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Jack Smith

Once on a meadow, the one-ton tomato met one ton of metal and Leslie, groovin'

August 19, 1986|Jack Smith

I seem to have been right when I suggested here the other day that rock lyrics could hardly corrupt the young because they can't understand them.

Delivered as they are in primal screams or animal snarls, against the sound of an airplane crash, they are mostly unintelligible.

Nothing could have proved the point better than my own remark that my favorite rock star was Cyndi Lauper, although the only song I ever heard her sing was "She Bop" and the only words I understood were "She Bop," which of course I really didn't understand.

I have been informed by several young readers that the words to "She Bop" are indeed X-rated.

"As a college student who enjoys many kinds of music," writes Sidney Hotchkiss of El Toro, "I too believe that most people don't know what they are listening to. However, it is funny that you chose the Cyndi Lauper song 'She Bop' to show how one can enjoy a song with meaningless lyrics. What is ironic is that that song is about female masturbation.

"This supports your claim that most people are unaware of what they listen to, but it also shows that many mainstream pop songs are not totally innocent."

I didn't say the songs were innocent. I said nobody could understand the words so it didn't matter. I'm the one who's innocent.

Gabe Grigolla of Glendora writes: "Whenever I find myself defending rock music to a music lover of another generation I encourage them to listen and try to understand the beauty and wonderful freedom in today's music.

"Had you done so with your favorite Cyndi Lauper song, you might have realized that the subject of that particular piece is masturbation."

That interpretation of "She Bop" is also verified by Tom Broderick of Pasadena:

"Cyndi Lauper's 'She Bop' is a classic case of clever innuendo and double entendre. What it's really about is female masturbation! Don't feel bad. I never figured it out till somebody told me ."

And by Jay Shaffer of San Francisco:

" 'She Bop' is an ode to onanism."

Shaffer points out that the lyrics of the swing era weren't entirely innocent, either:

"I can't see Madonna's 'Papa Don't Preach,' which is about a teen-ager who doesn't want to give up the baby with which she is 'illegitimately' pregnant, as anything but the result of the confrontation documented in "I Really Must Go (But Baby It's Cold Outside)."

I hear "Baby It's Cold Outside" every now and then among the unforgettables on KMPC, and it is indeed a naughty song.

We also had such shockers as "I Wanna Be Bad" and "Teach Me Tonight."

Shaffer adds: "I guess my point is that there is no point. Those with dirty minds who are dedicated to looking for evil in every note will find it. Those who like to sing along will decide for themselves whether or not they like the lyrics. Those other 67% or so will go on jogging with the rhythm or pounding on the dashboard with the drums or playing air guitar on the riffs--and will continue to care less until someone tells them they're damned for having a good time. . . ."

Several readers have written to sympathize with musician Jack K. Walker's report that a guitar student of his thought the hit song "Guantanamera" actually went "One ton of metal, why he loads one ton of metal," and another student thought it was "Once on a meadow, while we were once on a meadow. . . ."

Ormly Gumfudgin, historian of the World Chili Society, writes that the championship One Ton Tomato Chili Team got its name from a mistaken hearing of that song.

John D. Pickett, a San Diego attorney, writes that when he was growing up in Minnesota he thought the words to "Guantanamera" were "Once on a meadow, tequila, once on a meadow."

Deborah Blankenberg of Rowland Heights recalls that her favorite example of misunderstood lyrics was a song of the mid-1960s called "Groovin'."

"For about 15 years I never admitted my puzzlement at the lyrics, 'Life will be ecstasy / You and me and Leslie / Groovin'.' Then I heard a San Francisco comedian talking about rock lyrics. He sang those lines and then asked, 'Did you ever wonder who Leslie was?' Only then did I learn that 'and Leslie' was actually 'endlessly.' "

Alexia St. Germaine of San Diego recalls another hit of the early swing era that went "Mairsey dotes 'n' dosey dotes and little lambsey divey, a kiddley divey too, wooden you?" a classic example of the Guylum Bardo effect, which, when translated, comes out "Mares eat oats and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy, a kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?"

We'd probably have been just as well off singing "She Bop."

She adds: "I was nearly 16 when I found out the real words, a fact that contributed immeasurably to a then-embryonic but inexorably growing sense of inferiority."

(How can anyone with a name like Alexia St. Germaine feel inferior?)

Paul Epps of La Mirada finds sophistication in Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go," in which he compares his relationship with those in the poems of Verlaine and Rimbaud.

"What interests me about this stanza is that of all the people who claim rock lyrics are unsophisticated, not one in 100 would understand the Verlaine and Rimbaud reference. ('Well, I know who Rambo is, but Verlaine. . . ?')"

Let us end on a spiritual note by quoting that popular prayer: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name. . . ."

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