldn't notice it if it wasn't for this delineation. It is a truly beautiful song and brings to the forefront the act we commit every day - forgetting the bad stuff - but it also makes us feel better about doind it. It tells us we're all the same. And whilst we are often criticised for it, this song sort of condones it because it tells you to lose yourself in the moment of love and to concentrate on what is important to you.

Andyman said...

I see what yuou mean, Rudy. And this verifies what I thought -- that the ungrammatical structure was intentional, but that I couldn't figure out why they would have done it.

If I understand you right, they wanted only "will you lie with me" to have a double meaning, and so chose the ungrammatical "lay" for the first line to accomplish that. Using "lay" in the first line brings out that "lie" in the third line simply because it's different.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

i think the song is simply talking about how sometimes we just need to stop a second and take a good look at life and have fun. life is all about making memories and enjoying the ride. and i think that is the true meaning of the song.

Anonymous said...

in believing that the grammar was deliberate, I assumed that the singer was trying to convince his girl that the simple things in life ie love can be all that you need. By saying "lie" in the third line he's asking her to try to imagine/pretend for a minute that this is so. I also thought that "forget what we're told" backs this up because I take this to be him telling her to disregard social expectations which could be to do with class, race, success, etc.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that someone else noticed the incorrect grammar in this song. People use lay and lie incorrectly all the time and this song eats at my soul every time I hear it on the radio. I can't even enjoy the song. I have learned from polling coworkers that almost everyone thinks that lay and lie are interchangeable verbs. Isn't it possible that lyricist just doesn't understand the conjugation of lay and lie like everyone else?? I think they just don't know it is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Hee! Anonymous Person of 15 August, I think you've got it. I would *love* this song if it weren't for the sloppy grammar, and none of the other interpretations offered here (generous though they are) make enough sense that I can imagine the word-choice was deliberate. Like so many people, the lyricist simply doesn't seem to know the difference between "lie" and "lay."

Charlotte said...

The grammar is exactly right! It's a really difficult and obscure verb construction. Let me break it down for you: "If I lay here" is present subjunctive. It sounds awkward because it is. The lyrics say "lay" for the same reason you say "if I were you" (implying, "but I'm not") instead of "if I was you" The use of the preterite form of the verb indicates the subjunctive mood.
The next line is actually "would you lie with me," not "will you lie with me," which completes the subjunctive clause with a direct, acurately phrased question in the future indicative mood.

Lucas g said...

Ha ha, nice work Charlotte. Nothing sticks in my craw like a sad queue of moaning people with gaping, magnetic craws. It's a s-o-n-g, people! Talk about a festival of over-thinking... sounds to me like some people need to learn how to spell grammar with a small 'g' sometimes. It just shows how careful you need to be with your craw - use of the craw demands an appropriate level of crawtion. :)

Anonymous said...

that has to be the most pretentious load of bollocks i have read in ages. so you're a copywriter so erg, the harbinger of all things grammatical?

ermm let me piss of your pathetic little parade here. it is a song! ever heard of poetic licence? or perhaps words scaning to fit the music. why not just enjoy the song for what it is - a song and not a source for grammatical and philosophical debate. how would you apraise the beatles' lyrics? a socio-demographic metaphore for....?

i really hoped i had met the last of self-congratulating tossers like your good self back in the 4th form. alas i was wrong. sucks to be me and my false hopes.

4ndyman said...

For the record, I really like this song. I have no problem with poetic license -- rather, I thrive on it. I wasn't making a qualitative statement about this song, I was just noticing something odd in the language.

Songs can be evaluated on many different levels. Since I'm a copy editor (not a copy writer, though this would likely hold true if I were), I look at the words more than some people would. I look at the words and wonder about the choices that the writers made. But that's all I'm looking at.

I think "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" is a great song, but grammatically speaking, it's a bent-up double-negative that I wouldn't use in everyday speak. I'm a big fan of Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd, too, and I love the irony of a statement like "We Don't Need No Education."

If you read the post again, you'll notice I didn't say anything about the instrumental music, about the vocals, about the mixing, or the dynamics, or any of that stuff. The SONG is all that plus the lyrics, so I didn't even comment on the SONG as a whole.

Yes, this is a useless argument. You might never even see it. But simply put, if you expect me to ever stop listening to what people say and how they say it, you're going to be disappointed.

(And I find the idea that a song is not source of philosophical debate laughable. What is art but a fount of philosophical discourse?)

Joe Bryant said...

You think it's supposed to mean "If I were to lie here," but it means "If I were lying here" and it's quite correct.

The next line is actually "Would you lie with me", not "Will you lie with me."

E.g. "If Bob lay here, would you lie with him?" is correct, as is "If I lay here, would you lie with me?"

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is wrong. Even if the verb is regarded as taking the subjunctive mood it should still be rendered as "lie". The subjunctive does not require the use of the past tense form of the verb e.g. "I could lie down to sleep as a child" which is arguably in the subjunctive form (the subjunctive mood expresses action or being not as a fact but as merely conceived of in the mind) so it fits the bill. If this is the case, the song should have used "lie" and the congruence between the three lines would have allowed the beauty of the sentiment to shine through. Instead, the use of the incorrect subjunctive form has caused confusion.

