if you’ve even remotely been following my syntax fascination

then you’ll get why my mind was completely flooded with the power and genius, and yeah, muscle and sinew, of this particular John Prine lyric, heard so often but never before like this, at the BonTaj Roulet Tour concert last night:

“if dreams were thunder, lightning was desire”

jesus. Listen to the difference if he’d used parallel phrasing instead of reversing the subject/predicate in the second phrase:

-if dreams were thunder, [if] desire was lightning
-if thunder were dreams, lightning was desire

And speaking of difference, the lyrics John Prine wrote actually went:

“if dreams were lightning, thunder were desire”

but only he seems to sing it that way; everyone else follows Bonnie Raitt. Well, hers did get massive popular coverage. But I also think her version has a better logical flow, it fits the rhythm of our common speech. We say “thunder and lightning” not “lightning and thunder,” even though, in fact, thunder comes from lightning. But folk idiom is powerful, it is ingrained in our brains early on. And our brains remember phrases whose spoken sounds start at the front of our mouths (that “lie” sound) and then move to the back (that “der” sound). So did she intentionally rewrite? I’m betting probably not, but that singing the lyric in way that says “thunder lightning” was how she remembered it. Because it is, in fact, more memorable than how Prine wrote it.

Although I always love that Prine used the grammatically proper “were” in both of his clauses.



if you think I wasn’t also blown away by how Bonnie Raitt gets more beautiful, more powerful, more rich and more astounding with age, and by where in my body her music gets me, then why do you think you know me well enough to be reading my blog?

BonTaj Roulet

BonTaj Roulet

Listen Here:Angel From Montgomery


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