Digging too Deeply: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

January 28, 2014 at 11:21 am (I Overanalyze Song Lyrics) (, , )

Today we’ll be discussing 1953’s Istanbul (Not Constantinople), which I had always mistakenly believed was a They Might Be Giants original. So learn something new every day, I guess.

I did not learn, however, why the Four Clearly Middle-Aged Dudes called themselves The Four Lads.

I did not learn, however, why the Four Clearly Middle-Aged Dudes called themselves The Four Lads.

Our song begins thusly:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Turkish Delight is a candy, according to the Internet, but it's probably also a sex act.

Turkish Delight is a candy, according to the Internet, but it’s probably also a sex act.

And now that it’s stuck in your head for the next six months, let’s discuss. Despite the peppy, upbeat music, the lyrics are actually rather melancholy. “Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople.” And Constantinople has “been a long time gone.”

Pictured here: An empire that's been a long time gone.

Pictured here: An empire that’s been a long time gone.

What this song is doing, see, is this song is mourning the passing of Constantinople. Out with the old! In with the new! But what becomes of the old, man? What becomes of the old?

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

This stanza rightly points out that your girlfriend lives in Istanbul, not in Constantinople. Because there is no Constantinople anymore. Everything changes, man. Everything.

Shut up, Sign. I know! I KNOW!

Shut up, Sign. I know! I KNOW!


Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way

This line is silly, because it’s obvious they changed “New Amsterdam” to “New York” because “York” is easier to say than “Amsterdam.”

Also so people wouldn't mix it up with the vodka.

Also so people wouldn’t mix it up with the vodka.


So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks

Here, our lyrics get even drearier: “So take me back to Constantinople. No, you can’t go back to Constantinople.” Because Constantinople is gone, man, gone. Like dust on the wind, sands in the hourglass, the days of our lives, whatever. We could ask some Turks how they feel about it, but do WE EVEN SPEAK TURKISH?

Do the people of Turkey EVEN SPEAK TURKISH?

Actually, do the people of Turkey even speak Turkish?

So there you go. Rather than being a silly song about Istanbul, this is actually a song mourning the passing of Constantinople.

Good night, sweet emperor.

Good night, sweet emperor.

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6 Comments

  1. Michael Ampersant said,

    Great, Cathy, great — Michael

    • lokifire said,

      Thanks! I needed that, after I got the damn thing stuck in my head for the next couple of days thanks to this post.

      • Michael Ampersant said,

        You know the German expression for this, which won the first prize as the most beautiful German word: “Ohrwurm.”

      • lokifire said,

        Aha! So I bet that’s where “earworm” comes from.

      • Michael Ampersant said,

        Didn’t know “earworm” exist as an English expression — cool.

        Has nothing to do with it, but here are a few sentences from the first encounter of Romeo and Juliet on the pages of This Is Heaven, Part II of the Green Eyes (apologies for messing up your comment section, hope you don’t mind):

        Despite all this Juliet read a few more lines from Shakespeare’s script, and Romeo answered from his photographic memory. It was prep school in an old-fashioned sort of way, in particular in view of the fact that the girl has completely lost her mind by now—yes, Alex interrupts, she has, she put paid to the notion of romantic gravity, ‘falling is love’ is so yesterday, not a split second of gravity wasted, nothing to break the fall, boom. Romeo as in Juliet, boom, although that’s not his real name, he made it up on the spot (Maurice) (we tell you). Would be a nice addition to the play (Maurice suggests), wouldn’t it, a touch of old-fashioned self-reference, Romeo’s real name being, say, Rudolph, and then he happens upon Juliet, at the party, and says “call me Romeo” (and boom).

        Romeo real name is, of course, Benjamin Fletcher, and he’s the full brother of John (Ben) Fletcher, who led a life of foster home existence before he reunites with his true family on the last pages (of our book).

      • lokifire said,

        STOP MESSING UP MY COMMENT SECTION! (she kidded.)
        Seriously, comments are welcome, even the mean ones (’cause then I get to be mean back), and I always enjoy your linguistic rhythm. Thanks for sharing!

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