Friday, June 5, 2015

Farther versus Further, Bobby "Blue" Bland versus Eric Clapton.

Today’s game of grammatical mumblety-peg is a bit more involved than the others have been, as we explore the difference between farther and further, and we do so through the history of the blues classic, Farther up the Road, written by Joe Veasey. 

The basic distinction between farther and further would be that farther refers to a physical distance whereas further articulates a description of degree. The word farther contains the word ‘far,’ so it should be easy to remember. Still, for whatever reason, people mess it up all the time.

So what does all of this have to do with the low-down dirty blues? Well, a road is a thing you travel physical distances on, so at first reading, you might say the songwriter is correct in his usage, Farther up the Road. Bobby “Blue” Bland had a big hit with it in 1958, the year of my birth, and I remember it being such an exciting track I would sometimes have an accident when I heard it.

The recording most people know now is Eric Clapton’s version either from “EC Was Here” or “Just One Night,” in which he sings, “Further on up the road.” Roads support physical distance and he is using a delineator of relative intensity instead. Grammar police, or more precisely, usage police, strap on your beanies and break out your ticket pads, you’ve got a violator! Or do you? Is Slow Hand busted, or is he just fixing something that was broken for decades? Check out the rest of the lyrics with Clapton’s word preference:

Further on up the road, someone's gonna hurt you like you hurt me (2×)
Further on up the road, baby you just wait and see

It’s not a physical distance at all. It is a metaphor for the road of life if you will. When you hear the next two lines, that interpretation becomes further validated.

You got to reap just what you sow, that old saying is true (2×)
Like you mistreat someone, someone's gonna mistreat you

This third line is a biblical reference presented in a metaphor, so you’ve got a comparison of a road with life itself, then an expression of the harm this woman has caused and her coming retribution examined through a biblical metaphor of the planting and harvest cycle. It doesn’t remotely refer to physical distance, so in my opinion Clapton wins with the twenty-year-old edit, resulting in an ever so slight, for me at least, furtherance of the arts.