The most famous case, I suppose, would be Elmo. And for fans of Harry Potter there is, of course, the lovable house elf Dobby. But when it comes to humans there are but a select few who can adroitly pull off the “referring to yourself in the third person” motif. Athletes have often tried but it unfailingly comes off as clownish (Rickey Henderson) or arrogant (Reggie Jackson), even if in the adjacent use where it is other speakers describing them (“just Manny being Manny”).
In popular culture this awkward stylistic device – which it turns out actually has a name, “illeism” – has really only ever been well represented by two figures: Bob Dole and Jimmy from Seinfeld. That’s the whole list (or should we instead declare, “So Much Great Music says that’s the whole list”).
But here we’re going to introduce a third totally worthy illeism contender: Blues and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame pianist/crooner, Charles Brown. In addition to his best-selling renditions of ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ and ‘Driftin’ Blues,’ Brown regularly peppered his velvety compositions with lyrical lines that included, well, himself.
For instance, on the jazzy arrangement of ‘I Stepped In Quicksand’ (off his 1994 album “I’m Just A Lucky So And So”), Charles Brown proves able to smoothly name-check Charles Brown in two places:
- At 1:38 – “Ever since I met you, baby / Charles Brown’s been sinking down low”
- And at 4:52 – “I stepped in quicksand, baby / And now…and now…Charles Brown is going down slow”
(with three delightful solos – guitar, sax, and piano by Charles Brown – featured in between)
Speaking for, but not as, myself, I feel I can safely say that Charles Brown sincerely hopes you’ll give Charles Brown’s song a listen.