The Literary Offenses of Steve Miller

Frankly, I hesitate to broach the subject of Steve Miller’s poetic faults, as it feels distinctly like challenging a child with polio to a game of one-on-one basketball, or being a superpower that picks a fight with a tiny, impoverished nation and then brags about winning. Which is not to say I am a poetic superpower—-but as I will demonstrate, if semantic prowess could be displayed in the form of a map, Steve Miller is Liechtenstein, or perhaps The Vatican. Anyone who can utter or scribble the phrase “pay day” is at least the hypothetical poetic size of Spain.

As such, I will spare Mr. Miller from an attack on his most insipid lines, including*:

Abra, abracadabra
I wanna reach out and grab ya

Hmmm, a reference to magic, then a reference to groping. It might qualify as a mixed metaphor if it was in fact a metaphor at all. Instead, it is simply two unrelated phrases put together in order to take advantage of a rhyme. Yet despite this Dr. Frankensteinian approach to lyricism, the best he was able to do with this grossly amateur verbal stitching was to rhyme “cadabra” with “grab ya”? This entry for “laziest rhyme in rock history” makes an admirable grasp for the top (bottom) position, and while it does not dethrone Ozzy Osbourne’s audacious rhyming of “masses” with “masses”, its loathsome attributes do warrant a well-earned honorable mention.

Another easy target that I will avoid is perhaps his most famous lyric*:

I speak of the pompitous of love

Scholars (or at least stoners) have puzzled for decades on the meaning of “pompitous”, a word notably absent from any dictionary other than Steve Miller’s So-Called English Diktionary. This oft-referenced vocabularic creativity seeks your forgiveness on the merits of its phenomurescent phonics, a wink-wink, all-in-good-fun toying with the mother tongue. No such forgiveness should be granted. Some writers have a great deal of fun with the English language: To wit, Richard Sheridan created the fabulous character Mrs. Malaprop, whose willingness to embrace language far exceeded her grasp of its meaning. (For instance, “Make no delusions to the past.”) However, Miller is having no such fun. He’s just making up words like a child who doesn’t know better. (On the bright side, he didn’t use it at the end of a line, otherwise he would have been forced to make up another; or worse, rhymed it with “school bus”).

No, the subject of this dis-missive is the song still-popular-on-inexplicably-popular-classic-rock-stations, “Take the money and run.”

Here, Miller out-does even his own reputation for poetic license. (I use the term loosely—Miller takes “poetic license” far beyond legal borders, wielding it like a man trying to buy a beer in Australia by presenting as ID his San Diego library card.) Here, he not only continues his penchant for haphazard rhyming, but branches into the mangling of syntax as well.

The song concerns a young criminal couple (think John Cougar’s Jack and Diane crossed with a lazy Bonnie and Clyde), and includes the following verse*:

Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas
You know he knows just exactly what the facts is
He ain’t gonna let those two escape justice
He makes his livin’ off of the people’s taxes

It is difficult to determine which so-called rhyme to criticize in this verse. I am guessing the intention was to rhyme the 2nd and 4th lines, though I am open to the possibility that Miller may have prided himself on achieving a rhyming quadrella. (In fact, Steve, several of your horses never finished the race.) This example is classic Miller—-dismissing the agreement rule that would require either “fact is” or “facts are” in favor of a rickety phrase that passes for rhyme only when the stereo volume is on the lowest setting.

While this lyrical carelessness would elicit a response of “Grammar needs work, C-” from any high school English teacher, apparently no one at Capital Records was worried about the errors. (I have no doubt that this cavalier attitude to wordplay is not exhibited in the language of the record contract.) Also of no apparent concern is the functional use of the title of the song:

Take the money and run

Harmless enough, one would think, but not in the hands of Steve Miller. Not satisfied with the 12 or 15 chorus and outro repetitions of the eponymous phrase, Miller saw fit to work it into the verse lyrics. And like a child who thinks the reason the square peg isn’t fitting the round hole is because he’s not forcing it hard enough, he not only ignores subject/verb agreement completely, he actually has to alter the title phrase to do so:

Bobbie Sue took the money and run

Actually, Bobbie Sue didn’t “run”, she “ran”. Had she been commanded to “take the money and run”, Bobbie Sue wouldn’t have stumbled over the words during her escape. Fortunately for her, Billy Mack was still unable to catch her because he was busy puzzling over the snide reference that he makes his money “off of the people’s taxes”—not only the incorrect preposition (“from the people’s taxes”, not “off of” them), but all policemen being civil servants, where else would the money come from? Was Mr. Miller you trying to present himself as anti-establishment (“Oooo, way to stick it to the man, Stevo!”), or was he simply struggling to find a rhyme for “facts is”?

This forum does not allow space for further coverage of Miller’s literary offenses; Indeed, it would require a full semester course at a better state college to even consider a comprehensive autopsy on the language he has butchered. Beside, I were thinking on Steve Miller for so long that I is starting to think his method are rubbing up on me.

* Source: www.stevemillerband.com

(The title, and to a lesser degree the tone, is an homage to Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses”, an enduring piece of comic literary criticism, and in my opinion a very funny read. My homage is incomplete because Twain twists and exaggerates Cooper’s words to fuel his farce; I am dealing with Steve Miller’s words verbatim.) (Amazing, but true.)

©2003 wpreagan

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