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There Must be Some Misunderstanding – Of These Lyrics!

There Must be Some Misunderstanding – Of These Lyrics!

At the stroke of midnight, January 1st, millions of people will ring in the New Year with the song, “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 are one of the millions of people that celebrate at midnight with this song without knowing what it means, don’t fret – it’s a much more common problem than you might think, and it doesn’t happen only on New Years.

Everyday, everywhere you go, seemingly intelligent people will sing along to any song with a catchy tune while at the same time being oblivious to what they are 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 are actually saying.

I recently saw Genesis in concert and for some reason they chose the song, “Throwing it All Away,” to turn the cameras on to the audience. For the whole song, they just showed different audience members on the big screen. When the camera was on them, the highlighted person or persons would dance and cheer, and one couple even kissed.

First off, I don’t understand the concept of panning to the crowd during a concert. The entire practice seems ludicrous. I paid my money to see Genesis, not Joe or Jane Philadelphia. Keep the camera on the band, please.

More confusing to me is why Genesis chose this song to focus on the audience. It makes no sense. This is not a happy song. This is not a cheerful song. This is certainly not a song that a couple should lovingly kiss to. This is an angry song sung by a guy who is essentially telling his ex that she is stupid for dumping him and some day she will regret it. Had the camera panned to an angry woman storming away from a man who was desperately pleading with her not to go, that would have been far more appropriate.

“Throwing it All Away,” good song though it may be, has one purpose: If you are a male between the ages of thirty and forty and ever got desperate enough to make a mix tape to try to get a girl to get back together with you, then you absolutely put this song on that tape. That is the only purpose of this song. By the way, the mix tape never works. At the time, it may seem like a brilliant idea that is guaranteed to work, but it never does. We all try, but no woman in the history of the world has ever un-broken up with a guy because she was moved by the dulcet tones of Phil Collins singing “Throwing it All Away,” or “Against All Odds.” I would beg you not to do it, but I know you will anyhow. Now, if you happen to have a story of a girl who did get back together with you based on a mix tape, I’m all ears.

People should not dance and smile and kiss to “Throwing it All Away.” It’s like when people make “Every Breath You Take,” by the Police their wedding song. That song is about a guy *stalking* his ex-girlfriend. Sting, the leader singer of the Police, even said, “It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.” Those are three concepts I want to use to commemorate my lifelong union with another person: Big Brother, surveillance, and control…

Speaking of wedding songs, I new a girl 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 seeking inner beauty; on the other hand, it could be about something completely different and altogether inappropriate. I won’t get into exactly what it *could* be about here, but if you are curious go ahead and look it up on Google, then ask yourself if that is what you want your wedding guests thinking about as they watch the two of you take your first dance….

“Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen may be the worst victim of people paying attention to only one small part of a song and thereby missing the entire point. “Born in the USA” sounds like a very patriotic tune, but it is not. Unfortunately, most people miss that. When this rocking tune is played live, everyone starts waving their American flags. I remember being a child in the eighties watching my Saturday morning WWF (now WWE) professional wrestling show and hearing this song accompany the patriotic American wrestlers Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo as they came to the ring to wrestle the “evil” Russian and Iranian, Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik (it’s amazing how acceptable hard-core xenophobia is in pro wrestling). “Born in the USA” was guaranteed to get the crowd into a patriotic frenzy.

If you think that pro-wrestling is not the best example of intelligent society, then you should also know that at the time President Reagan said that this 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 intelligent society, but come on, the guy won 525 of a possible 538 electoral vote. He had to be doing something right.

Unfortunately, “Born in the USA” may very well be the least patriotic song ever recorded! It is about a guy who gets in trouble with the law, gets shipped off to Vietnam, and then has an incredibly difficult time when he gets back home. It paints an extremely unflattering picture of the US. Not happy. Not patriotic. And yet, I am sure that the same people who boycotted and booed the Dixie Chicks for being Un-American still feel a surge of jingoistic pride when the Boss starts belting out, “Born in the USA!” over and over. (I’m sure there’s a joke in there about country music and “intelligent society,” but I don’t want to go there J )

The point here is that these songs get so horribly misinterpreted when we only pay attention to one small part. “Need I say I love you, need I say I care?” makes “Throwing it all away” sound like a love song. “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you,” could be a very romantic line by the Police. “Born in the USA,” repeated ad infinitum certainly sounds patriotic. But when you look at the whole picture, well, then you realize that it’s a completely different story.

You may not sing along to lyrics, but there are times when we all make quick judgments based on incomplete information. A job applicant has a pleasant smile, so you assume they have an even temper. A waiter is a little harried, so they must be a mean, unhappy person. You see one picture of a nice vacation villa, and you fall in love with the idea of traveling there. Never mind the possibility that the job applicant is a jerk, the waiter is just having an off day, and the villa picture is from twenty years ago (and not from hurricane season!).

When you think about it, this approach makes a certain amount of sense. We currently live in the “Information Age,” though I think it would be fair to call this the “Information Overload Age.” To process things quickly, we often look at small slices and details and forget to look at the entire picture. In his excellent book, “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell calls this “Thin Slicing.” I call it potential for disaster. If you don’t pay attention to the entire picture, you may find yourself doing some very stupid things.

We know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. To be fair, I have actually read quite a few excellent books based on their covers, but that is a very small life decision. Next time you have to make an *important decision* make sure you have the entire picture. Otherwise, you just might find yourself, “throwing it all away.”

PS “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates to “old long since,” or more conversationally as, “long ago” or “days gone by.” Ironically, though most people are looking forward as the New Year begins, the song we all play and sing is actually about remembering the past.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle…