Lyrics Are Important (Part Five)

by Chris McGinty

So let’s get on to the lines of the poem, and how they relate to the situation I’ve described.

A moment with the text book
And an index card in the glossary

The text book is referring to a historical text book, and the index card is marking the place where Mary faded from my thoughts and the other woman became the center of them. “Pavlov’s Bell” makes three references to history at the end of the choruses:

History shows there’s not a chance in Hell

History shows, but rarely shows it well

History shows, so baby show and tell

If you think that I’m being too vague by not mentioning that the textbook is historical, then read on, and you will see the hints that it is.

All too much time in the bathroom
With a mirror, screaming Mary
I want you
I want you to take it all away

This is a phrase that refers to the urban legend of Bloody Mary, that if you speak her name into a mirror at midnight, her ghost will kill you. It’s a weird block that I have. I’m not superstitious by nature, but I have to consistently force myself not to be. I just make it a rule that I don’t forward texts or emails no matter what they say will happen, positive or negative. I ignore the ideas behind the number 13. I don’t worry about black cats.

Still I have a couple of hang ups. One is that I can’t say “Bloody Mary” into a mirror. The other is trying to draw on patterns and parallels as though they are predictors of things, and this is a whole poem about patterns and parallels that these two women share. So a phrase that almost seems out of place has a very relevant meaning.

And she never listens
Once the past is rewritten
She’ll never see the signs
Or how we all were smitten

This seems pretty straight forward. “How we all” may seem odd since it’s about me being smitten, but since I’m talking about two people and referring to them as one person, it seemed like a nice twist to put on the phrase. Note though the allusion to history being rewritten, and referencing patterns and parallels as signs. So what history exactly is being rewritten? Well the part where what I felt for Mary is now felt for someone else. Or history repeating itself.

This is what it’s like
To be in denial
This is how it feels
To be in denial once more

Because the piece is about how I felt at the time I was listening to “Pavlov’s Bell.” And I was once again denying her the opportunity to know how I felt.

Took a moment with a password
And a list of favourite sites

Ok, this one has an obvious meaning, and a meaning that is too personal to be obvious to everyone. The obvious meaning is that it mirrors the opening lines. An index card in a glossary, and a list of favourite sites, are both bookmarks. The other is that long ago I would put the woman who I was dating in the seventh slot on my top friends list on My Space. Again, this is a superstition because as a child I was told people have “lucky numbers” and so I chose seven, because I already knew how to multiply by seven as my dad watched football. Mary was in my seventh slot for a while, but as a crush, because I figured someone needed to be there. I would have loved to have put the other woman there, but for two things. The first is that some people know this little tidbit of information, and I can’t exactly keep it a secret that I like someone if others know. Second, is that after my last girlfriend and I broke up in April of 2008, I retired the seven slot and put the JAKT My Space there.

All too much time in the kitchen
Cooking up something for Mary
And I want her
I want her to eat it all today

This is metaphorical. It mirrors the earlier phrase about the bathroom, but more importantly my computer is in the kitchen, and I do a lot of my writing in there. Cooking up something in this instance means writing my thoughts for Mary. I want her to eat it, or in this case read it, which would have been a very easy way to tell this woman what I felt by handing her copies of anything I’ve ever written about my infatuation with her. I’ve used her name in titles before remember.

And she never listens
Once the sentiment is written
She’ll never see the signs
Stupid little retarded kitten

Maybe something more elegant next time

“Stupid little retarded kitten” and “Maybe something more elegant next time” were both phrases I wrote long before I even experienced the feelings that led to this piece. I brainstorm before and after I write poetry, in most cases. I get thoughts down, and I sometimes use them, and I sometimes don’t. There never seemed an appropriate point to use the Aimee Mann/Michael Penn line, because of the introduction of Mary as a counterpoint in the poem. But I had written “Stupid little retarded kitten” as a way of saying, “You’re cute, but you just don’t get it.” Realizing that it was not a very elegant line I wrote the next line. It was always separated by the blank line, and when I was writing this I remembered the kitten line and it would not only fit the rhyme scheme, but the “you’re cute but you just don’t get it” concept as well. I don’t use rhyme in poetry a whole lot. There are times that I intentionally write something that could easily be plugged into a verse-chorus-verse song. Not only does it produce a different kind of writing to what I normally do, but it’s ready made lyrics. It fit really well here because this would be about the time that one might sing something as they started into the instrumental solo. It’s like Miguel said in that it’s a disparate phrase that had nothing to do with the rest of the poem, but when you use that kind of thought properly, it can actually not only fit the theme, but fit it perfectly as this did.

