Thursday, July 08, 2010
The Best Songs That Make Absolutely No Sense.
When it comes to music, I like different things at different times. Sometimes, I'm in the mood for something a little quiet. Sometimes I like to rawk out, which the moment I typed it I realized looked even dumber in print than it sounds when I say it, so I'm very sorry to have foisted that on you. In fact, I'm not sure why I don't just go back and delete that and pretend it never happened. But I'm not doing that. I'm still typing, and that phrase is still there, like a pointy stick in the eye of my personality. It's like I can't help myself. I could simply go erase it, delete it all, and all this, too, but I'm just leaving it up there, for everyone to read, even though from here on out you'll always associate me with the level of lameness that not only thinks it's okay to say "rawk out" but also to type that phrase... twice.
But I was talking about music! Ah, music -- the everchanging background to my day, where I can put on Leo Kottke's guitar and marvel at his adroitness. Or I can put on a concept album on a long drive and listen to all the songs all the way through and say to myself, as I always do, "How is 'American Idiot' a concept album? What's it even supposed to be about?' Or I could just go for good driving songs. Or I could search for meaning in the lyrics, which brings me to today's topic, which is songs that make no sense. None at all -- and yet they seem to mean a lot of things. If you don't listen to them carefully, these songs seem to mean something, seem to be making sense, seem to be more than the deranged, unattached ramblings of a drooling moron. But when you get down into the dirt and grapple with the lyrics, you realize that's you were wrong -- these songs mean nothing, or sometimes, less than nothing. Sometimes they mean so little that you can actually feel your intelligence slipping away as you think about them.
Yeah, like that. Or like an Emily Dickinson poem. Is there any doubt that Emily Dickinson's poems were not so much crafted as thrown together from the 19th century equivalent of a magnetic poetry kit... and one that had too many hyphens, at that?
(Hyphens must have been very much in vogue amongst 1800s' poets, judging by Emily Dickinson's work, and by Abe Lincon's efforts, too.)(And yet now they're almost completely unused by poets, as evidenced by the fact that I just said that. I, though, am doing my part. I use hyphens a lot. And I use dashes -- the poor country cousin of the hyphen.)
Sometimes, I am, as I said, in the mood for some meaning in my songs: sometimes I'm in the mood for a song to tell me a story, or speak to me about emotions I've felt or might feel. Sometimes I want a song to remind me of history or speak eloquently about current issues through vibrant metaphors.
And sometimes, when I'm in such a mood, I put on the following songs, and find my head addled at the complete lack of meaning -- the fact that despite these being great songs, if you listen to the words, if you really listen, these songs are pure gibberish. Songs like:
1. Don't Stop Me Now -- Queen.
Don't Stop Me Now probably deserves to be first on this list -- holding the number one spot for the way it manages to interpose insane metaphors with total changes of subject that simultaneously indicate that Freddy Mercury had no real idea what he was talking about -- both in this song, and in life.
What It's Ostensibly About: A man sets out to have a great night -- and doesn't want to be stopped.
Lyrics That Show It Doesn't Make Sense/Isn't About That At All: Where to begin?
I'm a shooting star leaping through the skies/Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva.
I could buy that being like a shooting star, one can also be like a tiger -- a tiger defying gravity. But if Freddy's defying gravity on this little jaunt (rolling around in ecstasy?), how is he also like a racing car... and how is a racing car like Lady Godiva? She didn't race through town always turning left -- she rode naked on a horse through town (after losing a bet with Nikolai Tesla).
But wait: It gets worse:
Two hundred degrees/That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light/I wanna make a supersonic man of you
I'm not sure why being superhot makes you Mister Fahrenheit, but, okay, they both deal with temperature -- and then we're back to speed, with Freddy traveling at the speed of light -- 180,000 miles per second -- and wanting to make you only supersonic, or about 500 feet per second. Which would leave you falling behind Freddy at a rate of ... 180,000 miles minus 500 feet. You do the math. I'm not going to, and Queen can't.
There's more. Having been a tiger, and Mr. Fahrenheit, Freddy then is:
I'm a rocket ship on my way to Mars/On a collision course I am a satellite I'm out of control I am a sex machine ready to reload Like an atom bomb about to Oh oh oh oh oh explode.
So: Rocket ships to Mars are not satellites, and, Freddy, this, too: satellites don't go anywhere. They just circle around forever and then fall out of the sky. Wasn't Skylab a big thing when Queen was still making music? How'd they forget that?
