Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Feel free to use this as the name for your new rock band

The conversation with our German friends wound around to the subject of misapprehended song lyrics. You know the phenomenon: the singer enunciates the lyrics badly, so you painstakingly puzzle out what you think he’s singing, and you get it wrong. Or you hear the lyrics as a kid and, with your young person’s understanding and limited experience with the awkward or archaic phrasings of many songs, you fill in what seems plausible.

Well-known example, from Flashdance: “... take your pants off/ and make it happ-punn...”

What started us on this topic was a similar plausible mistake B and I heard while walking past the "Englisher Garten" in Berlin's Tiergarten. An outdoor garden party was being regaled by a German lounge singer doing American covers. He sang: "Sittin' at the top of the bay/ watching the way-aay-aves roll in..." Otis Redding is still big in Europe.

The mistaken lyrics conversation is difficult to have across a language divide. Inevitably, the bilingual folks say,
in the original German, the lyrics are supposed to be "floiner schpechh beloyten," but I always thought it was "floineh schpechh beluyrten,” which means “spank on the bottom.” So you see, it is very funny.
But I learned something important in this conversation. Basically, I learned that the correct lyric to the English version of the Christmas carol “Silent Night,” is “round yon virgin mother and child.” Not, as I thought until just now, “proud young virgin mother and child.” At my age!

In fairness to me, my version makes sense – sense, that is, once one accepts the premise of the virgin birth. I mean, in her situation, who wouldn’t rightfully feel a wee bit proud?

I always knew it was "round" probably because we had the lyrics when we sang it in Chorus in 4th grade.

Michael Jackson, on the other hand... My example of misinterpreted lyrics is in "Billy Jean" - the real lyrics supposedly goes "the child is not my son" and I had always heard "the jealous mama-san"
Rightfully a wee bit proud, yes, it's logical. However, it is Mary who is listed as the author of that hymn of praise (the Magnificat) that says
" He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away."

Good stuff, whatever one thinks of the offical back story. Good Heavens, what would happen if some religion came along and took that seriously?

Others of us know about "round" because there's that cute story about the kid's rendering of the scene with Baby Jesus and the Three Kings and all, and there's one fat guy unaccounted for. "That's Round Yon Virgin." I think of him every time I see a reference to a classic book on Chinese pottery by Jan Wergin, and I wonder how fat he is.

But what I came here to note was the name for these misunderstood lyrics: Mondegreens. As in,

"They hae slain the Earl Amurray, [sic]
And Lady Mondegreen."

I don't think it was coined by Jon Carroll of the S.F. Chronicle, but it might have been, and he has published a lot of them.
Lynn and Abigail from W. Mass. (see “Running for Mayor”) have a tale of misapprehension to add, from a conversation following a Lucinda Williams concert. The song is “Righteously.”

Lynn: Got any Lucinda songs running through your head?

Abigail: Not really. You?

Lynn: Just that “Jungle Train refrain.”

Abigail: I don’t remember hearing that one.

Lynn: Oh sure you do: “Be my lover don’t play no game/ Just play me Jungle Train.”

Abigail: . . . John. [pause] Col- [pause] - Trane.

PS – Lynn has $20 here if Oscar or B will casually slip the German word “beuteltier” (transl: “marsupial,” morphologically “bag-animal”) into an otherwise English sentence uttered to a local. Collectible in W. Mass.
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