Windshield wipers, splishin’, splashin’

If I told you that 16th century English aristocrats created their own posher version of a French girl’s name, what kind of invention would you expect? Frideswide? Lettice? Josian?  Wrong.

It’s a name that gives nothing away. At first glance, it’s plain. So plain that it’s become a byword for anonymity in the US. But it’s a name that camouflages a wealth of possibilities for songwriters – it’s easy to rhyme, its diphthong expands, it’s easy to sing.

Any guesses?  Here’s a cryptic Italian clue:

I couldn’t find a live performance of R Dean Taylor‘s original Gotta See Jane, so I thought I Nomadis version would do the trick. Yes, Jane is the name. Name of choice for English aristocrats long ago and the perfect, perfect name for R Dean Taylor’s lady friend.

But why?

I Nomadi can help with that. They called their song Il Nome de Lei (Her Name – or, more exactly – The Name of Her). The Italian word lei (her) has the same vowel sound and the same diphthong as Jane. That’s clever.

Instead of translating Gotta See Jane word for word, I Nomadi translated it sound for sound. The sound picture they created in Italian mirrors the English sound picture. I Nomadi understood the importance of the contrast between the onomatopoeic, choppy Italian c, g, t and p sounds of the frantic drive through the rainy night and the smooth, soaring sounds of longing for the woman who waits at the end of the journey. That’s what’s at the heart of Gotta See Jane. That’s the song’s emotional pull. So it doesn’t matter that I Nomadi’s words don’t mean the same as the English lyrics. They’ve captured the soul of the song, and that’s what matters. Their lyrics are here.

Back to Jane. She isn’t a girl who’s valued for her diphthong alone. Listen to R Dean Taylor’s original song here. And try putting Joyce, Joan or Jade in place of Jane. They don’t do the job properly, do they?

What does Jane have that her soft-j-beginning, single-syllabled female friends don’t share? All the ladies have useful diphthongs, so they can bend and stretch like an accordion bellows when they need to. And in this song, they need to.

But R Dean Taylor’s needs even more from his woman. He needs a soft, round, yearning counterpoint to the staccato, driving beat of red light, green light, speedin’ through the dark night. His woman’s edges need to be clear but smooth.

Jade’s d is too hard. Joyce’s ce is too soft. So, how about Joan?

16th century English aristocrats found Joan horribly French. Joan doesn’t suit Mr Taylor either. She doesn’t rhyme with rain, or with any usefully dangerous weather. Perhaps cyclone – but then that’s too distracting. Rain has just the right amount of jeopardy, heightened by the fact that he’s driving at night. It’s exciting, without being too exciting. We want to be focused on the woman, not the weather.

There’s a reason why Martha Reeves turned to James, not Jack or John in her version of the song here. She needed a soft, clear ending after the yearning diphthong in the middle of the name. You can’t stretch John without sounding strange and Jack is too sharp at one end for Martha’s purposes.

If English isn’t your first language – make sure you stretch the diphthong of Jane generously when you sing this song. You need to pronounce the name Jane as you’ve never heard it pronounced before. Relax and let the music lead you.

Just as I Nomadi knew when they substituted lei for Jane – the music needs a soaring, longing word. Forget the ordinary Jane you’ve used in English class, or heard spoken. The Jane of Gotta See Jane is a different woman. She’s a dream and a memory. Give her plenty of room to stretch and grow.

If you’re writing a love song in English, you’ll be in good company if you change the name of your love object to suit your music. Think of Jolene and Emily or even Heathcliff. Each chosen for the sake of the music, not for the sake of true love.

By the way – my mind went blank when I tried to think of songs written by women featuring the real names of men they loved. Can you help? I can think of Bob Dylan’s Sara or Jagger’s Angie, but I’m struggling to think of similar songs written by women.

© Sing Better English, 2015

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3 thoughts on “Windshield wipers, splishin’, splashin’”

    1. Thanks GolNaran. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think the name Jane often gets unfairly overlooked. It’s good to hear it being brought to life in a song and to hear a ‘plain’ Jane being so beloved that her man is going to drive all night through the pouring rain just to get to her.

      I like the way that ‘windscreen wipers, spishin’ splashin” sounds exactly like the regular beat of windscreen wipers working fast on a rainy night. I love it when the sound of words paints pictures in your mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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