Please mister, please. Don’t play B-17…

I’m a firm believer that from the day we’re born there’s a clear pathway that runs from our ears straight to our brains. Anything that we hear goes right to central processing with no sort of buffering. Over the years we start to build up filters to block some things out. These filters are both psychological and physical in nature. (The physical aspect of the filters is composed of equal parts of Bazooka Bubble Gum, earwax, and Play-Dough, while the psychological blocks come into play when we hear harmful words and expressions, or abstract thoughts that our immature minds can’t handle quite yet.)

That’s what I believe. Firmly. But I also happen to believe that there’s a portion of our baby brains that try their best to make sense of the things that we’re hearing and seeing around us. We really want to know what’s going on, so we use a form of creative visualization to try and suss things out. We might not have all the information needed, but if we can piece enough things together, we might be able to figure out that mommy and daddy are fighting about sex, or money, or why their son uses words like ‘suss’.

As we get older, that problem solving portion of our brains keeps on chugging along, but to a more limited degree. Couples who have together for years start to infer things, instead of spelling every word out. We can watch movies set in Scotland or England and even if we miss every couple of words, we can still more or less figure out what people are saying.

Another avenue for us to try and fill in the blanks and figure out what the hell is going on is when it comes to music. You hear a song on the radio, and if the melody has a nice hook you listen for it again. This time you pay closer attention to the lyrics. The third time you start to sing along (or whistle through your teeth, like my good friend Rob Dahlberg. I’ve never heard him sing a note but I would definitely want him on my team during a game of Name That Tune. The man is a monster and we would kick royal ass). By this time you’ve pretty much got most of the lyrics down and you’re firming up the storyline. Sometimes everything makes perfect sense. Other times you figure the musicians must have been passing around the crack pipe in the studio, because the catchy little ditty you’ve been singing along to, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

My wife suggests that the reason I don’t get many of them is because they deal with the drug culture in the 70s and 80s. Or that they reference things not readily available in the Midwest, where I grew up. I can go along with both of these. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the 70s sucking down on a bong and then noshing on Vegemite sandwiches

For whatever the reason, here’s a list of songs that have troubled me for years:

Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin
(I enjoy listening to this song. I’ve heard it a lot of times over the years. I don’t have a single clue as to what they’re talking about. Sample lyric:
“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, Don't be alarmed now, It's just a spring clean for the May queen.”
Huh? What the bloody hell is going on here?)

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
(Okay, I sort of get this one. A little. It’s about a guy who killed a man and now the devil has big plans for him, but he’s crying to his mama. Wait, I was wrong, I don’t sort of get this one at all.)

Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones
(I finally figured out this one when I was thirty or so. I’m not a big Stones fan, but I happened to be listening to it one day and ‘Bang’ it came to me. I don’t understand what the basis for the song is about, but I get a lot more of the details now.)

Spill The Wine – Eric Burden
(For all of my youth and a good portion of my adult life, I thought the chorus to this song was ‘Do I, dig this girl?’ A while back I discovered that I’d been wrong all that time and it was really, ‘Spill the wine, dig this girl!’ I still didn’t understand what was going on, but I went with the flow. Then, just about a week ago I find out the actual title of the song. Are you ready? It’s, Spill the wine, take the pearl.’ What in the name of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus is that supposed to mean? Did wine used to come with a pearl in the bottom of the bottle, like the worm in tequila? Was this some sort of nasty reference that even my depraved mind couldn’t fathom? I’m still boggled, but I’ll figure it out in time. But for now, I’m going to reprint my favorite portion of the song. It paints such a great visual picture that I am in awe of Mr. Eric Burden. I don’t understand him, but I still hold him in awe.
This is from the middle of the song..

“And I fell asleep and dreamed
I dreamed I was in a Hollywood movie
And that I was the star of the movie
This really blew my mind, the fact that me,
an overfed, long-haired leaping gnome
should be the star of a Hollywood movie.”)

Carry On My Wayward Son - Kansas
(I don’t get it. Is this a war song? A drug song? A song for someone on drugs going off to war? I like the song but the lyrics don’t make any sense to me.)

Levon - Elton John
(Just what in the hell is this song about? I’ve tried to dissect it but got nothing.)

You’re Having My Baby – Paul Anka
(Who could be having Paul Anka’s baby? Paul Anka is as gay as Sigfried and Roy. Is it Johnny Mathis having his baby? Gay dudes can’t have babies. Is this song really some sort of coded message about something that gay men do?)

Hotel California – Eagles
(In high school a creative writing teacher had the entire class try to translate this song. The responses were astounding. Nobody had a clue. I don’t have a clue to this day.)

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
(I’ve heard two takes on this one. The first has it a simple love song, with someone offering to always be there for the one he loves. That’s nice. The other take is that the song is an advertisement for heroin use—as in, when you’re feeling blue, the silver bird is sailing on by. The silver bird, as everyone is supposed to know, is the needle you shoot up with. I don’t know. Paul Simon doesn’t seem to be the type to push ‘H’ but I don’t know.)

You're So Vain - Carly Simon
(My only question about this one is who the lead character is. All the radio DJs claim that it’s Warren Beatty. The only other contender it James Taylor, but that doesn’t ring true.)

Harper Valley P.T.A. - Jeannie C. Riley
(I haven’t heard this song for so long that I really don’t know what the whole conflict was, but I remember way back when really wanting to know what ‘..her mama showed it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.’ I guess I should try and find it online and get my answer.)

The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia – Vicki Lawrence
(This song is well intentioned but confusing none the less. If I understand the story straight, this guy comes home after being out of town for a few weeks, and a guy in the local bar tells him that his wife’s been cheating on him. The dude sees red and then walks to his sister’s house to get a gun. He heads over to the house of one of the guys that his wife’s been cheating with, but there are tiny footprints leading up to the house and inside he finds that the cheating bastard is already dead. He fires a shot to flag down a passing cop and is arrested for murdering the guy. Now the twist is, I think, the sister of the guy who was getting cheated on was the one who did the killing. She even brags that she killed her brother’s wife, but that’s one body that will never be found. What a confusing mess? I’ve read Agatha Christie novels that were easier to follow.)

Ode To Billy Joe – Bobbie Gentry
(What were the mysterious girl and Billy Joe McAllister tossing off the Tallahatchie Bridge that led Billy Joe to jump himself the following day? It’s true what that say about nothing good ever happening up on Choctaw Ridge. But what did happen? I need to know.)

(Not a clue. Not a single clue what this one is about. For years I thought the line was that he ‘..had to have a bath or couldn’t get to sleep..’ but it turned out to be ‘..he had to have a berth or couldn’t put to sea..’. This is a hopeless one. None of the lyrics I remember hearing on the radio are the actual lyrics. This could be a lost cause.)

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