Lyrical Misinterpretation

Mick Jagger, you said what?!?
Mick Jagger, you said what?!?

By Peter Gerstenzang

I’ve had my share of troubles over the years, trying to understand lots of complicated ideas. Like politics, Algebra and why they keep creating new shows for Fran Drescher. Arguably, the most difficult subject of all is rock lyrics and how many times I’ve thought something was funny, until I actually ‘got’ it. A scenario not unlike Herpes Simplex 2.

I thought it might be fun to discuss how I’ve misinterpreted lyrics over the years and how, in retrospect, once I understood certain lines by Scott Stapp, I shouldn’t have written that article comparing him to Lord Byron.

Now, I don’t really consider myself to be a pervert. Then again, neither do those guys who get entrapped on To Catch A Predator. So, it’s surprising that my first lyrical misinterpretation involved kinky sex. I remember being little and first hearing The Rascals song, Groovin’ which seemed to contain the couplet: “Life would be ecstasy/You and me and Leslie.”

Now, at 8, I was too young to know what a threesome was. But it still sounded hotter than the 7th Circle of Hell. And the lyric provoked questions as deep as anything asked by Kierkegaard. Who was this Leslie chick? Did she perform this service for anyone? Soon, I found out they actually said “Endlessly.” But the game was on.

Mick Jagger is another guy whose diction is really bad. He slurs his words so much, you want to drag him to the doctor for a brain scan before his next mini-stroke. In 1973, I wondered why he kept singing the refrain, “Heartbreaker, with your bowling ball.” As a young teen I heard this and thought, ‘Is this the scariest piece of sporting equipment your character can carry? Not even nunchucks?’ I finally figured out the correct words were, “With your .44” and thought, ‘so much better!’

Sometimes, when you have the words straight, you just need one friend to screw you up. Take the lyrics to Every Breath You Take which aren’t exactly on the same level of complexity as The Canterbury Tales. My pal, John, loved this desolate love song but wondered, “why is Sting bragging that he’s a ‘pool hall ace’ in the middle?” First I told him the  words were, “How my poor heart aches.” Then I bought him the same hearing implants Rush Limbaugh wears.

Finally, you wouldn’t think Paul McCartney could cause any more controversy than a Yorkie with his hair in a pigtail. But in 1989, my then girlfriend heard his newest song and called him a “sexist.” Why, I wondered. She then said, he keeps yelling at Linda for “My Breakfast!” When I told her, Paul was actually saying, “My Brave Face,” she turned bright red. “Oh,” said my girl. “That’s different.”

To keep peace, I said nothing. Misinterpreting lyrics is a fun indoor sport. But, then again, so is sex. And I didn’t want to mess up one. Just so I could discuss the other.