4ndyman said...

RE: The previous comment: I don't think the lyrics are confusing. I don't think confusion is what's at discussion -- it's hypercorrect grammar vs. poetic license, and whether or not this choice actually was poetic license or just an accident.

One of the confusing things about lay vs. lie is that lay is both the present tense of lay and the past tense of lie. Using lay as a past tense verb (as in "Joe lay here for forty days before achieving nirvana") sounds awkward to our ears. We would feel more comfortable using the past perfect ("Joe had lain here...") or present perfect ("Joe has lain here for nearly 40 days, but nothing has happened yet.")

"To lay," though, requires a direct object. Since "If I lay here," doesn't have a direct object, it must be the past tense of "to lie." But since it's obvious from the second half of the sentence (..."would you lie with me") that the lyrics are in present tense, this doesn't work either.

UNLESS: "If I lay here [in the past, at some undisclosed location], would you lie [tell untruths, or recline in some other place] with me..."

But again, this is all academic. I think the lyric works well as it stands to create the intended double meaning. Saying that the lyric is "wrong" is a bit like saying that, oh, Picasso's paintings are "wrong" because the perspective isn't accurate.

And where would we be in popular music if lyricists weren't allowed to bend the rules? Can you imagine how ugly the Stones' song "I can't get any satisfaction!" would be? Or Elvis's "You aren't anything but a hound dog!"

Saldek said...

This discussion started in 2006? I'm amazed.
We should probably just let it lie and lay down arms, but hailing from Germany the grammar nazi thing comes naturally to me.
My take on these lyrics is that they are correct, but obfuscated by the lie/lay problem and the emphatic repetition "If I just lay here,".
Looking at the simpler sentence "If I lay here, would you lie with me?" and taking it as a if-clause/conditional sentence (type two, with an at least theoretically fulfillable condition) seems to solve the problem. In this case, the offending "lay" is just the past tense of the expected "lie". Conditional clauses (type II) have the structure:
If [subject] [past tense of verb] would/could/might [infinitive of another verb]. Everything is in order and Mr. Lightbody needn't apply for a poetic licence. :P

Some comparitive examples:

If I lay here,
If I just lay here,
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

If I baked this,
If I just baked this,
Would you eat it with me and just ignore the taste?

If I said you have a beautiful body,
If I just said you have a beautiful body,
Would you hold it against me and just ignore my grammar?

If I said you had a beautiful body,
If I just said you had a beautiful body,
Would you hold it against me and just forget the world?

Let's hope this will keep us going on into ze coming year :)

P.S.: If you find this comment annoying and/or too besserwisserisch, attack my punctuation. I promise, I'll go down in flames. And I won't hold it against you.

Sarah said...

I was cofused about this song's grammatical structure too, and found this topic while searching for someone who shared the same 'confusion' with me. I want to thank all of you for your opinions that gave the song a different aspect to look from. I also would like to share my opinion about this structure. Here's what I have:

I think that the situation here is that the speaker is not actually lying (=reclining), but wants to now what "would" happen if he "lay" (the past tense of lie), would she "lie" (=recline) (the present simple tense) with him?

It is the structure of supposing something which is presently untrue or not existing.

e.g. I am not going to the party, but if I "went" there, would you "go" with me?

I want to thank the owner of this blog for giving me the opportunity do discuss these little details :).

Anonymous said...

As was noted previously in the comments, the grammar is correct.

The verb of the first clause is in the subjunctive--it's a conditional statement. If/would. It's an uncommon construction for Americans, but it's easily explicated. He could also have formed the sentence as such:

"If I (were to) lie here, would you lie with me..."

The past tense of the verb is required to indicate the subjunctive mood being employed due to the uncertainty of the event. A similar sentence might be:

"If I ran a marathon, would you run it with me?"


"If I made tacos for dinner, would you eat them?"

xmann said...

Charlotte was so very right. Some disagreed. Others disagreed only to later agree.

The irony of it all is that Snow Patrol proved to better grammarians than us all.

Also, I agree that it is true that we Americans (and most Englsh-speaking peoples) have long since abandoned the subjunctive mood.

For example, few of us say, "I want that you do it." Instead, we use the infinitive: "I want you to do it."

Finally, to clarify, "if I lay here" is actually the imperfect subjunctive.

Warsaw Will said...

Charlotte and Saldek are of course absolutely right, and sadly half of the blogosphere seems not to get it. This is what we in TEFL call a 2nd Conditional - If + Past Simple (or subjunctive if you like), would + infinitive - lay is of course the Past Simple of lie, and exactly what we'd expect with would. I don't know about American English, but this is a very common construction in British English

If I won the lottery I would buy a new house.

And the 2nd (unreal) conditional is fully justified by the supplementary line - If I just lay here. He doesn't seem to be very sure of himself, or maybe he's just trying to reassure her.