Walking in Memphis While Blinded by the Light: The Ease of Not Paying Attention to the Lyrics of Songs We All Know

Wrapped up like a [what?!] in the middle of the night…

I am always impressed when I meet someone who actually knows all the words to the chorus of the #1 song from 1977, “Blinded by the Light“, by Manfred Mann’s  Earth Band.  Though that has only happened a few times in my life.  After officially becoming a huge Bruce Springsteen fan in college and collecting all his albums, I realized that this song is the very first track on his very first album in 1973 named Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.  It’s his song! Though I admit his version (the original) isn’t anywhere as near as catchy as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, whose version is the one we all know, it was because of hearing Bruce’s version that I was able to better understand the lyrics and become enticed to actually look them up.

So how does that chorus go again?

“Blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night…”

Nope.  Not it.  But I’m amazed that so many of us assumed those were actually the lyrics; and even more bizarre, I’m amazed we never really put much effort in questioning why a man would be blinded by the light of a feminine hygiene product, or how someone could be “wrapped up” like one.

Instead, the actual lyrics to the version we know are “revved up like a deuce”.  Yes, it really does sound like they’re saying “douche”.  Blame it on their New Zealand accent if helps.  Either way, this song wasn’t a hit until those speech slurring Kiwis recorded it their way.  By the way, a deuce is a car: it’s Ford’s Model B which was only made from 1932 to 1934.

But not all popular and misunderstood song lyrics are so obvious.  Instead, I would say most cases are pretty subtle.  Think about the lyrics to the theme song of the classic American sitcom, Full House.  I recently found out that both my wife and my sister always thought there was a line near the end of the song that said, “The lions are waiting to carry you home.”  It’s “the light”, not “the lions.”

Other times, we understand the words to the song, we just don’t understand what the artist’s intent.  I’m not referring to an obvious case like pretty much any song by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Instead, I want to feature Marc Cohn’s enchanting hit from 1991, “Walking in Memphis”.  There’s a somewhat strange line near the end that I always wondered about:

“And I sang with all my might.  She said, “Tell me are you a Christian child?”
And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!”

I guess in the back of my mind I assumed that the protagonist was saying that he never really was a man of faith at all, but now in a moment of Southern Gospel charm, he was beginning to rethink his ideas.  Another thought was that he was attracted to the woman and for her, he would temporarily go along with the assumed Baptist beliefs of the woman he wanted to romance.  But in recent years I have made an obsession of everything Hebrew and have been memorizing all Jewish last names; I realized that Marc Cohn, the singer and songwriter of “Walking in Memphis”, is Jewish.

Then that line in the song instantly made much more sense.  This Jewish guy from Ohio indeed was a man of faith, but not the Christian faith, which saturates the culture of the Deep South.  Marc Cohn was an outsider when he wrote “Walking in Memphis” both because he is from the Midwest and because he is Jewish.  And that’s part of why “Walking in Memphis” is so poetic and relatable: An outsider is welcomed to the fold.  That simple concept is theatrical definition of what defines a comedy.  (A tragedy occurs when the protagonist is ousted from his society.)

Music is a powerful thing.  When it’s done right, it can be so good that we don’t even question the lyrics. Despite the fact we hear these songs for decades before even taking the time to understand them.  But do you really feel the way I feel?

Marc Cohn

Popular (Yet Subtle) Songs Dealing with Abortion

Pop music finds a way to safely put into words what we sometimes can’t easily speak.

Yesterday as I was driving home, a song came on the radio that I had never heard before- “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw.  I’m the kind of person who always listens carefully to the lyrics of a song; and part of the 2nd verse caught my attention: We were young and wild; we decided not to have a child. So we did what we did and we tried to forget and we swore up and down there would be no regrets.”

It’s important in songwriting to say something without actually coming out and saying it.  In Aerosmith’s 1989 hit, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, the words “rape” and “incest” are never used, but for anyone who has halfway listened to the song before, it’s pretty obvious it’s a story about a girl who is sexually abused by her father and eventually takes revenge by killing him.

Abortion is such a heavy and delicate topic; laced in political, moral, and religious factors.  It’s an extreme thing- typically people are either hard-core against or for it, while there are obviously some in the middle who believe abortion is excused from their opposition reasons in the event of rape, incest, certain death of the mother, etc.  But to never bring it up in the entertainment genre of music would be odd, given that it’s an event that happens every day- an event that has affected many people, most of whom I am not personally aware of who they are.

