Sunday, November 17, 2013

What About the Woman in "We Gotta Get You a Woman"?

When you've got a song stuck in your head, you might as well analyze the lyrics. This morning it was Todd Rundgren's "We Gotta Get You a Woman," which was a hit in 1970 when I was 10 or 11 years old, then permeated the airwaves throughout my teen years.

I loved the song, probably because of Rundgren's harmonies, upbeat sound, and shifting rhythms. As a girl and later a woman, though, the lyrics should have given me pause. But they didn't. And this morning I thought to wonder why.
We Gotta Get You a Woman
By Todd Rundgren

Leroy, boy, is that you?
I thought your post-hangin' days were through,
Sunk-in eyes and full of sighs,
Tell no lies, you get wise,
I tell you now we're gonna pull you through,
There's only one thing left that we can do.

We gotta get you a woman,
It's like nothin' else to make you feel sure you're alive.
We gotta get you a woman,
We better get walkin', we're wastin' time talkin' now.

Leroy, boy, you're my friend
You say how and I'll say when
Come and meet me down the street
Take a seat, it's my treat
You may not ever get this chance again
That empty feeling's just about to end.

Talkin' 'bout life and what it means to you,
It don't mean nothin' if it don't run through
I got one thing to say, you know it's true
You got to find some time to get this thing together.

Talkin' 'bout things about that special one
They may be stupid but they sure are fun
I'll give it to you while we're on the run
Because we ain't got time to get this thing together, 'cause we
Got to get together with a woman who has been around,
One who knows better than to let you down,
Let's hope there's still one left in this whole town,
And that she'll take some time to get this thing together.

We gotta get you a woman
And when we're through with you,
We'll get me one too.
First, there's the idea of getting a woman. Get is one of those Anglo-Saxon words that has so many meanings that it's almost undefinable. It could mean possessing her, that the woman is an object, like get you a present. Which would be offensive. But I always heard it as get you with a woman: make a connection, find a woman for you.

The second and most objectionable line is "They may be stupid but they sure are fun." I do remember being offended by that in my youth, but thinking about it today I realized that it's softened by the use of the word may -- some women may be stupid, of course, and so are some men. And also that it essentially made no sense to me that a man could think a woman who's his "special one" is stupid. It seemed like one of those flumoxed remarks made about not understanding the opposite sex, rather than a statement of fact.

I never took the song to mean they needed to get him a woman for casual sex. I think the lyrics indicate the need for a relationship: they want to end an "empty feeling," they're looking for a woman who "knows better than to let you down." One who will "take some time to get this thing together." Doesn't sound like a casual hookup.

And the change in the music to a soft, dreamy sound in two of the verses -- "Talkin' 'bout life and what it means to you" and the one about the woman who knows better than to let him down -- reinforces the seriousness of the attempt. He cares about this, as connoted by the key change and shift in tempo.

All of this may be cognitive dissonance on my part. But I prefer to think of it as my girlhood self asserting agency. I am a person, not an object, so this guy can't mean that. He knows women are people, too, right? How could he not? That would just be stupid.

So despite the problems I should have with the song, I don't. And it's a good song to have stuck in your head. In fact, I think I'll go listen to it one more time.


Jamie MacD said...

Everyone misinterprets that line about"they may be stupid" as the antecedent reference is "things" for the plural pronoun "things" not "women." (I had always heard "dreams" not things bit it amounts to the same thing.) It is the reverential boy-talk - "things about that special [sic] one - that ia "stupid," y'know comments about her looks, personality and style, the things that mark her as unique, as well as fantasies about the relationship he fantasizea having with her.

So the charge of misogyny is bogus.

Daughter Number Three said...

That's an interpretation I wouldn't have thought of, so thanks for commenting. However, I think it's a bit strong to declare any other interpretation "bogus."

He wouldn't be the first songwriter to shift from a singular subject to a plural one because it suited the rhyme better, or just happened to come out that way.