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There Must be Some Misunderstanding – Of These Lyrics!
At the stroke of midnight on January 1, millions ring in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.” But do you know what the words “auld lang syne” even mean? Do you know what the song is about? If you’re one of the millions of people celebrating at midnight with this song without knowing what it means, don’t worry—it’s a much more common problem than you might think, and it doesn’t just happen on New Year’s.
Every day, wherever you go, seemingly intelligent people will be singing any song with a catchy melody while not forgetting what they’re actually singing about. I’m not talking about when you sing the wrong words, but rather when you sing the right words without paying attention to what you’re actually saying.
I recently saw Genesis in concert and for some reason they chose the song “Throwing it All Away” to point the cameras at the audience. They just showed different audience members on the big screen for the whole song. When the camera was on them, the highlighted person or persons danced and cheered, and one couple even kissed.
First of all, I don’t understand the concept of panning into the crowd during a concert. The whole practice seems ridiculous. I paid my money to see Genesis, not Joe or Jane Philadelphia. Leave the camera on tape, please.
More confusing to me is why Genesis chose this song to target the audience. It makes no sense. This is not a happy song. This is not a happy song. This is definitely not a song for a couple to kiss lovingly to. This is an angry song sung by a guy who basically tells his ex that she’s stupid for dumping him and one day she’ll regret it. If the camera panned to an angry woman rushing away from a man who was desperately begging her not to leave, it would have been much more appropriate.
“Throwing it All Away,” a good song though it may be, has one purpose: If you’re a man in your thirties and forties and you’ve ever been desperate enough to make a mix tape and try to get a girl to give herself up again together with you, then you absolutely put this song on that tape. That is the sole purpose of this song. By the way, the mix tape never works. At the time it may seem like a genius idea that is guaranteed to work, but it never is. We all try, but no woman in the history of the world has ever broken up with a guy because she was moved by the melodious notes of Phil Collins singing “Throwing it All Away” or “Against All Odds.” I would beg you not to, but I know you will anyway. Now, if you happen to have a story about a girl getting back together with you based on a mix tape, I’m all ears.
People shouldn’t be dancing and smiling and kissing to “Throwing it All Away.” It’s like when people make “Every Breath You Take” by The Police as a wedding song. The song is about a guy *chasing* his ex-girlfriend. Sting, lead singer of The Police, even said: “It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realize how ominous it was at the time. I think I was thinking Big Brother, surveillance and control.” Those are the three terms I want to use to remind myself of my lifelong connection with another person: Big Brother, Watching and Controlling…
Speaking of wedding songs, I have a new girlfriend who was going to use “Kiss that Frog” by Peter Gabriel as her wedding song. On the one hand, this could be a song about finding inner beauty; on the other hand, it could be about something completely different and completely inappropriate. I won’t go into detail here about exactly what it *could* be about, but if you’re curious, Google it, then ask yourself if that’s what you want your wedding guests to think when they watch the two of you go to my first dance…
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” may be the worst victim of people paying attention to only one small part of a song and thus missing the whole point. “Born in the USA” sounds like a very patriotic tune, but it’s not. Unfortunately, most people miss that. When this rocking tune is played live, everyone starts waving their American flags. I remember watching my WWF (now WWE) Saturday morning professional wrestling show as a kid in the 1980s and hearing this song accompany patriotic American wrestlers Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda when they came to the ring to wrestle the “evil” Russian and Iranian, Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik (it’s amazing how acceptable hard xenophobia is in professional wrestling). “Born in the USA” was guaranteed to send the crowd into a patriotic frenzy.
If you think pro-wrestling isn’t the best example of an intelligent society, then you should also know that at the time, President Reagan said the song had “a message of hope that so many young Americans admire.” Of course, you may think that President Reagan is not the best example of an intelligent society, but come on, the guy won 525 of a possible 538 electoral votes. He must be doing something right.
Unfortunately, “Born in the USA” may very well be the least patriotic song ever recorded! It’s about a guy who gets in trouble with the law, gets sent to Vietnam, and has an incredibly hard time after he comes home. It paints an extremely unflattering picture of the US. She is not happy. Not patriotic. And yet I’m sure the same people who boycotted and booed the Dixie Chicks for being un-American still feel a rush of jingoistic pride when the boss starts saying, “Born in the USA!” again and again. (I’m sure there’s a joke about country music and “intelligent society” but I don’t want the J )
The point is that these songs are so horribly misinterpreted when we only pay attention to one small part. “Do I have to say I love you, do I have to say I care?” makes “Throwing it all away” sound like a love song. “Every breath, every move you make, I’ll be watching you,” could be a very romantic line from the police. “Born in the USA,” repeated ad infinitum certainly sounds patriotic. But when you look at the whole picture, then you realize that it is a completely different story.
You may not be singing along to the lyrics, but there are times when we all make snap judgments based on incomplete information. The job seeker has a pleasant smile, so you assume he has a balanced personality. The waiter is a bit distressed, so he must be a mean, unhappy person. You see one picture of a nice vacation villa and fall in love with the idea of traveling there. Never mind the possibility that the job applicant is a jerk, the waiter is currently off, and the picture of the villa is from twenty years ago (and not from hurricane season!).
When you think about it, this approach makes some sense. We currently live in the “Information Age”, although I think it would be fair to call it the “Age of Information Overload”. In order to process things quickly, we often look at small cuts and details and forget to look at the whole picture. Malcolm Gladwell calls this “Thin Slicing” in his excellent book “Blink”. I call it the potential for disaster. If you don’t pay attention to the whole picture, you might find yourself doing very stupid things.
We know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we do. To be fair, I have actually read some excellent books based on their covers, but that’s a very small life decision. The next time you have to make an *important decision*, make sure you have the whole picture. Otherwise, you may find yourself “throwing it all away.”
PS “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates to “old long ago” or colloquially as “long ago” or “days gone by.” The irony is that although most people look forward to the start of the New Year, the song we all play and sing is actually about remembering the past.
Now you know. And knowing is half the battle…
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