So I find it very interesting to see songs become hits that deal with abortion.  Aside from “Red Ragtop” which went to #5 on the Country charts, there are two particular songs I want to examine.  It was only a few years ago I found out that in these songs the protagonist’s girlfriend gets pregnant and has an abortion.    They were both performed by alternative rock artists and were popular while I was in high school.  And the songs both have a strong emotional tune to them while straightforwardly telling their stories with lyrics that evoke shame, sadness, and a sense of regret and guilt mixed with the realization of the need to move forward in life, despite their personal choices.

The first of these songs is “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe which rose to #5 in 1997.  While this song is officially about a guy dealing with guilt after his girlfriend commits suicide, I can’t deny the fact that some of the lyrics paint the picture of abortion as well- which according to Wikipedia, is the actual story behind the song: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Freshmen_(song).  Here are some lyrics from “The Freshmen”.

When I was young I knew everything
And she a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I’m guilt stricken, sobbing with my head on the floor
Stop a baby’s breath and a shoe full of rice

I can’t be held responsible
‘Cause she was touching her face
I won’t be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise
For the life of me I cannot believe we’d ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

We’ve tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lacking relationships
And how we’re guilt stricken sobbing with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip, we’d say

The other song, more surprising for me, is “Brick” by Ben Folds Five, which also was a hit in 1997: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brick_(song).  Below are lyrics from the 2nd and 3rd verses.  After reading them, the reality of this song becomes much clearer.  I had always thought of “Brick” as a decently happy song; at worst, a song about a happy guy and a depressed girlfriend.  But it’s obviously much more than that:

They call her name at 7:30
I pace around the parking lot
Then I walk down to buy her flowers
And sell some gifts that I got
Can’t you see?
It’s not me you’re dying for
Now she’s feeling more alone
Than she ever has before

As weeks went by
It showed that she was not fine
They told me son, it’s time to tell the truth
She broke down, and I broke down
Cause I was tired of lying
Driving home to her apartment
For a moment we’re alone
Yeah she’s alone
I’m alone
Now I know it

So beyond our own personal convictions on abortion, the songs mentioned here give us the gravity of it: Even dressed up in a catchy song, the truth is, the subject of abortion itself leaves a feeling of sadness and regret.  The narrators of these songs have been deeply affected by their decisions.  It appears they’ve learned to forgive themselves, even if under the guise of “we were young and irresponsible”, yet they aren’t able to forget; as consequences resurface.

Taking a God-Nudged Leap of Faith (Like a Guinea Pig)

And hoping not to fall like an idiot in the process.

Thinking back on the lyrics of the popular traditional song, I’ve never really understood or wanted to understand why ten lords were ever leaping in the first place.  But after much thought, I perhaps have come to the realization that I have been one of those lords a leaping the entire time.  Needless to say, I’m not cool with wearing tights.

Desperately trying to avoid imagined images of myself wearing tights, yet still needing to get a grasp on my way of thinking, I’ve always been a bit of a Peter Pan.  (You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.) People like me never really grow out of that 1980’s propaganda mindset for kids that taught us we could do anything dream of if we put our mind to it.  Then we graduate college and realize that with this many people graduating college, having a college degree is less of a major advantage and more of a basic necessity.

On paper, my life looks pretty normal and planned out and even typical.  But behind the scenes, my life is series of leaps of faith that always got me where I wanted to be.  And I think by now, I’m just used to it.  My life plans are often void of much practical reason, instead, they are intertwined with my lofty dreams which I interpret as God’s will for my life.

I realized a while back that God tends to use me as the Guinea pig.  He already knows the plan will work but I become the human example to show others.  This is a fate I have accepted with surprisingly little fuss.  One of out 20,000 people in America has dyshidrosis, a vicious form of eczema that consumes a person’s hands and much of their body.  I was one of those 20,000 people.  But after several years of devastating torture embedded with anxiety and some depression, my skin problem has now 100% left me.  But God wouldn’t instantly heal me like I prayed for Him to do about 30 times a day.

Instead, He spoke through the wisdom of soft-spoken people in my life.  As well as random websites.  I now know the cure for dyshidrosis and eczema.  I proudly serve as God’s spokesman on how to overcome the skin condition, refusing any monetary compensation.

