Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Lyricide: (`lear-e-side) v. The murderous act of unwittingly changing the words to a song in a manner that makes absolutely no sense to anyone, esp. those laughing at you.

I have always had a knack for slaughtering the words to songs. As a child I remember being corrected by my parents and three older siblings whenever the offense occurred and, as a result, was often shamed into thinking that I was indeed the only person on earth who was guilty of inadvertently changing song lyrics. I suppose I could look at my family’s intolerant corrections in one of two ways: 1. Perhaps they were just trying to prevent me from looking stupid in front of my friends at a later date. You know, protecting my social ego. Or 2. They were fulfilling the unspoken obligation of older siblings which condones treating little sisters like foolish, low-life scumbags for doing something they were too embarrassed to admit they had done themselves. That’s probably more like it, but that’s not my point. My point is that if you like music and you like to sing, you are probably guilty of what I refer to as lyricide.

Just this last week while singing my lungs out to Beyonce’s Put a Ring on It, I realized that I had been murdering the lyrics to yet another favorite title and, in this case, completely altering the song’s message–a double offense. Yes, I understand that this is an empowering song to women everywhere. I also know that it carries an overt message to men who are too chicken to commit before it’s too late. And, of course, I got the “uh-ah-oh-oh-oh-oh’s.” However, prior to this week, I didn’t realize that the shout-out at the beginning of the song was to “All the single ladies.” Instead, I thought the lyrics read, “All the single A’s. All the single A’s,” and therefore assumed that this was an anthem for all of us flat-chested women out there who, like myself, have been rejected by men because of our small....cup size. This is a perfect example of how lyricide need not make an ounce of sense to the perpetrator. Had I stopped and realized that Beyonce hasn’t worn an A cup since the first grade, I could have logically deduced the unlikelihood that she would sing a song devoted to flat chicks. Nevertheless, I was able to self correct and spare myself the embarrassment associated with being caught in the act of lyricide by a newly acquired friend or, worse, a know-it-all family member. Whew!

Now, one might think that I would be so embarrassed by this ridiculous misinterpretation that I would sheepishly keep it to myself, ashamed of my faulty logic, unwilling to admit my ignorance. But that is not my style. Instead, I did what my older siblings taught me. I conferred with friends, soliciting every lyrical offense they had committed in an attempt to keep me from feeling like such an idiot. Needless to say, I found the validation I was seeking and would now like to draw attention to their mistakes in a shameless effort to make myself feel better.

Speaking of “shameless,” my friend Leslie has a sister who insists that the famous Garth Brooks ballad is sung by a man who repeats over and over the line, “I’m shavin’.” Again, an example that no logic is needed in the senseless act of lyricide-- a point I am sure that Leslie has brought to her younger sister’s attention while fulfilling her obligation as the older sibling...

Then there is Tracey who admits to ruining one of her husband’s favorite Journey songs by inserting the words “broken arms” every time Steve Perry croons to the love of his life, begging for her affection. Tracey is also a David Bowie fan who observes that during the chorus of Modern Love it sounds as though the singer is yelling, “Garden Gnome!” After giving this some thought and inserting the words myself, I wondered if this is what writers of Geico commercials studied before using gnomes in their latest ads: Garden gnome...terrifies me. Garden confessions. Garden religion, Garden gnome...gets me to the church on time... Just a thought.

Finally, my cousin Maryjo could swear that Irene Cara’s Flashdance song tells listeners to “take your pants off and make it happen”–a line that might make perfect sense had one just viewed the movie and heard the song performed in its original context. Now, I knew I could depend on Mo to provide me with some great lyricide material when just two years ago at a family reunion she and I discovered that we both had been slaughtering the words to REO Speedwagon’s Can’t Fight This Feelin’ in the same exact way. For years we had been singing, “You’re a candle in the window and a corn dog when it’s night.” After all, what better way is there to profess one’s love than by using a metaphor comparing her to a greasy lunchtime food, generally reserved for five-year-olds and accompanied by a side of mac n' cheese? The fact that two cousins could generate this same psychologically deranged thought process is uncanny. And, for me, it is down right comforting to know that I am not alone.

