Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mondegreens

You know you've done it. You're out with your friends, singing along to your favorite song, when someone overhears what you're singing and starts laughing at you. And pointing. And repeating the words you've just sung over and over again. And then you feel stupid.

You're singing the wrong words.

I've had some doozies in the past, yet it still surprises me when it happens. I found out just the other day that in REM's "Pop Song '89," they're actually singing "Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government?" I always thought it was "Shouldn't talk about the weather," etc. Making it a very different song. Well, not really, I guess -- like any REM lyric, it's just as crypic either way.

For a long, long time I thought that Led Zepplin was singing about a woman who liked to wear a tricorn hat while serving drinks at the seedy bar she was at. You know, "Lookin' for my three-corner girl." What's that? She's really a STREET-CORNER girl? Oh dear.

The Gear Daddies, in "She's Happy," sing about a woman who works down at the local bar. She gets a sloe-gin fizz and some fries from the kitchen, but for years a good friend and I thought she was ordering a sludgin' fest from and some fries from the kitchen. Often I've felt like I've been involved in sludgin' fests, but not in kitchens.

My very best mistake is, unfortunately, in a song that not many people know, "Before I Break," by Uncle Tupelo. I listened to that song for years before I met Matt. I sang at the top of my lungs, "Here's to waking up at nine, tryin' to get a juicebox on the road."

When I first heard the song, did I ask myself what a juicebox would be doing on the road, or why someone would want to get up and get one on the road? No. My subconscious did a nifty little shimmy and, if it happened to cross my mind, I believed I'd heard somewhere that "juicebox" was a trucking term, and that Jay Farrar (the singer) was concerned about getting up early to start that day's haul.

I can't remember where we were when I was singing this and Matt overheard. But he asked kindly, "What did you just say?"

"Here's to waking up at nine, tryin' to get a juicebox on the road."

To his credit, he did not laugh in my face. "Why would someone want to get a juicebox on the road?"

"Well, it's a trucking term. Like 'reefer.' He's got a trailer of Minute Maid orange juice, or something. He's late."

There was a long silence. Then he said, "You don't know what they're really singing, do you." It wasn't a question.

It turns out that what Jay Farrar is concerned about is that he's waking up at nine, "drunk in a ditch at the side of the road." To this day, I cannot hear him sing that. It's juicebox all the way.

13 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:00 PM

    I am married to someone who, at the tender age of 29, learned that the Beatles song he knew and loved as "Many Days" was actually titled "Penny Lane."

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  2. Anonymous6:01 PM

    I meant to add, that person is Krup's brother-in-law.

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  3. Snort.
    I got the point-and-laugh in college. Not only did I totally mangle the words, but it wasn't even a cool song. But you know, when The Girl From Iojima Goes Walking...
    I know. I know.

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  4. Anyone remember the Beatles song "I call your name?" It has a line that I was sure for many years went, "Was I to blame, for being a bear." I connected it to Little Women, in which people actually did use the phrase "a bear" to mean that someone was acting mean. But alas, that's not what the Beatles were saying--the line is, "Was I to blame, for being unfair." I still like my rationalization for the mishearing, though.

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  5. Sheena11:50 PM

    Krupskaya, have you ever heard of that old Rolling Stones song from the 1960s, about a woman and her car - Mother's Little Alfa? :o

    I blame Mick Jagger's London accent for that one.

    Sheena

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  6. You thought it was a sludgin' fest? I thought we thought it was a sludge infest. (A sludge infest is much, much worse than a sludgin' fest... the latter sounds like it might be fun in a gritty kind of way, but a sludge infest implies great quantities of sludge that you can't get rid of.)

    Speaking of which, did we ever figure out the Jayhawks' "love is in a swamp"?

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  7. Hi! Ethelred sent me. And I'll be back. Now, if you'll please 'scuse me while I kiss this guy . . .

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  8. I vote for the juice box lyric. And if it's not correct, the lyrics should be republished accordingly.

    R.E.M. lyrics...what a mixed blessing they are. Unlike another 80s band I know of, who maintain their swagger, sheen, and stature in the rock world, R.E.M. seems to write increasingly languid lyrics. Does Stipe get lazier as he gets older? He needs to learn from Bono, whose fire in his belly only gets hotter with age.

    Yeah, I miss the standard set by songs such as the quoted Pop Song '89 or, better yet, anything on "Life's Rich Pageant". *sigh* Then again, Bad Day was pretty good...but then whenever Stipe has to deal with a whole album's worth of lyrics, he doesn't seem up to the task.

    R.E.M.--- the band I still try to love, but will likely always be embarassed to sing 99% of their lyrics...even by myself!

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  9. My college roommate had a friend in high school who was convinced Billy Idol was singing "How's About a Date" instead of "Eyes Without a Face." :)

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  10. Anonymous2:49 PM

    I just realised that I have regularly debated the question of whether REM are 'looking for something to learn' or 'looking for something to burn' for half of my life. Also, for half my life I have known people with passionate opinions on this and similar questions. Any takers?

    And yeah, he has gotten less southern gothic cryptic over the years. Bummer.

    mshelios

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  11. I have a friend who was sure that the lyrics to that Alanis Morissette song are "It's not fair to remind me of the crossed-eye bear that you gave to me". :D

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  12. Anonymous8:38 PM

    I always thought "Norwegian Wood" by the Beatles started "I wanted a girl, or should i say she wanted me" rather than "I once had a girl", etc.

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  13. Anonymous4:30 PM

    The Gear Daddies Rock. Glad you listen to them.

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