Untitled Melody

April 13, 2014

Sing the following words softly to the tune of “I’m in the Mood for Love”:

I’m on the list for dinner

I feel like it makes me a sinner

One day I could be thinner

But I’m on the list for dinner

Honestly, I’m not on another bad poetry jag this week. I was just boring myself with blog after blog on depressing topics in food ethics, and something had to give. We (that is, the philosophy department) had a guest speaker in this week and we were planning to take him out to eat after his talk. I wasn’t sure whether I had replied to the e-mail inquiring who would be among the party for this event. It turns out I was on the list for dinner, at which point the Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields ditty sprang into my head in an inspirational moment.

Which got me to pondering the thought behind the original lyric (which hardly needs repeating) “I’m in the mood for love simply because you’re near me.  Funny, but when you’re near me I’m in the mood for love.” It was premiered in 1935 by Frances Langford. You could have found out all of that on Wikipedia, but you needn’t overstress your fingers this week. I’ve given it to you here. (No need to comment below expressing your thanks.)

It’s Fields the lyricist who gave us the quaintly elliptical “I’m in the mood for love simply because you’re near me.” This part I understand. The thing that got me pondering last week was the “funny” business in Fields’ lyric. Is this supposed be “Ha Ha,” funny or “Strange” funny? I incline toward the “Strange” reading because frankly I don’t see anything “Ha Ha” funny about it. But then again, isn’t Fields’ basically saying what Cole Porter (with greater irony, I note) had suggested seven years earlier (They say in Boston even beans do it. Let’s do it. Let’s fall in love.)? If that’s right—and I mean, really, can there be any doubt about that?—then it poses a question for a protracted and meandering hermeneutical analysis. But here’s the quick version: In what sense is this in any way strange? It is, as Porter suggested, only natural. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even over-educated fleas do it.

And it’s McHugh I have to thank for the ditty that accompanied my dinnertime musings. The dinner was good and there wasn’t anything funny about that, either.

Strange, isn’t it?

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University