Before you can get too caught up, though, Freddy's then a sex machine, which I wasn't going to take literally until he was also an atom bomb, ready to explode. So at the end of this, I have to assume that Freddy's literally some sort of tiger-shaped supercharged rocket-powered sex atom bomb that's going to explode all over a nightclub. And after re-reading that, I'm a little grossed out by the image.
2. Love Astronaut, Murder Mystery.
I love Murder Mystery. Not only are they an awesome band, but they helped out with my Take a Book Charity drive, which is more than you can say (unless you also helped out, in which case you're almost even, but you're probably not also an awesome band.)(If you're also an awesome band, and you helped out, then you and Murder Mystery are equals.)
And one of my favorite Murder Mystery songs is Love Astronaut, a song I find to be upbeat and quirky and which I thought was romantic until I listened to the words:
What It's Ostensibly About: A guy who's looking for the love of his life has found her.
Lyrics That Show It Doesn't Make Sense/Isn't About That At All: Well, the title. Love Astronaut? That title suggests that we're in for 2001: A Space Odyssey meets The Sure Thing.
You know, now that I think of it, why isn't that a movie? The Sure Thing 2010: A Sure Thing In Space. Or something like that. John Cusack -- whose character, remember, was obsessed with space -- wants to return from Mars to Earth to hook up with a sexy astronaut who's again a sure thing, and has wacky hijinks on the way.
What? You say that's dumb? What if I say this: It'll be 3D! See, you're with me now, right? Hollywood! Blogger on line one!
Back to Love Astronaut. Let's listen in on some of the lyrics:
I've been searching for you have you been searching for me
I've been running around and now I'm down on my knees.
I go looking abroad I've been sailing the seas
I go looking for love but is it looking for me?
That might makes sense, except the singer goes on after saying that he's found only himself, still alone, goes on to say that
Everytime I find somebody who looks like she may be that one
The kind of woman who inspires a man to stop his traveling around...
And then goes into a musical interlude and some bah-bahing, before going back to being the captain of a ship or an astronaut in space, looking on high, etc etc. And still alone...until...
Everytime I find somebody who looks like she may be that one
The kind of woman who inspires a man to stop his traveling around...
And, again, nothing. What... what... Murder Mystery, what happens everytime you find somebody who looks like she may be that one?
Because after the second time you sing that, you go on to say that you're back to looking. So, what, when you find someone, you move on? You aren't really looking for love? You're scared of commitment? It's not them, it's you? What is it?
3. The Bleeding Heart Show, The New Pornographers.
a/k/a The Song That Almost Got Me To Enroll In the University of Phoenix.
This isn't the official video for the song, but I love it more than almost any other video:
And I wish that Astro Guy in that song would get together and form a self-help group with Bumblebee Girl.
NOTE/UPDATE: If you watched the video, you realize that comment made no sense. Click here for an explanation.
The Bleeding Heart Show came to my attention, as noted, in the University of Phoenix ad, and I liked its stirring music and the way it kept on hitting new Eleven Spots. I liked the song so much that it wasn't until one day on a long drive home from court in which I tried to teach myself the lyrics to the song that I realized it didn't make any sense.
What The Song Is Ostensibly About: Good god, I don't know. I thought at first it was about higher education. Or, if I was being symbolic and ignoring the My Aunt's Dog Theorem, I'd say it's about caring. Or heartbreak. Or... good god, I don't know.
Lyrics That Show It Doesn't Make Sense/Isn't About That At All: I'm not even going to pick and choose. Here's the entire song -- only I added hyphens at random to make it more Emily Dickinsonian:
I leapt across three or four beds into your arms --
Where I had hidden myself-- somewhere in your charm
Our golden handshake has been smashed into this shape.--
It's taken magic -- to a primitive new place
Watch 'em run, although it's the minimum, heroic--
We hunched together-- in one chair out on the deck
In snow that froze and fell down on the modern set--
It looked as if I picked -- your name out of a hat
Next thing you know you are asleep in someone's lap--
Watch 'em run, -- although it's the minimum, heroic
We quit the room--
Quit-- so our thoughts could rest
Rest them, I'll never move?--
That's -- when we grab a hold
Of whatever it is we fell into--
Lousy-- with your content
With what the majestic cannot find--
In -- business of your lives
The perception, it is wrong, mile after mile--
The phantom-- taste drinking wine from your heels
We have arrived-- too late-- to play the bleeding heart show.
I have to say, it actually looks, with those hyphens, as though it means something and is very poetics. Maybe Emily was really on to something. Or should I say:
I have to say--
It-- actually looks with those hyphens
it means -- something
Maybe Emily was really --
On-- to something.
