Who would have thought that 82 years after The Carter Family recorded the folk song "When I'm Gone," it would be a Top 10 hit? The Carter clan can thank actress Anna Kendrick for renewing the Depression era tune's popularity. In the movie Pitch Perfect, her character, Beca Mitchell, sings the song at an audition and uses a cup—hence the remake's remade name—to percussively punctuate the performance with a particularly pleasing patter.
On the original soundtrack, the performance takes up a scant one minute and 17 seconds. The single version of the track blows things out a couple more minutes. And the accompanying video shows Kendrick as a waitress imagining an escape to a more exotic locale as she makes biscuits and dances through a diner, knocking cups around and grabbing them from patrons who are rhythmically doing the same.
Not surprisingly, homemade videos of musically inclined fans stacking and slamming cups can be found all over YouTube, an imitative trend that has helped make Kendrick's version of this old ode to footloose freedom a viral sensation.
As for the song itself, it's a simple affair. Kendrick plays the part of a woman telling a would-be beau that she's going in search of a better life … and that it would a more enjoyable journey if he joined her.
The song's only objectionable content comes early on, as the woman says she's taking some whiskey along—to dull the pain, just keep her company or perhaps entice her partner to join her. "I've got my ticket for the long way 'round," she sings. "Two bottle whiskey for the way/And I sure would like some sweet company/And I'm leaving tomorrow, whaddya say?"
Suspecting her company and the aforementioned whiskey might not be enough enticement, the chorus playfully threatens, "When I'm gone, when I'm gone/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone/You're gonna miss me by my hair/You're gonna miss me everywhere, oh/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone." Later the list of things likely to be missed by the singer's hesitant, would-be travel partner grows a bit more: "You're gonna miss me by my walk/You're gonna miss me by my talk, oh/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone."
Kendrick's travel-brochure sales pitch for the trip then fills the second verse, as she keeps trying to sweeten the deal: "I've got my ticket for the long way 'round/The one with the prettiest of views/It's got mountains, it's got rivers/It's got sights to give you shivers/But it sure would be prettier with you."
With the exception of that passing whiskey reference, "Cups (Pitch Perfect's 'When I'm Gone')" feels exactly and exuberantly like a sassy throwback to yesteryear. (It's too bad the movie featuring this old-fashioned ditty isn't quite so free of care.)