Lyrics Are Important (Part Four)

by Chris McGinty

Yesterday Miguel did a wonderful job of starting to examine my poem, and then just kind of gave up the ghost. This is the guy who wants to convince you that because he can’t figure out what a line means that the whole thing must be random words thrown together in a random fashion and then made all random. I think what disappoints me is he started out pretty good, and then just kind of dismissed the rest of the poem as, “…fairly broad ideas, things being done and reacted to without knowing what precisely is being done or reacted to.” I had all fourteen pages of this five part article done on Sunday night and told him over the phone that he had until Tuesday night to go in the draft section of the blog and examine it, and he waited until the last minute. Oh well. So now onto my poem and the examination that I wrote over the weekend.

Let’s go somewhat line by line with this poem, starting with the title, “For Mary, Whoever She Is.” This one fits in with Miguel’s pet peeve that the title is never in the poem, although that’s only partially true in this case. The phrase “for Mary” does appear, but it’s still enough to kind of deal with what Miguel is on about.

The fact is that this poem was born of an Aimee Mann song called “Pavlov’s Bell.” Years ago I picked up a couple of Aimee Mann albums, and I’ve listened to them here and there. I think she’s brilliant, and I love her music, but it’s not the type of music that I listen to frequently.

In late November 2009, I was making a compilation CD, just a hodge podge of things I wanted to listen to with no intent on making the CD diverse or interesting. It was just something to listen to at work. I put three Aimee Mann songs on there: Pavlov’s Bell, Guys Like Me, and Invisible Ink. Each of these is from her “Lost In Space” album.

I don’t know what or who “Pavlov’s Bell” is about, but one of the lines struck me. At the time I was having an intellectual/emotional debate with myself about whether or not to talk to somebody about these infatuation feelings that I tend to have for her at times. The thing is that I felt the infatuation years ago, and then she started dating someone, so I let it go. Then she was single again, and it took a few months but the infatuation crept back up on me. I have notebooks, and a file on my computer that I write phrases into that can be used elsewhere. I had recently written the phrase:

Sometimes I wish you would find somebody again
So that I can get over you again

I used that in another poem, but the thought of just talking to her and clearing the air was weighing heavily on my mind. There are lines in “Pavlov’s Bell” that say:

But we can’t talk about it
So let’s just talk about it
I need to talk about it

These are lines that lead into the chorus:

Because nobody knows, that’s how I nearly fell
Trading clothes and ringing Pavlov’s bell

The chorus ends each of the three times with different phrases, and I’ll deal with those later in my examination. At first the only line that came from me associating “Pavlov’s Bell” with infatuation (which I’m not entirely sure it is) was a line I wrote down that simply said:

You can be my Aimee Mann
And I can be your Michael Penn

As of this writing, I have not used that in a poem yet, but we’re not really here to discuss what I haven’t written, so let me continue on about something else I didn’t write. I looked up the lyrics to “Pavlov’s Bell” at some point, and sang along with it often in my vehicle.

In the days of my first full band, JAKT, we were always on the look out for things to cover, and to this day I will hear things I’d suggest to do if we were still playing. “Pavlov’s Bell” is a song I would suggest if we were still playing. I used to also think of things to say between songs when were playing shows, and occasionally I would say them at practice to see how they sounded. Some of these phrases were one off phrases like the show we played after two of our members had dropped out. We were just three members then. I introduced our song “Ann Yung” which lyrically was about our drummer leaving for Korea and our band grinding to a halt, and here we were with the drummer back, but two members down, so I said, “Sometimes when we’re bored, we like to pretend we’re a five piece band. This is ‘Ann Yung.’” Those who were there who knew what was going on laughed at that. Some of these phrases were permanent. We opened every set with and instrumental called “Surf JAKT” and at the start of each set I would say, “We’re JAKT and this is our theme song.” We closed every set with a song called “W” and I would say, “This is our big show closer it’s called ‘W.’”

So it occurred to me while listening to the track, in spite of the fact that I realized it would probably never be covered by a band that I’m in and have control of the microphone between songs, that I couldn’t exactly dedicate the song to my infatuation, because it would put me on the radar if she somehow ever heard about me saying, “This is an Aimee Mann song called ‘Pavlov’s Bell.’ This is for…”

The fact is that in “Pavlov’s Bell” Mann uses the name Mario three times. One of the other lines that always struck me as it pertains to infatuation is:

Oh Mario, why if this is nothing
I’m finding it so hard to dismiss

It occurred to me that in the very unlikely what if scenario I could always say, “This is an Aimee Mann song called ‘Pavlov’s Bell.’ This is for Mario, whoever she is.”

Months later when I had finally been given my chance to get over her again, I was looking through my notes, and I saw the Aimee Mann/Michael Penn line. It occurred to me to write something about where I had been emotionally when I wrote that line. The first thing I had ever written about that woman was a poem that not only used her name in the title, but the names of two other people, and it’s always been odd to me that I have this piece that I can’t really show to people, because it uses her name, and her boyfriend’s name, and the name of this woman named Mary

Mary is completely separate from this situation, but she is someone I had a crush on for a year or so prior to developing this other crush. Mary was wrapped up with this guy who wasn’t really returning the love, at least not at the same level. The thing is I had been very straightforward with Mary that the infatuation was there, but she was still too hung up on this guy who wasn’t hung up on her. At the time I saw a parallel, albeit a thin one, between the infatuation who knew and the infatuation who didn’t knew… uh, who didn’t know. So I wrote that first piece, using all three names in the title, and just sort of left it at that.

As I thought about writing a “years later follow up” to that first piece I remembered the phrase, “This is for Mario, whoever she is.” Realizing that Mary wasn’t too different from Mario, I changed the title a little bit and started writing.

A quick note to Miguel: This, by the way, is why songwriters just say, “It can mean something different to everyone.” It took me two pages just to explain the title.

While I admit that I could just say, “It about a woman I was infatuated with,” it’s still a cop out answer, because a lot of songs are about love and infatuation. And it’s kind of obvious that this is one of those. If an interviewer asked me about the meaning and I said that, I would get a “No shit, Sherlock,” kind of response.

And then the Miguels of the world would come along and go, “If it’s about infatuation then what does this line mean? I think he was like, ‘I have an infatuation so I’ll use her name and then just write something that sounds cool that may or may not have anything to do with infatuation.’” The problem is of course that I didn’t use the name of the infatuation, and the lines fit very well if you know more information. And for the ever increasingly impatient interviewer who now thinks that I’m not a pretentious artist who says “I don’t like talking about meanings of my work,” but rather a pretentious artist who likes to talk about myself just to hear myself talk; there is four more pages of explanation to sit through which I will post up tomorrow. And like I said, this is one possible reason lyricists don’t explain themselves.

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