Lyric Lens: “I’m Sorry” by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk

For this installment of Lyric Lens, I knew I wanted to examine the way that Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk capture the voices of children in their writing.  Of course, there are many great songs for kid characters in their show Henry and Mudge. The one most people probably know best is “My Party Dress,” which I think is an iconic example of how to write in a child’s voice.  If you don’t know it, I highly recommend checking out the lyrics and performances of that song on the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk website, but I’m not going to go all Lyric Lens on that song today.

Why not, you ask?  Well, a couple of reasons.  First, it’s kind of a beast of a song.  That little girl talks fast, and there are a ton of words.  I don’t think I could even begin to detail in one blog post every little thing about it that makes me smile.  Second, it’s hard not to write about a song when it’s so charmingly catchy you’ve been humming it on and off for months.  That song is “I’m Sorry,” a standalone song that can be heard on the KL Live album, and which I first heard performed last summer at the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk NYMF concert.  Here’s a video of that performance, by the lovely Meghann Fahy:

Watch this video on YouTube.

Let’s take a look at some of the little reasons why I love this song.  As usual, I’ll start with the first line:

I held my mother’s hand as I crossed the street.

That thing I said last time, about how important the first line or two of a song is, because of what it tells me about the character?  This is a great example of that.  Here’s what I know already after one line: this character is a child, or possibly an adult looking back on a childhood memory, since she’s speaking in the past tense.  Perhaps more importantly, I know that this kid plays—or used to play—by the rules.  Moving along:

I colored in my coloring book.
I never spoke a word til spoken to.
I never hurt a fly.
I was the kind who wasn’t open to making mudpies.

On the more technical side of things, I’m obsessed with the internal almost-rhyme of “spoken to” and “open to.”  It’s so natural that you barely notice it, but it really makes the song flow.  Character-wise, I’ve learned more about her rule-following personality, but also something else important.  She “never hurt a fly”—she’s a sensitive, empathetic kid.  Which is a nice segue into the chorus:

So I’m sorry that I asked you to marry me.
I’m so sorry but the impulse was strong.
I’m sorry that I asked you and I’m sorry that I kissed you.
Now I know I was wrong.

The “I’m sorry” hook is so great, especially the repetition of it.  I can just imagine that her parent or some other adult taught her that saying you’re sorry makes things better when you’ve upset someone, and now she’s saying it over and over to try to fix this situation.  Or maybe it’s the opposite—she’s not actually very sorry at all, but somebody told her she had to apologize so she’s repeating herself to make sure the powers that be are satisfied.  Either way, it feels totally authentic to a kid’s voice.  But at the same time, I love that I hear a little bit of her adult voice in the subtly grown-up phrasing of “the impulse was strong.”

I saw your freckled face and I fell in love.
Love looked a lot like Huckleberry Finn.
Love had me running round in circles and singing it in the choir.
I dreamed of raising baby turtles when we retire.

I admire this second verse for the way that it manages to let the adult and child voices of this character exist side by side.  “Singing it in the choir” feels like an adult’s phrasing to me, and I’m guessing that this character probably didn’t read about Huckleberry Finn until she was older than she was when the marriage proposal incident occurred.  But the delicious little details like “freckled face” and “baby turtles” (probably my favorite little part of the whole song) are all kid.  So many layers. (Also, my beloved almost-rhyme is back, this time with “circles” and “turtles”!)

Here is a baby turtle. Why? Because they're adorable.

Here is a baby turtle. Why? Because they’re super adorable.

I don’t need to say much about the second chorus, because it’s almost identical to the first one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one piece of new information—she gave the boy a ring pop!  I love it.  It’s so real.  I was definitely involved in a few ring pop weddings in my elementary school days.  Weren’t we all?

I learned to count. I learned how to tie my shoe.
I learned that love is better when it’s true.
I try to make things picture perfect.
I try not to make mistakes.
Somehow my cheeks are always burning with one more heartbreak,
One more heartache.

There’s a lot of awesome stuff going on in the third verse.  I’m totally enchanted by the first couplet, the way it juxtaposes big and small lessons and emphasizes the contrast with the rhyme.  And then comes the first use of the present tense—outside of the “I’m sorry” hook—and with it, I get to know this character in a whole new way.  She’s grown from a sensitive, rule-following little girl into a full-fledged perfectionist.  Even as her heart gets broken in new ways, she can’t help but look back on this thing she messed up when she was little.

I have moments a lot—and I think most other people do, too—where I think of something that embarrassed or upset me fifteen or twenty years ago, and it’s like I’m that kid all over again.  To me, what’s so wonderful about this song is that it captures the way that in these moments we can be two people at once, still an adult but also, suddenly, a child.

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