Monday, 27 May 2013

Songs of innocence, songs of experience

I seem to exist in another time--a  more innocent time. I am the sort of person who would fall for that old joke about did you know the word gullible is not in the dictionary. I still retain a largely naïve view of the world, particularly when it comes to song lyrics.

 There were many songs from my childhood that I loved and only  later did I find out their  lascivious meanings. I had a *completely* different understanding as to the content of these songs and was *completely* shocked (and sometimes disappointed) to discover their true meanings. 

Exhibit A

MacArthur Park by Donna Summer

I loved this song and her witchy laugh in it. Here are the lyrics:

 MacArthur's park is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don't think that I can take it 'cause it took so long to bake it
And I'll never have that recipe again, oh, no

I recall thinking, “I hate it when you leave something out in the rain and it gets all wet. I bet she left the recipe out in the back yard and the ink ran and she couldn’t read the words and she’ll never know  how to bake that cake again. But maybe she could bake another cake with another recipe and then she could have her dessert after all. It may not be the same, but it would be still be nice.” I remember talking to my dad about my idea and him pointing out that this song was mostly likely about DRUGS. MacArthur Park in Los Angeles was a notorious hang out in the 1960s for drug dealers and users. This song was probably a reference to some hallucinogenic acid trip rather than literally about cake in the rain.

 Thanks Dad for helping a tiny bit of my childhood innocence to die. I do recall telling him that I didn’t care and I thought my interpretation was more interesting and more realistic. I left stuff out in the rain all the time. A cake (and a piece of paper with writing on it) were bound to be ruined. Nuff said.

Verdict: still love it, but love my version better.

Exhibit B

The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo) by Manfred Mann

I loved this song so much. It was such a friendly ditty and my favourite bit was the whistling between the verses. It just sounded like a children’s song. I believed it was all about an ice cream salesman and how everyone loved him--even the pigeons in the trees.

 Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn
Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn

Everybody's building ships and boats
Some are building monuments, others are jotting down notes
Everybody's in despair, every girl and boy
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Everybody's gonna jump for joy

Come all without, come all within
You'll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn

I like to go just like the rest, I like my sugar sweet
But jumping queues and makin' haste, just ain't my cup of meat
Everyone's beneath the trees, feedin' pigeons on a limb
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
All the pigeons gonna run to him

 I always thought he was called Quinn the Eskimo because he sold Eskimo pies. Remember those?

Yes well, I was a grown up married woman when Spiderman rather unkindly pointed out that it was not a song about a jolly man and his ice cream van making all the kiddies happy--it was in fact about DRUGS. Quinn the Eskimo is so called because he deals in powdery white stuff. Pigeons are a slang word for drug dealers.  I genuinely didn’t believe him until he quoted the line When Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna want a dose. I swear I never noticed that bit before. Now every time I hear the opening bars of music I feel all warm inside thinking about that nice man and then I get that sinking feeling in my tummy when I remember. This song is basically ruined for me. Thanks honey.

 Now the original song was by Bob Dylan and if I had heard his version first I might not have made that mistake because when ole Bob and his cronies sings it--it sounds like they are stoned out of their gourds. It is fairly tuneless. But the Manfred Mann version is so chirpy and jolly it just sounds like it should be a friendly ice cream van driver even if it isn’t.

Verdict: ruined for all times

Edited to note: Spiderman—you may be wrong and this song may be saved if Wikipedia is to be trusted.  According to wiki:

The subject of the song is the arrival of the mighty Quinn (an Eskimo), who changes despair into joy and chaos into rest, and attracts attention from the animals. Dylan is widely believed to have derived the title character from actor Anthony Quinn's role as an Eskimo in the 1960 movie The Savage Innocents.[2] Dylan has also been quoted as saying that the song was nothing more than a "simple nursery rhyme."

 Plus if you google the lyrics it says

 Let me do what I wanna do, I can't decide 'em all
Just tell me where to put 'em and I'll tell you who to call
Nobody can get no sleep, there's someone on everyone's toes
But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here
Everybody's gonna wanna DOZE.
Not dose. Not take drugs, do you hear me???

Verdict: redeemed.

Exhibit C

Lola by the Kinks

 I met her in a club down in old Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry-cola
C-o-l-a cola
She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice she said Lola
L-o-l-a Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

Well I'm not the worlds most physical guy
But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola
Well I'm not dumb but I can't understand
Why she walked like a woman and talked like a man
Oh my Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola lo-lo-lo-lo Lola

Ok, I just figured she was a tomboy. There were lots in my neighbourhood who had less girly voices and a vice like hand grip. They dressed like a girls but acted like boys.

 I actually drove off the road and into a ditch when I actually heard the line  

 Well I'm not the worlds most masculine man
But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola

 This song doesn’t disappoint me like Quinn the Eskimo used to. It makes it make more sense. Plus I don’t have any problem with transsexuals--I know a few. This song got better when I understood it, not worse.

