• Songs I Wish I'd Written: Your Inarticulate Boyfriend
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Songs I Wish I’d Written: Your Inarticulate Boyfriend

The purpose of this series of posts is to share some comments about songs I wish I’d written. There are thousands of them.

This week’s entry:  “Your Inarticulate Boyfriend,”  a gem from Tsunami frontwoman Jenny Toomey’s second solo album.

The Song:
“Your Inarticulate Boyfriend,” as performed by Jenny Toomey on “Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno”

Jenny Toomey, Tempting cd Art


What’s So Great About “Your Inarticulate Boyfriend”?

I like this song’s simple, memorable melody.  But what really makes it stick is its hilarious lyrics, infused with a degree of cutting snark that all too rarely penetrates the realm of pop music.  Yeah, we get plenty of sarcasm and bitterness in pop and rock songs, but this is qualitatively different. It’s less personally aggrieved.  It’s more in line with the kind of wit you’d associate with the best of Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths, or perhaps the Magnetic Fields’ Stephen Merritt to cite a more contemporary reference point.

That snark begins from the first measures, filled with pseudo-mariachi horns. The first line then seals the deal, setting the stage perfectly for what will follow. Toomey’s unaffected, unemotional voice decares, “He can barely string two words together.”  More details follow:  “You hold up both ends of the conversation, and help him every time he’s at a loss.”

Then the lyrics try to look on the bright side — “He wouldn’t hurt you, he won’t desert you, but still…” — before slipping into resignation:  “Who am I to begrudge you happiness?”

By the third verse, Toomey is wryly suggesting her friend take up ventroliquism, after offering more details about the boyfriend’s lack of communication skills (“He can barely form a compound sentence”).  She keeps trying to find something positive to say, but in the end it all comes down to acknowledging that she can’t protect her friend from her own bad choices:

He doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t treat you as cruel
As those people that you dated back in school.
Who am I to deny you happiness without end
With your inarticulate boyfriend?

It’s a perfect — and even more withering — complement to Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him.”

The viewpoint is different, of course — Toomey is presumably a concerned albeit bemused friend, not the aspiring lover wondering what his dream sees in some neanderthal that she doesn’t see in him.

(This song’s writer, Nothing Painted Blue’s Franklin Bruno, also cut a version that I haven’t heard, but I think the song would lose a bit of its punch coming from someone who could be a romantic rival to the titular boyfriend.)

That this criticism is coming from a friend makes the stream of insults all the more cutting, because they’re more objective.  Toomey isn’t trying to woo the subject of the song, but is just pointing out that her friend could certainly do better.

But it’s hard to imagine a better “I can’t believe you’re dating THAT” song.  That’s why every time I hear “Your Inarticulate Boyfriend,” I wish I’d written it.

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  1. Mark Laskowski November 19, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Nicely done.

    Not only did I enjoy reading this particular take on the song, but I also think the “wish I had written” concept is one that will bear groovy fruit down the line.

    Was unaware of Toomey and Bruno too (although anyone who collaborates with John Darnielle is someone I want to know more about). so thanks for that. Last.FM came up empty as far as this song is concerned, so I plunked down 99 cents to hear it on iTunes. Way to stimulate the economy, Eston.

    It’s interesting that the “inarticulate boyfriend’s” critic has no apparent motivation. This might have been a more engaging song, lyrically, for me had some motivation for the dissing been developed, at least hinted at, in the storyline. If not the envy and jilted anger of Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him”, perhaps some sly insinuation that the lover of the “inarticulate boyfriend” ignores his lack on conversationalist skills because he’s a tireless bull on the springs (if you get my drift).

    Ultimately, I think the song is a kind of quickly put together burlesque because the mariachi structure is something listeners typically associate with romance but here the lyrics are a third party’s observations about he/she cannot comprehend what motivates said romance.

    Interesting … thanks for taking the time to share. I look forward to the next one and am inspired to read this blog more often. Write on, Eston!

  2. Eston November 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you, Mark! I have a couple of more half-written, and hope to parcel ’em out at least once per week. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    I do agree that the song was probably a pretty quick write for Bruno–burlesque captures it perfectly–and that the critic’s motivation is, at best, inconspicuous. I think that’s part of what I like about it — she doesn’t seem to have any other concern about him other than that he’s not much of a conversationalist.

    I’m a little concerned about that LastFM link not working, though — it worked for me last night! Hmmm. Will try to rectify that in future postings.


  3. Anonymous February 3, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    …I don’t think the narrator needs a motivation, other than basic concern. He doesn’t have to be lecherous or a potential suitor to wish someone happiness.

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