In the last installment, I left you with the question and central theme of IDKMN, “Who am I?” But before we continue, I think it best to take a detour and consider Grace’s actual name, since most often we humans bear names that have meanings. A common definition describes grace as the unmerited favor of God toward man. Could it be that God favored man by sending us Grace to write and sing songs for us to soothe our souls during these trying times? The Latin definition, grace means goodness and generosity; also appropriate. Then there’s her middle name, Avery, in which one definition means wise. Strangely, in French it means ruling with elf-wisdom (does that mean Grace is an elf? hmmm.) But if we use the English definition, Avery means counselor. So, taken together, Grace Avery would mean ‘good and generous counselor.’ That’s enough to make one pause in wonder, given the subject matter of many of her songs, not to mention her various philanthropic endeavors. It also begs the question, did her parents also consider what her name meant when they chose it? Only they can answer that.
To get back on course after that digression––as eyebrow-raising as it may have been––we have the strong association of the line ‘I don’t know my name’ with the burning, age-old questions: Who am I? What’s my purpose? Why am I here? That an eleven-year´-old managed to sum up thousands of years of philosophical yearnings in only five words is a remarkable achievement. In fact, it would be a remarkable achievement for anyone, of any age. And it’s about at this point that I’d typically get another objection from those that really don’t get it: “Why, that’s so simple I could’a thought of it myself!” And yet that’s the thing about brilliantly simple ideas: not just anyone could have thought of them, because nobody has until now. But once they’re thought of, it seems so obvious that we end up slapping ourselves on the foreheads and saying, “Well duh! Of course!” Sort of like inventing the wheel.
However, before we crown Grace as bona fide genius, the question is begged of whether she came up with the line and the idea behind it on her own, or gleaned it from another source. Simply put, the metaphor ‘I don’t know my name’ is not a new idea. More than likely, there’s a poem written by somebody sometime in ages past that used similar wording, if not the exact same words, along with its intended meaning. In fact, a quick google search uncovered various songs out in the ether that have the phrase ‘I don’t know my name’ buried somewhere in the lyrics. However, by reading them in context it becomes clear that the phrase wasn’t used for the same purpose. Most used it to represent the idea of being so depressed or cut off from reality that it really is like having amnesia––‘I don’t know my name’ then quite literally means forgetting your actual name. Other examples had meanings just as shallow. So in that particular search, I found none that used the phrase the way Grace did, with the same tremendous depth of meaning. Still, the question remains: did she run across this use of the phrase in some introspective prose somewhere, or did she coin it independently? The former is something I believe only a gifted child could do, since to even understand the use of this deeply philosophical idea is far beyond the capability of an average eleven-year-old. But if the latter is true and she independently discovered the concept . . . well, draw your own conclusions.
Alright then, we’re past the first line, and it only took three paragraphs. So what exactly is meant by the next statement, ‘I don’t play by the rules of the game’? Does Grace cheat at cards, or is this actually a statement about defying the constraints society has placed on her? The latter definition is the correct one, of course. Lyrically it flows well, as it is much more concise than saying ‘I don’t want to do the things my peer group is trying to pressure me into doing, just to fit in with the crowd’, though is does require the listener to quickly interpret another complex metaphor. Interestingly, the first three times this line is sung it is done so in a tentative voice, as if she’s not sure of her conviction to throw off society’s demands. Further, from the first to the third time sung it grows more tentative each time, as if her doubt in herself increases as the song progresses. But then, in the final, altered chorus, a complete inversion occurs and the line is sung with absolute conviction. Grace no longer doubts herself. To hell with society’s rules, she’s telling us, and to hell with her peer group’s attempts to constrain her.
These points about conviction of thought are absolutely important if one is to understand the next line––otherwise it is confusing. To begin with, the line, ‘So you say, “I’m just trying” ’, is an ambiguous use of English, though its desired meaning is readily grasped. It’s ambiguous because it is indeterminate whether the second person (the you in ‘So you say . . .’) is speaking about themselves (I’m just trying), or about Grace. Also the word ‘trying.’ Trying what? However, within the context of the song it becomes apparent that the line is a statement made by someone else, spoken to Grace as a way of encouraging her to abandon her attempt to stand out of the crowd. True, I’m filling in meaning here, but it seems a reasonable conjecture. Besides, it’s just the sort of thing a parent or teacher––i.e. a trusted authority––might say to a child having difficulty with peers at school. Something like “Honey, I know you’re just trying to be yourself, but you have to give up these silly notions that you’re somehow different from the other children, and just go along with what they expect of you in order to get along with them.” You’ll note that the contrasting conclusion of the statement (beginning with but) is left out of the lyric and we have to fill that part in by using context. Again, I think it’s a reasonable expansion of the thought. So why is it that the line can be properly understood only if the previous line is tentative? Because if the previous line had any conviction to it at all, no one would say “You’re just trying to be yourself, but . . .”. Instead, they would say, “You’re not trying to get along at all!” And in fact, that’s exactly what is sung in the last chorus, showing that the final ‘I don’t play by the rules of the game’ is truly meant with conviction. Finally, the chorus ends lyrically with a repeated ‘Just trying . . .”, this time in Grace’s own tentative voice, mimicking what was said to her by her trusted authority, but certainly carrying a different meaning than what the other intended.
Whew! End of chorus. There’s just a lot of meaning there. Now we come to the meat of the song, the first verse. This verse has one purpose, and one purpose only: to show just how insincere Grace was in the previous chorus when she declared ‘I don’t play by the rules of the game’. “Hogwash!” she’s now telling us. The two lines, ‘So I heard you are my sister’s friend / You get along quite nicely’ is all about introducing us to a third party observer (probably female) whom we can trust to give a dispassionate evaluation of Grace. The first line is to let us know that this third person is not a direct friend of Grace, being her sister’s friend, and that though Grace must be familiar to her, she’s seldom spoken to her, or perhaps never has before (yes, all that meaning is contained in only nine syllables). This person, therefore, though acquainted with Grace, isn’t close to her, so her perceptions of Grace can be considered impartial. Furthermore, the second line tells us that this person is easy going and gets along well with people, therefore her testimony can be considered trustworthy and not meant to be harmful.
This third party observer’s trusted identity now established, we come to the central point of the verse: ‘You ask me why I cut my hair/And changed myself completely’. Our impartial and trustworthy observer has just asked a question of Grace that family and close friends either wouldn’t, or more likely couldn’t ask. Being close, they wouldn’t have noticed changes taking place over weeks, or even months. But her sister’s friend, not being constantly exposed to Grace, would be better able to notice major changes in Grace’s appearance, maybe even her manner. All this is to say one thing loud and clear: Grace is willing to do whatever it takes to fit in. New hair style; new clothes; new shoes; a different way to walk, talk, act––whatever. So Grace doesn’t play by the rules of the game, huh? Of course she does! She’s as much as just admitted that she took off one mask and put on another in its place to fit in with her peers. To be just like them.
That’s it for now. In the final installment, we’ll see Grace falling further into despair before her moment of personal revelation and discovery of her true name.
This article was first posted on VanderVault’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XydnaaaaSnE&lc=UgzHv8aVmb-YxYCbh5x4AaABAg