Patterico's Pontifications


Help Me Settle This Controversy

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:10 am

A controversy which I just created on my own, but so be it.

When Paul Rodgers sings the words:

Now he’s in a rock and roll outfit
And everything’s all right

Has Johnny:

a) Donned the clothing of a rock and roll star? or
b) Joined a rock and roll band?

You can register your vote in the comments or vote on Twitter here:

18 Responses to “Help Me Settle This Controversy”

  1. I don’t want to put my thumb on the scales, so I will merely say that I always assumed it was one of the two, and this morning it occurred to me for the first time that it could be the other.

    Patterico (e349ce)

  2. You obviously have too much time on your hands.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  3. Outfit as in band.

    Nothing in the song mentions clothing. But the do talk about his career as a musician.

    Time123 (a5c040)

  4. I always assumed it was outfit as in band. The interpretation that it could be clothing struck me like a thunderbolt out of the blue this morning. All of a sudden the word “outfit” sounded so ridiculously antiquated that it seemed unlikely (although, to be fair, the song itself is antiquated, sung by a man who is now 71 years old).

    If I imagine the word to refer to a band, I keep hearing it said in Bob Uecker’s voice, laundered through the recollection of Norm MacDonald (whose videos I have watched nearly non-stop for the past several days): “Yeah, Johnny joined one of them there rock and roll outfits!” To hear what I’m talking about, watch this clip:

    Patterico (e349ce)

  5. I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy ….
    But it’s sad and sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes ….

    A set of clothes is the primary meaning of outfit in the Oxford Dictionary, and the gentleman in question being of the British persuasion, I go with clothes, perhaps used poetically to denote a change of situation.

    Even in American, I could see it meaning a band only if soldiers were talking about a transfer from The U.S. Army Concert Band to The U.S. Army Band Downrange. That’s the more suitable place for that meaning.

    Poets! What’re you gonna do?

    nk (1d9030)

  6. All I know is that my grandfather, who was born in 1899, was still calling cars “buggies” in the 80s.

    norcal (b9a35f)

  7. We need a cleanup on aisle 7.

    norcal (b9a35f)

  8. Has Johnny:

    a) Donned the clothing of a rock and roll star? or
    b) Joined a rock and roll band?

    As someone good at taking a SAT test could tell you, there’s not enough information to tell. There might be some clues in other parts of the song.

    Let’s see:

    Johnny made a record
    Went straight up to number one

    If he made a record, he is a rock star. Not necessarily in a band. He could be alone, like Elvis Presley.

    In fact , I’d say he’s not in a band.

    That’s why he’s described as being in a rock and roll outfit. Wearing clothing like a rock and roll star.

    I just thought: Could you be thinking that “outfit” means a group? No, it doesn’t. It would be a strange word to pick, Besides, he’s the only one mentioned.

    He died, like some rock stars died. Like Janis Joplin.

    Joplin died of an accidental heroin overdose in 1970 aged 27, after releasing three albums (two with Big Brother and the Holding Company and one solo album). A second solo album, Pearl, was released in January 1971, just over three months after her death.

    H’e snot part of a band. It’s mostly, or entirely, solo albums.

    I think the answer is A, but it means a great deal more. He’s a success. B is false. He releases solo albums.

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  9. Anyone thinking a r&r outfit is clothing needs help, or is a woman (people with vaginas).

    Same with anyone who thinks Elvis (or Janis) performed alone, his bands were some of the best musicians/session men/women in the business.

    Obudman (5a5600)

  10. ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky, Obudman, while the wind cries “Mary”. I don’t mind flattering them by calling them poets, but one person’s guess of what a rock and roll lyric means is as good any other’s. Now I’m gonna go watch MacArthur’s Park melt in the dark, although I’m afraid I’ll be too late to bring that cake in out of the rain.

    nk (1d9030)

  11. I listened to the first minute of the song, and the context pretty clearly tells me it means he joined a band. And what does a rock-and-roll outfit in the clothing sense look like? Do rockers typically wear “outfits”?

    My favorite rock performance was done in natty suits. And it’s not the Beatles.

    Radegunda (33a224)

  12. There are also people who consider MacArthur Park rock n roll…..

    Obudman (5a5600)

  13. When Scarface, Joe Batters or Mooney talked about The Outfit, they weren’t referencing natty suits.

    Obudman (5a5600)

  14. I wasn’t implying that the guys in that clip are wearing “rock-and-roll outfits.” Far from it.

    Radegunda (33a224)

  15. Abn outfit is more than clothing. His outfit included a guitar. It’s the totality of what you carry with you for a specialized purpose. It’s gear.

    So A is wrong, too.

    Compare to “Boy Scout Outfit” Or “outfitted with”

    An outfit would not be band – it’s a company. Like CBS Records or MoTown. Except that you can;t remember the name or it’s too small, that’s why you would call it an outfit.

    But only an employee is “in” it. And he’s no employee.

    But whem his mother sees him in a rock and roll outfit = all dressed up like that – she thinks that everything is all right. She was previously crying and worrying about him. His mother doesn’t understand bands. But she can see his clothing and his gear.

    It wasn’t Johnny who was worrying. It’s isn’t Johnny who thinks everything is now all right.

    One problem: I think there could be quote a problem putting this song in chronological order.

    By the end of the song, he’s dead, presumably of a drug overdose. Not heroin – a combination of barbiturates and alcohol. Sort of like Marilyn Monroe except maybe she didn’t have the alcohol.. Kind of an old fashioned way to die by 1975.

    So how can everything be all right? “Is” is the present tense.

    It’s not “everything was all right.”

    And after that, you get the past tense:

    Went straight up to number one
    Suddenly everyone loved to hear him sing his song

    Then back to present tense:

    Watching the world go by
    Surprising it goes so fast

    Then past tense again:

    Johnny looked around him and said
    “Well I made the big time at last”

    Sammy Finkelman (51cd0c)

  16. Professional linguist here. I get that once an ambiguity like this pops into your head, it’s VERY hard to stop entertaining. But I really think as a matter of ordinary English usage, especially with the immediately following context that he’s “going away” to “hit the big time” that the meaning is band, not clothing.

    Eliot (ac5037)

  17. Its both until the writer clarifies.
    I asked Bill Gates about it and he said “well, Johnny’s dead”

    steveg (e81d76)

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