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Thu, 16 Oct 2008

"The Babysitter's Here"

This song is on the first Dar Williams album, The Honesty Room, from 1993. You can give it a listen and read the lyrics.

The song is a gorgeous mix of violins and Dar doing her best to sound even cuter than usual. Our narrator, the child, is happy, sweet, and naive. You can see that as soon as the first verse:

I don't understand and she tries to explain,
How a spaceship is riding through somebody's brain,
And there's blood and guts and...

...and she trails off. There's no point for our narrator to try to understand anything deeper; it just doesn't work, so she talks about what makes her happy. The babysitter!

She's the best one we've ever had.

The chorus explains what makes her so great: she does things her own way. "She sits on her hair!" "She pierced her own ear!" (Something which, upon reflection, probably hurt.) At this point, who would not swoon? "She's tall as my dad" - I suppose she never quite fit in that way. But our narrator loves her for it.

The violins swell as our babysitter is the star. The narrator is adorable - overwhelmed! "And she's oh! oh! oh!" You can imagine her trembling with anticipation: "I can't wait to give her the card!" she repeats. "She's the best one!" is all our narrator can say until she composes herself to explain in the simplest logic. Finally, she concludes:

So that means that the star was...
My babysitter.

Something's not right. Tom is introduced by the narrator as "the king of romance," and she (the narrator) sighs, "Someday I'll have a boyfriend just like that." But if we look at his words:

And will they get married with kids of their own?
He says, "Not if she's going to college we won't."

This confinement of the babysitter is invisible to the innocent narrator, but not to the babysitter, and that conflict is what makes the song powerful. Listening, I picked up on this and found sympathy for the babysitter especially because the narrator can't. (I see a similar contrast between children's naivete and the pressures of adult decision in "The Kid's Song" by Moxy Fruvous. But that song is co-narrated by adults and children; in this one, we don't see any direct voice of the grown-ups in conflict. This story is told through the magical happy eyes of the child, making the babysitter's conflict look incomprehensible and unfair.)

The actions of the babysitter with "the king of romance" make her seem voiceless. There's the above conversation, and:

And she got mad at dinner when Tom drank a beer.

Tom's the one making choices here; all the babysitter can do is get angry, not alter Tom's behavior.

I want to highlight a theme through Dar's work: The chorus changes to show a progression of feeling. The last line of this chrous is phrased three different ways in the three repetitions. The first time we see the babysitter, it is strictly joyful.

And it's peace, man, cool, yeah, the babysitter's here...

After Tom drinks his beer, it seems to me Tom replies to her anger, trying to calm her down. I especially get that feeling from the "hey," as if it's short for, "Hey, don't act up in front of the kids you're babysitting," or "Stay cool, okay?". It further squelches our poor babysitter's self-expression.

But peace, man, cool, hey, the babysitter's here...

Iit's only natural that the violins swell for our hero, the babysitter, when she shows herself as the beautiful and unique unicorn. She is choosing for herself, and the music celebrates appropriately. In "As Cool As I Am," you saw men who put women in situations that strain their feelings. Dar likes to see them turn out with agency for the woman, even at the cost of tears.

So by the ending, our poor naive narrator misunderstands:

I don't understand and she tries to explain,
And all that mascara runs down in her pain,
'Cause she's leaving me...

The babysitter is leaving the narrator to go to college, having chosen it over Tom. "Don't go with a guy who would make you choose," she (the babysitter) warned. Trying to explain, her eyes brimming, the babysitter struggles for sympathy from the narrator who won't understand the choice she had to make. So she points out she has to leave the narrator.

In the final version of the chorus, the narrator tries to calm the babysitter. Two or three words at a time, with pauses between, the narrator tries to soothe the girl with tears streaming.

So hush now,
peace, man,
the babysitter's here.

In "As Cool As I Am" and "The Babysitter's Here," I see self-driven girls making the right decision, choosing themselves over their chauvinistic boyfriends. When I chose today's song, it didn't occur to me how similar the songs were. I think it shows what I love about Dar Williams.

On that note, I'll link to another song I like, this time with no explanation. Enjoy Kathleen Edwards' "In State" and read the lyrics.

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