Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The figure of "paint by numbers" in Greg Brown's "Whatever It Was" and The Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey"

According to Wikipedia, the first successful  "paint-by-numbers" set was introduced in 1951, when songwriters Greg Brown and Robert Hunter were two and ten years old, respectively. In Brown's song "Whatever It Was", from his 1997 album "Slant 6 Mind", the country is "a paint-by-number and it costs a million bucks down at the pawn." This is the figurative (and "usually depreciative") sense of "paint-by-numbers" defined in the OED as "designating that which is (merely) mechanical or formulaic, rather than imaginative, original, or natural." The same figurative sense appears in The Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey", but Hunter makes the figurative sense more explicit: "Paint by number morning sky looks so phony." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 January 2023)


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