A little twirly birdie?

ManfredMannsEarthBand2

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band By Moehre 1992 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10997385.

I stream my music from Spotify and Pandora, resorting to radio only when I’m in the car. My local station is Jack Radio. Its jaunty slogan, We play what we want, belies the wretched predictability of its fare, a trait it shares with the bulk of American commercial radio. The vein of tired tunes it taps might be labeled “Maturing Oldies.” I could give jack for most of these shopworn hits, but small spurts of Jack Radio I’m exposed to while running errands give me a chance to sing the imaginary lyrics my brain supplies for the ones I can’t construe (thanks, Outside Authority), which comprise a sadly large percentage of the pop lyric corpus.

A prime example is a song that says something like Blinded by the light, ripped up like a douche and done a bummer in the night. Surely not, but what? The irony is that the phrase is no more intelligible for me despite being repeated endlessly in the song.

Though I have an interest in poetry, perhaps I discount the lyrics of pop songs as trivial, and so give them short shrift in favor of melody and beat, which are prominent and engrossing. I’ve rarely bothered to research what a song is saying, even one I like.

Another theory: In grad school I was diagnosed routinely with a slight hearing loss in my left ear, perhaps from explosions. I was alarmed at a potential hampering of my foreign language career. The doctor, however, said the only effect might be a marginally greater difficulty understanding speech when there was ambient background noise. Um… such as music?

Lyrics are a two-way street: The ones I find interesting tend to be the ones I can understand as they are sung: Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Suzanne Vega, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Patricia Barber, for example. They have the clout of immediacy that’s part of the song’s payload. The unintelligible ones, of course, never break through, though it doesn’t prevent a song from being memorable. In those cases the voice is another instrument.

Postcript: A Google dip reveals the mystery refrain to be from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: Blinded by the light, revved up like a deuce, another roamer in the night. Not a bad line, actually. They should sell it better in the song. I don’t know what else the song says, but a moment ago I thought I heard a little twirly birdie made my anus curly.

(c) 2018 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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5 Responses to A little twirly birdie?

  1. 😁 I wish that was right, but I think not

  2. Eric Wayne says:

    I also heard “douche” and hated the lyrics, and pretty much the song as well. Just never appealed to me. I thought Springsteen sang it.

    I’m completely with you on lyrics. I would have said the same thing with some of the same examples (ex., the Beatles and Bob Dylan). I bet you listen to the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel as well (oops, you mentioned Simon). Maybe America, Nina Simone, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Don McClean… If you can hear them and they strove and succeeded as something meaningful, than they work.

    I dare you to listen to this song without paying close attention to the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nv33eaygVDQ

    Also, about lyrics, for me music has it’s own intrinsic value which is more important to me than the message contained by the lyrics. In the song above, I don’t really know or care what was thrown off the bridge. I was hooked with the first several notes and the woman’s voice.

    • JMN says:

      Yes, Billy Joe is an unforgettable song. I had never seen Bobbie Gentry sing it. I love her guitar. It’s my style of play. Patricia Barber covers it on one of my playlists, and does it huge justice. You nailed a string of my favorites, Nina Simone, et al. I had to search America, didn’t remember the group’s name. Listening now to “A Horse With No Name.” Love that song. Some great songs are deceptively simple like that, just a couple of chords, almost monotone, yet amazingly expressive. Frankly, I thought Neil Young sang it. The lead vocal sounds like him. I don’t resonate readily to so-called Southern Rock, but when Gregg Allman died I sought out their songs on Spotify. I really like several of them, including “Midnight Rider,” which has that simplicity to it. I’m not sure I really miss lyrics that much when I don’t understand them. Even with Simon and Garfunkel it’s really the music and harmonies that reach me most. I revere Paul Simon’s guitar work.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Well, I think we agree on the rather obvious, which is that the primary trait of music is sound rather than words. I had a blog post a while back about songs that tell stories, though. Hmm. You might like it. Just dug it up. I included descriptions, album covers, and lyrics. There’s some real gems in there if you don’t already know them: https://artofericwayne.com/2014/09/10/7-great-songs-that-tell-memorable-stories-in-which-someone-always-dies/

        Yes, America sounds a bit like Neil Young, and he’s another of my favorites. “Ventura Highway” is another great song by America.

        Back to thinking about music. Right, it’s the sound and perhaps the mood that are the most important and essential characteristics of music. To put the content of the words before the sound would be a bit backwards. And this is a really good analogy for what’s wrong with valuing visual art for either concepts or politics, both of which take place in linguistic thought and unravel in time in sentence structure. Visual art, unlike music or linguistics, does not have to unroll itself in time. It’s another kind of language and communication. Someone who doesn’t speak English can look at one of my images and get it. People miss this and completely subordinate visual language, in visual art, for thoughts expressed in sentences, in time, in linguistics. You’d think someone would figure out how dumb that is. It’s on par with valuing literature for the font used.

      • JMN says:

        “On a par with valuing literature for the font used.” What a great analogy! I like what you say about visual art striking us immediately versus language communication, which unspools in time. One of the more interesting experiences I had while teaching high school Spanish was translating several popular English songs. One was “We Will Rock You.” Creating lyrics in Spanish made me aware of how unimportant what they said was, subordinate to how they matched the flow of the music. I get much pleasure from thinking about music and how it works. In another life I might have majored in musicology! With a minor in entomology!

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