I’m of the general opinion that song lyrics don’t matter. A song is good or bad because of the music. If I want poetry, I’ll get a book of poems. Songs are all about the melody, rhythm and harmony. That being said, it can be enjoyable to notice the lyrics. Good lyrics can elevate an already good song (but they can’t save a bad song). Just listen to some Paul Simon sometime. Most songs, though, don’t have particularly good lyrics. This can be fun, too. It can be fun to pick apart less than great lyrics.
My favorite less than great lyrics are from Winter Wonderland. They aren’t exactly bad lyrics, they’re just weird. And they certainly don’t hurt the song, I love the song. As I said, they are just bizarre. It’s this verse in particular that gets me:
In the meadow we can build a snowman
And pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say, “Are you married?” We’ll say, “No man,
But you can do the job when you’re in town.”
I’ve put way too much thought into this verse, and I still can’t wrap my head around it.
On the surface, it is easy to understand. A couple of kids (we know they’re kids from a later verse when they pretend the snowman is a circus clown until the “other kids” knock him down) build a snowman. Then they pretend that the snowman is a member of the clergy who asks them if they are married. They say no, but offer to let the clergyman marry them when he’s in town. That seems pretty straightforward. But dig a bit deeper and it’s not.
First of all, what kids have ever built a snowman and then pretended that the snowman was a parson? It doesn’t say how old these kids are, but as kids, I would guess they’re under 18. And they’re probably over 5 to be out there building a snowman unsupervised. That’s a pretty big range, but none of them seem to fit. The only scenario I can see where kids would be pretending that a snowman is a pastor is if they were playacting a wedding. That could be if they are little kids who like to pretend to be grownups or maybe older kids who really think they are going to get married some day. But the rest of the verse shows that they are not doing a wedding which leaves the choice of a parson just plain odd.
Next, we have the parson’s question, “Are you married?” That only makes sense if the kids are little. It’s a joke, hoping for a giggle from the kids. If the kids are older, there’s no reason to ask. That kind of joke wouldn’t work by the time the kids are 9 or 10. And there’s no reason to ask if it’s not a joke. It’s not like they’re checking into a hotel together or even smooching. They’re just playing in the snow. Then we have to remember that this isn’t a real parson, it’s a snowman. The kids are putting these words in his mouth. But it’s not the kind of joke a kid is going to say on their own. That must mean that Parson Brown is someone they know who has made this joke before, probably repeatedly. The real Parson Brown is probably the pastor at their church.
So, in the right light, if you squint, it kind of makes some sense. But then the kids give their answer and it blows everything up. The “No man,” is fine. It’s not how little kids talk, but it rhymes with snowman and it’s the truth. The, “But you can do the job when you’re in town,” though. That doesn’t sound anything like little kids. That’s either older kids who are seriously thinking about marriage or another joke. But, even as a joke, it is not a little kid joke, so we’re still looking at older kids here. The problem is that up until the kids answer, this verse only makes sense if we assume they’re little kids. But their answer shows that they are not little kids. I just don’t see any way to resolve this tension.
Finally, there’s the “when you’re in town,” part. I know that town rhymes with Brown, but that’s no excuse. He seems to be in town right now, so there’s no reason to delay the wedding. And if Parson Brown is the pastor at the local church, he’s always in town. That must mean he’s not local. But if he’s not local, how do they know each other? If they don’t know each other quite well, asking if the two kids are married becomes kind of creepy.
There it is, a snapshot of what goes through my head every time I listen to Winter Wonderland. And I listen to it a lot this time of year. If anyone out there can make better sense of the lyrics, please let me know.