Running still more behind, thanks to a herculean housecleaning effort. But I forge ahead nevertheless!
As the prompt clarified, the lack of understanding could fall into many categories: “(Foreign Language, Singer Mumbles, Historical Context.)” I have a strange fondness for not understanding things, sometimes. The things we can’t understand are often mysterious. Even though you know they have an actual meaning, until and unless you know what that meaning is, it feels like it could be about anything. As much as I love figuring things out, I also love the semantic limbo of not knowing.
Of course, thanks to the Internet, I could find out. I’m not one of those nimrods who’ll ask a stupid question on Twitter or Facebook instead of using the very Internet I am on to do basic research. But sometimes, the very fact that I could learn it with a trivial amount of effort makes me resist doing so. Maybe I hope that it’ll just come to me someday, like that time last year when I realized Freddie’s unintelligible line in “Killer Queen” was actually “Drop of a hat.” There’s a sincere pleasure in figuring something out for yourself, even if it takes a ridonkulously long time to do so, and even if it’s much less an intellectual effort than “figuring it out” would suggest.
Take, for example, the classic case of “Louie, Louie.”
I happen to be from the state where the Governor personally banned “Louie, Louie” for its horrible offensive content that nobody could understand. Even when I was a kid, we still heard the rumor that it was a filth-laden ode to unimaginable perversities. So, at some point, curiosity overwhelmed me and I looked up the lyrics. Spoiler alert: it’s about a Jamaican sailor pining for his faraway love. If learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist is the great disappointment and betrayal of childhood, learning the real lyrics to “Louie, Louie” is the great betrayal of adolescence. Even learning that the drummer actually yelled “Fuck!” at the 54 second mark couldn’t redeem it.
Other Oldies are inscrutable, too. I‘ve had twenty*suddencoughingfit* years to figure out all the lyrics to “Keep On Dancing” by The Gentrys, for example, but half the words just seem to blur into the others.
Manfred Mann needs some enunciation lessons, because no way does that line in “Blinded By The Light” sound like “Revved up like a deuce.” We all know what it sounds like.
Also, I never misheard Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” as “Tony Danza.” No, I heard “Hold me closer; tie me down some.”
But English songs are one thing. I’ve got quite a fondness for some foreign songs as well. Like, yes, “Dragostea Din Tei,” better known as “Numa Numa.” It’s a song with pleasant memories attached, as I first heard it while listening to Radio KOL, a radio stream associated with the Internet’s best dropdown-based stick-figure comedy game, Kingdom of Loathing. If I’d first heard it elsewhere on the Internet, just through YouTube or whathaveyou, I might not have been as receptive to its weirdness. But the game itself had me primed for charming absurdity. I know it’s probably a love song, and probably devoid of much intellectual integrity. But it could be nothing but nonsense syllables, and that’d suit me fine.
Glukoza’s “Schweine” has similar contextual associations, as I first heard it through friends in another game. At least the video clues me in that there’s rather more meat to this one than the last, but I still don’t know the specifics. And I like it anyway.
Another friend is something of a specialist in Early Music, Folk, and the various ways those occasionally overlap with metal. So that’s exposed my ears In Extremo, Hedningarna, Korpiklaani, and other such fonts of unintelligible awesomeness.
I know enough to know that Herr Mannelig is an old Swedish song involving a troll. But I certainly can’t say I understand the lyrics. Additionally, I’ve been informed that In Extremo rather mangle the pronunciation, as well.
As for Hedningarna… I think they’re Swedish, too? I’m genuinely not sure. But their “Pornopolka” is fun to listen to!
Korpiklaani’s music is usually in English, ostensibly, but damned if I can make out most of the words. Still, if I can sing along to no more than “BEER! BEER!,” that’s fine by me. The rest of the song can be for drinking said beer, or for dancing about in a frenzied manner such that the beer sloshes all over everything.
My very favorite incomprehensible songs, though, might be the ones where I’m reasonably confident they don’t actually make sense in any language at all. Like El Mundo’s “Chaccaron Maccaron,” which is ridiculous and catchy and intentionally bizarre.
Or, perhaps most of all… Der Mosselman’s “Mossels.” It is loud and fast and relentlessly upbeat and slightly unnerving, and I laugh every time I hear it.
That’s perhaps the finest thing about music: the way it can still convey some basic emotion independent of language. I’d love to have a deeper understanding of how music affects the mind. When the music swells or the key changes and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, just what is happening in the brain at that time? Why does the tritone sound so creepy? How much of that is cultural, and how much is innate?
When you get down to this level, though… every song is a song I don’t fully understand.