I love my dentist

I wrote this song in August, 2003. It is a rather strange song, at least the topic is. I blame it entirely on dentist waiting rooms (at least as they seem to be in England). I often forget to take a newspaper or book with me and inevitably I end up having to wait for quite a while. Sometimes it's my fault because I get their too early (I think I'm a bit anxious and kid myself that it will be better if I have a chance to relax before hand). Sometimes the dentist's schedule is running late. Either way, time spent doing nothing = thinking time, and that is fatal for a singer/songwriter.

I started to notice little things about what was happening as I was called into the surgery and had my teeth sorted out. This song wasn't written overnight. I think the idea gradually grew over several 6-monthly check-ups and visits. Around that period I was making lots of notes on day-to-day experiences because I was busy with a fiction writing project (finished half a novel but have not completed it). So, this is a researched song in the way that I might have used my experience of going to the dentist as the basis for a fictional visit by the hero of my novel. And just as in novel writing, the fiction takes over and leaves the background notes far behind. So the song that I eventually wrote is not about me and not about my dentist, even though the background ideas were initially based upon my experiences. Incidentally, I do have a female dentist but I can assure you that I am not in love with her!

At one level, the song is a piece of fun. The chorus flirts with a sado-masochistic theme which, unfortunately, in the context of going to the dentist gets a bit too literal, maybe. Here it is:

I love my dentist, how sad is that
In our conversation, I can't answer back
She grips the syringe and takes aim
Love's not the same without pain
However, underlying the frivolous surface content of the song lie some interesting and sometimes uncomfortable issues. Going to the dentist (or having any kind of medical examination, for that matter) does involve two human beings in incredibly intimate contact. If I went into the greengrocers to buy some oranges and the woman serving me raised her hand and put her fingers in my mouth, I would be surprised and disturbed. If my partner were to do that, I probably wouldn't think twice. Well, this isn't rocket science, the meaning of the close physical contact is defined by the context. In medical contexts, the wearing of uniforms helps a lot to mark out the roles and remind people of the etiquette that is about to unfold within the surgical episode.

Sociologists and sometimes social psychologists get very interested in the nuts and bolts of how ritualised social episodes work. Harold Garfinkel (generally thought to the the founding father of ethnomethodology as we know it today) developed the idea that the power of hypothesised social rules could be demonstrated by breaking them: the more powerful the rule, the more devastating the consequences. This led to a technique known as garfinkelling. So, apart from developing a narrative stance to the episode of going to the dentists (within the verses of the song), I also decided to engage in some cognitive garfinkelling.

There is a ground rule that professional-client interaction must be emotionally bland, apart from a little empathy and kindness on the part of the professional. Indeed there are lots of horrible ethical procedures that can be invoked against the professional where this rule is broken. In the song, I play around with the notion that the client is secretly violating one of these ground rules. In fact, the joke is rather on the patient since his love is not only unrequited but, worse still, goes completely unnoticed by the busy dentist who chats away to her nurse while she is filling his tooth. Here is the last verse:

She puts away the drill and starts to fill the tooth
She chats with the nurse about her leaking roof
Complains about her husband, the way he snores
Talks about a barbeque, and household chores

I don't like the way they ignore me
A cadaver lying on the slab
And now they'r arguing about shellfish
And the best way to dress crab

She unscrews the clamps, puts her tools back in line
Rinse out I'll see you, again in six months time

Musically the song is fairly straightforward, although it does more or less stop in between each section. And it is quite a long song. Written in the key of D.

ISRC = GBGHU0300012

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