Monday, August 17, 2009

Mondegreens, 1

We were merely flesh then.
That's an intriguing line. Unfortunately, The Verve Pipe (really? "The Verve Pipe"?) sang nothing of the sort. The reality, as often, is much more banal:
We were merely freshmen.
("The Freshmen," The Verve Pipe)
I don't care that you were freshmen. My version is better. My version is better even if I don't know exactly what it means.

But sometimes it's my version that produces the banalization. Here's what I thought Michael Stipes sang:
Every streetlight reveals a picture and a verse
He's driving down the street at night, and every streetlight presents him with some new tableau that inspires a poetic reflection. How lovely..., how twee and inept. It's silly to imagine Stipes producing a verse to go with each streetlight (there's a bush, there's the speed limit...). And anyway the song is not a series of descriptions of roadside scenes. Here are the actual lyrics:
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago,
Turned around backwards so the windshield shows
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse
("Nightswimming," REM)
This is evocative because it's so precisely imagined. The reversed reflection of the old photograph fades in and out as the car passes each streetlight, like memory itself, which is also both vivid and elusive.

Shame on me: for a while I thought that my version must be correct and that all the lyrics sites had it wrong. Now I know better.

1 comment:

  1. this post makes me deliriously happy. first of all, because i have never heard the word "twee," and i find it fabulous. i can't wait to use it in a sentence. and second of all, because i am constantly being made fun of for my, ahem, lyrical genius. i completely invent my own lyrics to songs, without knowing that i am doing so, and then am astounded when i learn the truth. and now i have a fellow lyrically inclined friend - hurray!