Monday Night Special #4: Delving in with Diagrams (to Somebody Told Me)

10 Sep

It’s not confidential:  Tonight’s the night I’ve got potential to bore you clean to death with my diagramming and analysis of a pop song from 2004.

Arbitrarily Picked Work of Fiction:

“Somebody Told Me” by The Killers

Quick Synopsis:

Up for debate, I suppose.  A dude’s in a club, chatting up a girl–“breakin’ my back just to know your name” suggests he does not have a previous attachment to her, and the dance beat suggests a club situation–and he realizes he’s heard a rumor about her previous romantic partner, who had been a gentleman who looked like a lady the original dude had previously dated.  This dude wants to take the girl home with him–“Ready? Let’s roll onto something new / Takin’ its toll, and I’m leavin’ without you” expresses his desire to move past the “seventeen tracks” played so far at the club as well as his regret that he’ll probably go home alone.

The rumor has effectively “ruin[ed] my moonlight,” and he knows that “heaven ain’t close in a place like this.”  Thus, his romantic goals for the night have been thwarted.

Important Quotation:

Somebody told me
You had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year.

This sentence serves as the main chorus, if any of the discrete and oft-repeated hooks may be elevated to that title.  It gives us the rumor, which has caused the narrator his emotional distress.  It may suggest that the girlfriend he had may have secretly been a cross-dresser or transgender or that the girlfriend has a fraternal twin brother or other male relation who looks like her or that some stranger happens to resemble her.

Judging from the level of disturbance–ruined moonlight, heaven not being close, etc.–the former is most likely although I prefer the twins theory because it makes the song more “Fall of the House of Usher”-y.

No word on why this distresses him so.  Is he worried that he dated a dude?  Is he worried that someone will find out?  Is he worried that the dude/lady he dated cheated on him?  File all that under IDK.



Thoughts on Structure:

We have a noun clause as the direct object of the main clause and adjective clauses hanging off the noun clause and each other.  When one starts adding more and more adjective clauses, one often loses clarity, which adds to the delirium and deliberate obfuscation of this song.  The clauses all seem to swirl around each other in ambiguity.  Notice it wasn’t Charles Nelson Reilly who told the rumor, simply the indefinite pronoun “somebody.”  Perhaps the “somebody” of the chorus is truly the person for whose name our narrator is breakin’ his back.

Oh, and we’ve got some interesting stuff happening with relative pronouns.  We have three clauses that could be introduced with relative pronouns like that, who, which, etc.  The noun clause eschews the that that could introduce it–probably out of economy.  It’s optional and unnecessary in this instance.

The first adjective clause is introduced with a who, which is correct.  Whos go with people; thats go with not people.

The second adjective clause is introduced with a that, which is incorrect.  The that here refers to “girlfriend,” who, while ambiguously female, is nevertheless a person and deserves a who.  But not just any who.  She needs a “whom” because she’s the object of “I had.”  Perhaps this little that/whom slip up indicates our narrator’s feelings toward women in general or his ex-girlfriend in particular:  unworthy of personhood, relegated to the land of inhuman things.  Certainly, his level of distress about the rumor indicates some lack of respect or lack of trust of the previous girlfriend that is now affecting his respect/trust/wanting-to-sleep-with-her-ness for this new girl, and this ill-feeling is foreshadowed by his grammar faux pas.

*For bonus grammar, see the bottom of this post.

Final Thoughts:

This song–in my mind–is kind of a Twilight Zone episode:  I imagine a really confused dude in a really dark–and green-tinted, in my mind–club talking to an ambiguously female person–because the old girlfriend and the new girlfriend coalesce into one-ish person in this mind music video–and the dude has to repeat himself a lot because it’s really loud–with a thumping electronica beat with a lot of weird space ship noises.  He becomes progressively more and more disoriented, and by the end, he’s holding his head in his hands as the room spins, and he’s faced with an empty dance floor.

The narrator seems mentally unstable with all those nonsensical phrases pushed together. Maybe the gal he’s talking to currently–and his erstwhile love from February–are better off without his “rushin’ around, rushin’ around.”

*Bonus Grammar:

Additionally, we have two adverbial objectives–nouns being used as adverbs that you can reword with a prepositional phrase!  (Note:  This is not actually objectively exciting enough to warrant an exclamation point; I just really love them and find diagramming them to be an absolute treat.)  The first is “me,” which is the indirect object of told and therefore pretty standard issue.  The second is “girlfriend,” which is slightly more complex.

Like can be a noun (his likes and dislikes), a verb (he likes you), a preposition (hungry like the wolf), or an adjective–as it is here.  But the thing about like is that it still retains some of that prepositional sense to it when it’s being an adjective.  We know it’s an adjective here because it can be compared (the boyfriend can look more like the girlfriend), but it’s also got a noun after it that is somehow connected to it.  But how?!  Let’s think of how Shakespeare might say it:  Thou hast a boyfriend who looketh like unto a girlfriend I hath in February of last year.  Because we can rephrase this with that preposition unto, girlfriend is an adverbial objective!!!!! (Disclaimer:  That Elizabethan English is in the wrong tense, but I do what I want.)

3 Responses to “Monday Night Special #4: Delving in with Diagrams (to Somebody Told Me)”

  1. shedwebb 10 September 2012 at 9:52 PM #

    I couldn’t like this entry more than I do. In fact, it has inspired me to delve back into my own diagramming hobby, for I, too, am unemployed and might find some comfort reuniting with my good pals Reed and Kellogg.

    • TheBestofAlexandra 10 September 2012 at 10:24 PM #

      I’m so glad to have inspired you. I was thinking of you when I wrote it. 🙂


  1. Monday Night Special #13: Delving in With Diagrams (to Merry Christmas, Darling) « I Started Late and Forgot the Dog. - 17 December 2012

    […] and it has near as a predicate adjective.  Usually near is an adverb or a preposition.  But like like, near can flip flop according to usage.  Now, when we’ve discussed this sort of thing […]

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