I bet I could get that published in The New Yorker, if I titled it Inside Emily's Mind. And I'm going to try. I'll let you know how that works out.
As for the song, it's no worse than Emily Dickinson. But it's no better. "Watch 'em run, although it's the minimum heroic" doesn't bear any relationship that I can tell to the two lovers... maybe... hunched together in the chair out on the deck who had left the party to rest their thoughts amidst the quiet comfort of ... um... being randomly chosen to fulfill each others' dreams?
Good god, I don't know.
And speaking of songs I tried to teach myself the lyrics too, how about some
4. One Week, by Barenaked Ladies.
I once spent three hours on a drive rewinding the mixtape I had this song on, trying to learn the lyrics. True, part of that time was the time it took to rewind the tape; mp3s are more efficient, as evidenced by the fact that I taught myself to rap Bust A Move in, like 30 minutes. But the time also shows how difficult it is to learn a song that's sung really fast, and which makes less sense than many of my dreams:
What The Song Is Ostensibly About: A guy who's girlfriend/wife is mad at him, so he's biding his time until they make up.
Lyrics That Show It Doesn't Make Sense/Isn't About That At All:
Hold it now and watch the hood wink As I make you stop think You'll think you're looking at aqua man I summon fish to the dish although I like the Chalet Swiss I like the Sushi 'cause it's never touched a frying pan Hot like Wasabe when I bust rhymes Big like Leann Rimes Because I'm all about value Bert Kaempfert's got the mad hits You try to match wits, you try to hold me but I bust through Gonna make a break and take a fake I'd like a stinkin' achin' shake I like vanilla, it's the finest of the flavors Gotta see the show 'cause then you'll know The vertigo is gonna grow 'Cause it's so dangerous You'll have to sign a waiver
As far as I can tell, the first two lines are a sexual innuendo. And Bert Kaempfert according to this site, is "often described nowadays as the father of easy listening." Which is probably also a sexual innuendo, for all I now. I'm not terribly hip.
In the second rapid stanza, the singer apparently has a seizure from eating chinese food -- a seizure brought on in part by lusting after Sailor Moon.
Hey, I told you it made no sense.
Which brings us to:
5. Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan:
I said that Don't Stop Me Now "probably" deserves to be number one on the list. My hesitation was that even though I knew Queen's song was an opus of nonmeaning, I also knew that Bob Dylan's metaphysical ramblings in Subterranean Homesick Blues existed, and that those lyrics, in their very existence, challenge the underpinnings of logic throughout the universe -- they're that weirdly stupid.
Like other songs on this list, I tried to make sense of the lyrics by learning them to sing along with the song, only to be baffled. Unlike other songs on this list, I tried to learn the lyrics to Subterranean Homesick Blues when I was on a foreign exchange program in Morocco -- so I was baffled, and eating sheep's eyeballs, and kind of homesick. Imagine my surprise when I found out, upon returning to a country where we only eat the normal parts of animals, that the lyrics really didn't make sense.
I couldn't find Bob Dylan singing the song on Youtube -- apparently Bob's too busy on Twitter -- but here's a video that lets you hear the lyrics more clearly than on the original:
What The Song Is Ostensibly About: A guy who's underground and homesick.
Lyrics That Show It Doesn't Make Sense/Isn't About That At All: It's actually not about that guy, homesick or not, at all. It's about Johnny and Maggie and others:
Johnny's in the basement, mixing up the medicine I'm on the pavement, thinking about the government The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off Says "He's got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off" ... Maggie comes fleet foot face full of black soot Talkin' that the heat put, plants in the bed but The phone's tapped anyway, Maggie says that many say "They must bust in early May, orders from the D.A"
That doesn't make any sense at all -- but seems to be full of meaning, so it's pretty much par for the course as far as what we expect of Baby Boomers: a bunch of wacked out theories and ideas, all of which ultimately amount to nothing.
But in case you still think that there was some meaning hiding in those lyrics (or in the 1960s, altogether), consider the advice Dylan, as a standard bearer, gave to his generation, and posterity:
Look out kid, they keep it all hid Better jump down a manhole, light yourself a candle Don't wear sandals, try to avoid the scandals Don't wanna be a bum you better chew gum The pump don't work, 'cause the vandals took the handles
Shouldn't we expect a lot more from the guy who sang The Hurricane and Masters of War and Shelter from The Storm? I mean, look at him:
Okay, fine. I see your point.