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?