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.