Tilly and Mr Thrifty went to Kmart the other day to look for a new rear bike light (and yes, it has broken already). We had stopped, as we always do, at the bin where they have all the big coloured balls with smiley faces on them, so Tilly could pull them all out and roll them all down the aisle, when my fine-tuned musical ear noticed that DJ Kmart himself had chosen exactly that moment to slip the all time classic ‘Voices Carry’ by Til Tuesday onto the turntable. You weren’t there, and you may not remember the song, so just to give you a sense of it here is the official music video. It is worth watching for the ‘performance’ of the boyfriend alone.
The reason it struck a chord with me, though, was that back in mid-1985, when the song was released, my sister (12 at the time) had decided that the chorus was ‘Hey Judge, Keep it down now. You’re so scary.’ And though this wasn’t the funniest mishear in the world, it did become a part of family lore, which meant that hearing it again gave me that kind of warm, but slightly icky, feeling of nostalgia associated (for me, at least) with any memory that one might tag with both the word ‘family’ and the word ‘adolescence’.
This all got me thinking (as Tilly and I moved on to the bike accessories aisle) about the subject of misheard lyrics, and why our brains will offer us a nonsensical rendering of under-articulated lyrics rather than just admit that it has no idea what the mumbler in question is rabbiting on about. One of my early girlfriends (it was actually my ex-wife, but I figured that I wouldn’t mention this, as it would add an unnecessarily sombre note to what is meant to be a light and amusing anecdote) thought that in the chorus of ‘Angel of the Morning’ where Juice Newton (tell me you’re old enough to remember Juice) sings ‘Just touch my cheek before you leave me’, she was in fact singing ‘Just brush my teeth before you leave me’. I kid you not! Though, to be fair, I do love the way a single misheard line can conjure up a whole new relational scenario; one that leaves you wondering (amongst many other things) what kind of a cad would leave a woman who depends on him for basic personal hygiene.
Here is the song in full. I would strongly advise that you not watch it.
My thesis is that what these ridiculous misheard lyrics reveal is the incredible power of the human drive to make sense of stuff. The fact that if something is essentially incomprehensible to us, we will simply impose sense on it, even if that takes the form of complete nonsense, is a wonderful testament to our intense need to trap and domesticate wild and exotic words we come across. When it comes to toddlers (you knew it was coming, didn’t you) this process is turbo-charged. Every new word, object and experience has to be tied in some way (however bizarre or tenuous that might be) to their rapidly expanding realm of the ‘already known’.
Recently, Susie and I voiced some animations for my friend S, and Tilly has become a wee bit obsessed with watching them on line, so she can ‘hear mamma and papa on the ‘puter’. So anyway, the other day she watched the animation below a couple of times. Watch it through to the end or what follows will make no sense to you.
Then almost immediately afterwards, she had a bath in the kitchen sink, and started chanting the following…
I think I may have to get a ‘No Rabbits in the Bath’ sign made to put up in the bathroom.
So what are the morals of this post? a) Language is like dance, and you should throw yourself (like a Toddler – like this, for example ) into both with unselfconscious abandon. b) People who mishear lyrics are people too. c) Go to a proper bike shop.