 Verdict: Still love it .Love it more now that I understand it.

Exhibit D

Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart

Let’s get one thing straight--I am not so naïve that I didn’t know this was about SEX. Even as a child I figured that one out pretty easily. With lyrics like this it would be hard not to.

 If you want my body and you think I'm sexy
Come on honey tell me so
If you really need me just reach out and touch me
Come on sugar let me know

 No my innocence comes about a particular line that I had misinterpreted until very recently. I was in the kitchen cooking and singing along to the radio. When we got to the line Give me dime so I can phone my mother I screamed and ran out of the kitchen to see Spiderman who was sitting on the sofa. The conversation went something like this:

 Me:  Oh my stars he’s buying a condom from a vending machine!

 Spiderman: ( laughing) What did you think he was doing?

Me: Actually phoning his mother. I always thought he was such a nice son because he phoned her to say “don’t wait up because I’m going to be out late.”

 I can’t believe I never figured that one out.

 Verdict: At least he was having safe sex.


Exhibit E

Mama’s Got a Squeezebox by The Who

Mama's got a squeeze box
She wears on her chest
And when Daddy comes home
He never gets no rest

'Cause she's playing all night
And the music's all right
Mama's got a squeeze box
Daddy never sleeps at night

 Well the kids don't eat
And the dog can't sleep
There's no escape from the music
In the whole damn street

 Night before last I was cooking and listening to the radio and this song came on. I had that terrible sinking feeling once again. When Spiderman came home from work I met him at the door with this question.

Me: Um…can I ask you something.

Spiderman: Yes.

Me: The song Mama’s Got a Squeezebox…it’s not actually about playing the accordion is it?

Spiderman: (trying not to laugh) Think about it. What happens to Daddy?

Me: he can’t sleep at night. But that could be because she’s up to all hours playing zydeco music.

Spiderman: (giving me that raised eyebrow look I know so well) And how does she play it?

Me: (quoting lyrics) it goes in and out and in and out and in and out. Well that is actually how you play the accordion. Are you absolutely  sure?

Spiderman: Definitely sure.

 Yet again, at age 43, I am only just figuring this out.

Verdict: I prefer zydeco music.

Exhibit F

Blinded By The Light by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

I still have no clue what this is actually about. It’s probably about DRUGS. There is a reference to Go-cart Mozart checking out the weather, just seeing if it was safe outside --maybe he’s looking for snow (nudge nudge! Wink wink!) and trying to avoid a narc.  Maybe it‘s about SEX--there are some lyrics about a silicone sister and her manager Mister. I really don’t know. I really don’t care. This is a glorious song that captured my imagination as a child. It also healed me. You heard me right.

 Once as a child I was home sick with the flu and felt horrible--achy and feverish. We had a hi-fi with a turntable and the radio was on. This song came on and the bit where it sounds like a roller coaster (where it goes dun nun nun nun nun nun dooooOOOOOooo) was playing and I got up off the sofa and walked to the hi-fi and stood touching the enormous speaker just as he sang the line the calliope crashed to the ground and I felt my fever break. Suddenly the achy-ness was less and I felt like I was getting better. I genuinely to this day feel that the song did it. 

 My favourite part was always:

 With a boulder on my shoulder, feelin' kinda older,
I tripped the merry-go-round
With this very unpleasin', sneezin' and wheezin,
the calliope crashed to the ground
The calliope crashed to the ground

 There’s lots of nonsensical internal rhyme such as

 dumps with the mumps

Early-Pearly came by in his curly-wurly

Some brimstone baritone anticyclone rolling stone preacher from the east
Says, "Dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in it's funny bone,
that's where they expect it least"

Now Scott with a slingshot finally found a tender spot
And some bloodshot forget-me-not said daddy's within earshot save the buckshot, turn up the band

 Plus the music is so good it makes you feel like you are on a roller coaster. I don’t want my innocence spoiled on this one.

 If you know what the meaning of this song is—please kindly keep it to yourself. 


  1. Outstanding blog post! Have you had any of your work published?
    Aunt Linda

  2. oh my stars! you're kidding!
    (and I KNOW you know what that means)

    1. oh yeah, I forgot "Heather, you're a queer kid."

  3. Well, I have misheard lyrics all my life! Blinded By The Light is one of my all time favorites, only slight blunted by the fact that it was written by Bruce Springsteen. (I really can't stand that guy or his music, despite how genius some of it is)

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  5. I had no idea he said, "Give me a dime so I can call my mother"....but until just now, I would have thought he was really calling his mom, too. Oops. (Blinded by the light...of the camera flash from taking a "picture picture"????)

  6. This recycled itself to my FB page again (under Memories) and it was wonderful all over again. What about the magnificent horse with no name? I can still picture that stallion with his mane flowing galloping through the desert. And my mind's made up; don't confuse me with the facts.