One final thought. Lest you think you are innocent of the crimes described above, I beg you to think again. Consider the often misquoted words of lead singer, Chris Thompson who not only shares my name but also this profound thought: People who say they have never committed lyricide, are more than likely “blinded by the light, wrapped up like a douche, you know, the rumor in the night...” Think about it. You know you are just as guilty as the millions of fans who for years have tried to make sense of what Chris is saying in that famous seventies hit. And moreover, I think it’s time you were corrected. Just call me and I will give you the numbers of my three older siblings. They’ll set you straight. They know it all.

*Thanks to Leslie, Tracey, Mo, and Arielle for their lyricide contributions and to my siblings who have given me enough material to last a lifetime.

Just remembered another one..."Like a rhinestone cowboy...getting carts of lettuce from people I don't even know..."

My Obsession With American Idol

A few nights ago I overheard one friend questioning another’s obsession with American Idol. There was no judgement being passed, just a simple inquiry into a phenomenon she'd yet to discover. Had I not been exhausted and trying to pay attention to the unfolding plot of the four hour movie we were watching, I may have joined the conversation. As it was, the explanation my friend offered was brief and the conversation ended without too much discussion. However, once the movie had come to an end and I was lying sleepless in the comfort of my own bed that night, I couldn’t help but ponder the question that had been posed earlier that evening. Just what exactly is it that I and so many other viewers love about American Idol?

After all, I am a grown woman (yes, that’s a euphemism for “middle aged,” but I couldn’t bring myself to use it here). I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island, The Price is Right, and never missed an episode of The Love Boat. Until now, no reality series has even come close to luring me into its time-sucking trap, but every Tuesday night for the past, I don’t know how many, years I have found myself in front of the TV,tuning in to see the performances of America’s latest wannabes.

Perhaps therein lies the draw. A show of wannabes. Certainly, we all can relate to a group of people striving for a fast-track to success in what they deem their profession of choice, and the entertainment industry provides the perfect forum for such a spectacle. (Let’s face it, who would want to tune in every week to see a group of tomorrow’s hopeful teachers battle it out in the classroom, wielding nothing less than their best anticipatory sets and most clever uses of the latest graphic organizers, all in an attempt to win a salary which often pales in comparison to that of any local plumber found in the Yellow Pages?)

I have always been a fan of documentaries which highlight the ups and downs of various artists’ careers and the roads that led them to their fame, or in some cases, notoriety. I suppose American Idol provides me the opportunity to ride along and view the documentary of success as it unfolds. Better yet, I can even feel a part of the journey by casting my vote when I feel so inclined. But somehow, I don’t think the power of the vote is what attracts me to the show so much as the vulnerability of the contestants themselves.

We live in a culture that professes equality and often frowns upon openly putting one person above another. Judgement and criticism connote negativity–so much so that both have nearly been eliminated from the public school system. As a teacher, I am often counseled to use a positive approach to discipline, ask open-ended questions, avoid the use of the ever-critical red pen, and never question a child’s behavior openly in front of his peers. All of this is done in an effort to protect “Johnny” and his ever-increasing false sense of self esteem–-a term foreign to generations prior to baby boomers. In some cases, even parents have gone from being authoritative advisors for their children to becoming neutral consultants as their children self-navigate the world in a way they think best suits them. In our attempt to become judgement-free, we have, in many ways, become a society without judgement. Rules are bent, exceptions are made, and limits seem to know no bounds in much of our current culture. In contrast, many of us middle-agers (there, I said it) remember a time when not every hardworking student got A’s, parents told their children “no” more than “yes” and not every girl who tried out expected to make the cheerleading squad.

I think this is what draws me to American Idol. Amidst a culture that promotes equality, and sometimes mediocrity, contestants take the stage every week knowing they will be openly criticized, even scrutinized, in front of the entire nation and eventually eliminated in a contest where there can be only one winner.

Assuming that this demotic talent show appeals to others for the same reasons it appeals to me gives me hope. Hope that we haven’t forgotten the value of fierce competition. Hope that we can still appreciate the beauty of criticism. Hope that we can recognize that as we are watching others strive for their dreams under stressful circumstances, we understand that the fruition of the dream is only part of what delivers happiness. And yet, while it is true that the journey itself can bring much fulfillment and joy, being deemed the best at what you do whether you are the plumber, the teacher, or the next American Idol, is enough to make anyone’s heart sing.