Roger Miller’s Serious Comedy: The Surprisingly Somber Meaning Behind “Dang Me”

Roger Miller was a complex man. He was another one of those “overnight successes—after more than a decade in the business. One of the first country artists to cross over into the pop world, he had a few minor hits before it, but most people think of “Dang Me” as Miller’s first success. Often written off as a novelty artist, his work as a songwriter always had substance. “Dang Me” is a strong example of that. It’s a funny song. But it’s not. Let’s look at the real meaning behind “Dang Me” by Roger Miller.

Videos by American Songwriter

Serious Comedy

When you hear how Miller delivers his lyrics, he usually comes across as a light-hearted, self-deprecating analyst of the human condition. The lyrics themselves, however, are far from funny if the listener delves deeper.

Miller is the master of the turn of a phrase. “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me” and “Pardon This Coffin” come to mind. For their part, the lyrics to “Dang Me” are pretty dark if you just read them without listening to the vocal shenanigans Miller adds. Conversely, it’s like when someone tells a funny joke. A person repeating the same joke may not be able to deliver it comedically. 

We’ve all heard somebody say, “Well, it was funny when so-and-so told it,” or “I guess you had to be there.”

Make no mistake, Miller was funny. He was always entertaining, whether it was onstage or off. His scatting vocal gymnastics over a nylon string guitar start “the song”Dang Me.” One might muse, “How could this song be anything but a silly romp?” And then the first verse kicks in.

Well, here I sit high, gettin’ ideas
Ain’t nothin’ but a fool could live like this
Out all night and runnin’ wild
Woman’s sittin’ home with a month-old child

It’s anything but a silly romp. Photographer Gordy Collins shared a story in the Lyle E. Style book Ain’t Got No Cigarettes about where Miller got his inspiration for the tune.

“It was the Saturday night after President Kennedy got killed, and everybody was down. In fact, they had thought about canceling the Opry, but back in those days, people bought tickets a year in advance, and they’d come from Europe and all over the world to see the show, so they couldn’t cancel.

“We were over at Tootsie’s, waiting for the next segment. Roger was high, but he was down. He was trying to bounce pills off of things into his mouth. Anyway, he said, ‘Boys, I’m sitting here high, ideas floating around. Ain’t this a hell of a way to live?'”

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman, would you weep for me?

The Chorus 

It’s sinister. But again, sung by the likes of Roger Miller, it’s playful and light-hearted. Listen to Buddy Miller’s 2011 version featuring Chocolate Genius. The delivery of the latter version cuts more to the heart of the matter.

Woman, would you weep for me? Those six words say so much. Miller is pleading his case. Would a ne’er-do-well like him he be missed? Would he be grieved? Would she miss him?

Just sittin’ ’round drinkin’ with the rest of the guys
Six rounds bought, and I bought five
And I spent the groceries and a-half the rent
I lack 14 dollars from havin’ 27 cents

It Almost Never Happened

Producer Jerry Kennedy recorded 15 songs with Miller over two days in January 1964. (Different times!) The core of the so-called “Nashville A-Team” were the session musicians. “Less and Less,” “Chug-A-Lug,” and “Dang Me” were all part of those sessions.

[RELATED: Meaning Behind Roger Miller’s Novelty Song “Chug-a-Lug”]

Kennedy picked “Less and Less” to be the single and even started the process of getting the platters pressed up. As he listened to the songs to choose the sequence for the album, his two sons started dancing to one particular song. And they kept urging their dad to repeat it. As the producer heard it repeatedly, he realized he was wrong to put “Less and Less” out. “Dang Me” was the one the kids would like.

Kennedy put in the call to his superiors in New York. He informed them they needed to change the single. They asked him how sure he was. Kennedy assured them he wouldn’t be making that phone call if he wasn’t sure. Time has shown us how correct Kennedy was. “Dang Me” changed Miller’s life. He went from playing small clubs to being on The Tonight Show and filling large venues. “Dang Me” won Miller the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Country and Western Song.

What Rhymes with Purple?

In classic Roger Miller style, the third verse of the song uses a made-up word. Nothing rhymes with purple. But anyone who hears this tune knows exactly what Miller means by “maple syrple.”

Roses are red, and violets are purple
Sugar’s sweet, and so is maple syrple
Well, I’m seventh out of seven sons
My pappy’s a pistol, I’m a son of a gun

“Dang Me” Beckons a Legend to Nashville

The singer/songwriter/actor Kris Kristofferson told Style in Ain’t Got No Cigarettes, “If [Miller] can get away with that stuff like ‘Dang Me,’ it was so autobiographical for me at the time. I’m sure that it put it in my head to go to Nashville. … Everybody in Nashville, when I got there, was trying to write like him. Most imitators pick up the worst stuff and beat it to death, so you had a lot of nonsense songs. Roger was responsible for making country music cool to the pop music world. It was a brand new thing to get that kind of respect.”

Roger Miller went on to have an even bigger hit with “King of the Road.” But “Dang Me” jump-started his career. Miller died in 1992, inspiring many fan—woman and man—to weep, indeed.

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

The Beatles’ New Song, “Now and Then,” Tops U.K. Singles Chart, Setting Multiple Records