My life is a struggle to make sense of things—enormous things and things like, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” We’re talking here about the Credence Clearwater Revival lyrics, which don’t have anything to do with plumbing, of course. The line that’s so often misquoted is really: “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
In this realm, I’ve got a boatload of company. Have you seen the commercial with 20-somethings downloading Rock the Kasbah onto an MP3 player, and they try various different lyrics that make more sense to them—settling on “Lock the Cashbox” and “Rock the Cat Box”?
Quite seriously, though, I was horrified in the 1960s when I heard Doris Day on the radio, singing Que Sera, Sera. She sounded so blasé with that, “Whatever will be, will be.” Was she trying to make light out of an epic tragedy? Was she making a horribly inappropriate attempt at healing the American psyche? Or was she just being mean? I couldn’t understand why she was singing about the guy that had just assassinated Bobby Kennedy. This isn’t a joke. As a kid, I ran from the radio when I heard her croon, “Okay, Sirhan, Sirhan. Whatever will be, will be.”
We’re always filling the mysterious with things we know. That’s especially true when we know too much—and too little. As a kid, I used to wonder what a “whore soapin’” could possibly be. Almost certainly, it was a grown-up phrase that I wasn’t supposed to understand. Someday, I knew, I’d understand why each December, hookers wound up in a song about dashing through the snow in a one whore soapin’ sleigh.
A guy I work with, when I told him about my musical mysteries, admitted, “You know, I always wondered how the Munchkins in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ knew about Bill Cosby.”
I looked at him, completely puzzled. He said, “Do you remember the movie? Dorothy and her new friends singing?” And he broke into the chorus, “If ever oh ever a Wiz there was, the Wizard of Oz is one—Bill Cosby, Cosby, Cosby …”
I feel extremely vulnerable admitting this next little mistake, but until about a year or two ago, I thought Stevie Nicks was singing, “Just like the one-wing dove sings a song …” If you know the song, you know it’s really “white winged dove.”
I’m not the only one in my family who’s fallen prey to a misunderstood song lyric. In church, my oldest daughter loved to sing along with the Hallelujah Chorus. When she was little, she was convinced they were singing, “I knew ya, I knew ya,” instead of “Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” Our pastor was so intrigued by her misunderstanding that he devoted an entire sermon to a little girl’s personal relationship with Jesus.
My in-laws swear there’s a giant conspiracy against them. They insist—their entire family—that the taunt, quite properly, is: “Liar! Liar! Pacifier!” Everyone else, they’re convinced, is saying it the wrong way. I have my own theory about this phrase, too. I think it must have been, “Fire! Fire! Pants a liar! Talking on the telephone wire.” It makes more sense to me that someone was making a prank phone call and panting heavily about flames everywhere. Through the years, I imagine, it got corrupted into “Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!”
But my wife, Marci, makes malaprops a part of our daily lives. For her, too, it started in childhood, when she was convinced that the appliance that warmed her home was a “Heaterater.” Or, when circus performers daringly crossed the big top, high above the three rings, she was watching “type rope walkers.”
She’s had the last laugh, though, or perhaps it’s the cosmos. When we built our home and, instead of putting in a real fireplace, we installed fake gas jets under concrete logs, the unit turned out to be manufactured by: “Heatilator.”
Que Sera, Sera.