The other day I was singing in the shower, as I am wont to do, and found “What’s the Use of Wondrin” flowing from my lips. This was a surprise. I was in “Carousel” as a high school junior but that song was a Julie Jordan solo. My job during the scene was to stand and nod in an inspired fashion while Julie poured out her wisdom about finding happiness in the midst of a beating to all us less experienced girls. Well, all that standing and nodding I did in rehearsals and so forth seem to have had some effect on my psyche because even now, no fewer than twelve years since that curtain dropped I know every putrid word of a song I never sung.
Now let me just put this out there up front. I hate “Carousel” I hated the show then and I hate it now. You might pose the question, “Eva, why ,all those years ago, did chose to be a part of a show you profess to hate?” I’ll tell you. I was (and remain in my heart) a drama geek. The School Musical is what I lived for. Those were the shining months out of every school year. Hours spent rehearsing under the proscenium or giggling in the dusk of the auditorium over the sorts of jokes only prolonged exposure to the same forty five or so people can provide are priceless facets of my memory. I could no better deprive myself of that experience than I could stop myself breathing regardless of my opinions on the show selection.
Our director chose to approach the project from the angle of “Hope.” Even in that awful story he pointed out the opportunities each character had to hope for the better. His goal was to inspire the audience (and his teenage cast) to work toward hope in any given situation.
That was a noble goal. It’s probably the only way to serve up that show that could make it the least bit palatable, and I don’t think he failed all together. I do think He was working against the very fibers of the message delivered by the script. Sure there’s the one song “When you walk through a storm” whose message truly is one of hope, but the ultimate message of show is revealed when Billy Bigelow comes from beyond the grave to meet his child and set things right that were wrong in his life. What does he do with this chance? He ghost beats his daughter which then gives his widow the chance to teach the child that true love means it won’t hurt when he hits you.
Here’s my memory of the scene between Julie and Louise after Louise encounters her father’s ghost.
Louise: He hit me Mama, hit me real hard…but it didn’t hurt. When he hit me it, it felt like he kissed my hand.
Julie: (nods knowingly)
Louise: Is it possible Mama? To have someone hit you, hot you real hard and have it not hurt?
Julie: (inspired) Yes. It is possible, to have someone hit you, hit you real hard and have it not hurt. (choked with emotion and love for her deceased abuser)
Is there a sequel to carousel? The story of little Louise Bigelow out in the world looking for the man who can hit her like her daddy did. Moving from one abusive relationship to another, she searches, hoping that if she’s good enough, strong enough and loves him enough someday she’ll find the man whose blows feel like kisses. How’s that for a synopses?
To sum up. The message of the show is: you can never change not even after you’re dead, also women deserve nothing more than a good beating. If you really love your man it won’t hurt when he hits you. Hopeful right?
Now, go back to when I found myself singing a song I didn’t know I knew. I started out on the first verse, surprised that the words were present in my head, and thinking to myself “This song isn’t as bad as I remembered.”
Here are the first two verses of the song for your reference.
What’s the use of wond’ring
If he’s good or if he’s bad,
Or if you like the way he wears his hat?
Oh, what’s the use of wond’ring
If he’s good or if he’s bad?
He’s your feller and you love him,
That’s all there is to that.
Common sense may tell you
That the ending will be sad,
And now’s the time to break and run away.
But what’s the use of wond’ring
If the ending will be sad?
He’s your feller and you love him,
There’s nothing more to say.
If you take the first line “What’s the use of wondrin if he’s good or if he’s bad” in a more figurative sense it’s really not awful, and certainly there are worse things than a man who wears his hat poorly. That much of the song is excusable.
The second verse continues in this innocuous fashion. It could even be considered down right good advice for a girl who has the tendency to over analyze her relationships, killing all prospects before she even gives them a chance to prove themselves. I got that far and nearly decided I’d misjudged the song as a whole.
Once I started into the bridge though, not to mention the third verse, my original opinion reasserted it’s self, and with a vengeance. Here are those lyrics.
Something made him the way that he is,
Whether he’s false or true,
And something gave him the things that are his,
One of those things is you, so
When he wants your kisses,
You will give them to the lad,
And anywhere he leads you, you will walk.
And anytime he needs you,
You’ll go running there like mad.
You’re his girl and he’s your feller,
And all the rest is talk.
It really is a shame. The melody is beautiful and so much fun to sing. But am I willing to allow my young daughters to hear me absentmindedly repeat those noxious lyrics? No I am not. And so, until I can find different words to sing. Words that won’t inadvertently teach my girls to think of themselves as possessions, the song, lovely tune and all, is and must be expunged from my repertoire.