Happy Heartbreak #1: Engine, Engine #9

A hallmark of Roger Miller’s songwriting is what I call his happy heartbreaks: the saddest stories, told with wit to cheerful music.

Just as Hitchcock makes pokes us with the incongruity of life by making us laugh during a terrifying scene, Roger reminds you that life isn’t the events, but our reactions. Even the poor guy standing in a train station somewhere 110 miles from Baltimore sounds more resigned than heartbroken when he says “I don’t think she loves me any more.”

I can’t find any place that’s 110 miles from Baltimore. Not any place I’ve heard of, anyway. Philly is too close, New York is too far. The town of Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virgina is 103 miles from downtown Baltimore. If the train station were 3 miles from downtown, and we headed another 10 miles down the track, we come to—yup, just right.

Brokenburg.

Sure, Miller was just using a number that scanned rhythmically, but everything the man said and wrote made you believe 85% of the meaning was below the surface.

Internal rhyme and rhymes that shouldn’t work, but do, are a couple of Roger’s favorite tricks.

Old brown suitcase that she carried
I've looked for it everywhere it
Just ain't here among the rest
And I'm a little upset, yes, tell me
Engine, Engine, Number 9

Could you rhyme “carried” and “-where it” ? How about “the rest” and “yes t-” ?

Me neither.

Roger Miller probably knew all the rhymes for “orange” and just never had time to write the song.

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