I feel honored to give out  this information.  Read The Cure for Eczema. Also, my e-mail address is listed on the upper right side of the screen for my more info.

That being said, I had prayed that God would get me around or over the problem, instead He took me through the problem to the other side.  And that is a classic (yet annoying) truth about life.  God doesn’t often use instant magic to fix our problems, He enables us to solve them ourselves.

But ultimately, even after God equips us with the wisdom and direction we need to solve the current problem; the ultimate issue is whether or not we give God the credit for it.  I remind myself that life is ultimately a spiritual war, and we can either say “God is good” or “look what I figured out” when we move from “tragedy” status back to “normal”.

Like the game between Jacob and The Man in Black on LOST, we serve as islanders who prove to the spiritual audience what’s really inside of us. It’s true that physically spoken words here in the physical world play a major part in the spiritual world.  That’s why I take these words of King Solomon so seriously in Proverbs:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, but in all things, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (3:5-6).

So whatever leap of faith that is required of me from God (or that I throw myself into), I have to ask myself, “what’s the worst that can happen?”  If it is of God, or God finds favor in my plan, I’m not convinced that God will allow me to simply make a fool of myself when I am completely focused on finding a way to honor Him through it.

“Something good coming, there has to be… And I’m in it for the long run, wherever it goes, riding the river.” –Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (“Something Good Coming”)

Read the sequel to this blog, by clicking right here.

For a related post by the same author, read Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ?

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on faith, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

The Sussudio Effect: Why We Secretly Love the Mysteries of Life

Whether we will admit it or not, we like unexplained mysteries.

Do we really need an answer for everything?  Isn’t omniscience (the ability to know everything infinitely) a trait we reserve for God?  Could we handle the responsibility of having all the answers?  We like to think we want all the answers, but if we did, that would be a life without surprise, suspense, and ultimately, much excitement.

Much of the mystique we deal with revolves around our origin, purpose, and ending.  But even without all the big idea concepts like “why am I here?” and “what exactly happens the moment I die?,” both of which the element of ignorance is attached to, life is still full plenty of petty mysteries to think about.  Which at best, simply reflect the fact that mystery is a part of life.

Like the song “Sussidio” by Phil Collins.  It became a number one hit in July of 1985.  And though I wasn’t quite in pre-school yet at that point, the song has definitely kept a solid spot in the Soundtrack of My Life.  I can’t say that I like the saxophone-enhanced song just because of its feel-good vibes and groovy melody.  A big part of why I like the song is because of its quirkiness.  Because let’s face it, no one really knows what a “sussudio” is.

In recent years, thanks to Phil Collins’ interviews that have surfaced and have been referenced in Wikipedia, I have learned that Phil always did a lot of ad-lib and improvising in the studio.  He often would record the music to the song before he wrote the words, just making up random words and phrases to hold the place; then coming back later to replace the gibberish with actual lyrics.

“Sussudio” was a place-holding made-up word that he never came up with a replacement for.  And so it remained.  The word still doesn’t mean anything.  It’s not the name of a girl, as some have assumed.  It’s just a mysterious word.  You get to decide what it means.  Weird concept, but after all, the song did make it to the number one spot.

Why?  It’s a great catchy song.  And it’s mysterious.

I will deliberately bypass the way-too-obvious fact that LOST’s popularity is associated with its strategic and clever uses of mystique (LOST- Answering Questions that Were Left Unanswered) and instead close with the fact that we can spend a lifetime just unveiling the mysteries of the people closest to us in our lives.

It’s not like we sit down with our parents or spouses or best friends and interview them with a #2 pencil and steno pad about their childhood and see what we can learn about them that we didn’t know before.  Instead, we just wait for those random trigger words to show up in conversation, which prompt a story that we’ve never heard before about them before.

Sometimes when my wife and I are out at a restaurant, we (being “people watchers”) will notice an older couple sitting in silence, only really speaking to say predictable things like “How’s your steak?”  We want to be cooler than that when we’re older; we want to have cool stuff to talk about, even now.

There are so many hidden stories in each of us.  We can only try, in a lifetime, to extract them from each other.  Not that they all can be told even in one lifetime, we ourselves can’t remember them all.  Because unlike God, we mysteriously ended up without an omniscient memory.