This is what it’s like
To feel a revival
This is how it feels
To be in denial once more

This mirrors the other verse from before, and means basically the same thing.

A moment with the memo
And not a thought of what to say
All too much time in the bedroom
Dreaming of Mary
And I want to
I want to dream of you today

By this point this should be pretty obvious. It mirrors concepts and rhyme schemes from previous verses. The best tying thought I had about this was that an index card could be used to write a memo, and the whole poem is about not knowing what to say (or whether to say) to someone you’re infatuated with.

And she never listens
Once these responses have been written
She’ll never see the signs
Until the world has bitten

There was a long standing joke that I was stalking Mary, but that I was lazy about it. That in spite of her living a few short minutes from me, I never sat outside of her window watching her. The line works just fine on its own, but it refers to a text exchange we had long ago. Mary worked at a movie theater, and I would sometimes text her while she was at work. I took my teenage daughters to see “Twilight” when it came out, and I texted Mary during the movie saying that this Bella girl reminded me of her. The implication was because Edward is basically creating a case for a restraining order by watching her and following her. You know, stalking her like I was supposed to be doing with Mary. She simply responded with a thank you. Later I wrote her something like “I like to watch you sleep. This guy is good. I’m taking notes.” Mary responded, “It might have helped if you came to my theater to see the movie.” Bitten rhymed and made a strange reference to the vampire movie in question.

This is what it’s like
To become a rival
This is how it feels
To be in denial once more

Again, mirroring previous verses, but more importantly it touches upon the line that I didn’t use about finding somebody so I can get over you again. When the woman I was infatuated with found somebody, or even when Mary had found somebody, I had the choice of competing or letting it go. I let it go, and/or denied that the feelings are there.

– Chris McGinty – 2-9-10 – 11:53 pm

That’s just my name and when I finished it.

The point of this exercise was to show that sometimes there is a lot more behind what you read or hear in song lyrics, particularly if the piece is well written. This is one of my better poems, so you’re not going to always get as good of an explanation about things that are written. In some cases the “throwaway lines” don’t fit quite so well, and the lines that are specific to the piece don’t sound as good.

This also shows what I said before that if you want a line by line explanation of a song you may be there for a while. Sometimes you just have to give the writer the benefit of the doubt that when they say this is a song about infatuation that it really is just that, and that line or verse or whatever that you don’t think has any meaning may have a lot of meaning to the author. The problem is that you’re taking broad concepts, and using what’s known as “word economy” to express them.

And on the topic of meaning, my last thought was to read through the poem, and find meaning in it that was not intended when I first wrote it. I put the laptop on the charger and did my patrol and thought about it. Since one of the last things I dealt with was the line “Until the world has bitten,” and I thought of the phrase “Once bitten, twice shy.” One could take the basics of what the song is about and say that the reference to being bitten references that idea, in that there was the infatuation who I told who didn’t respond, so the next time there is an infatuation I’m shy about saying anything lest I get bitten again. And a person not knowing that the line refers to a text message conversation about a half ass vampire movie might come to that conclusion. And were I to edit this work, this might be the change I made to it, “Once the world has bitten.” What I’m saying is that lyrics that are two narrow, like Miguel’s example of “Something to Believe In” by Poison, it can turn off some listeners. Less narrow lyrics give the listener a chance to find what the song means to them.

I’m not sure if this is everything that I have to say on the topic of song lyrics, but I think it at least touches upon Miguel’s complaints and observations. I’m on page 14 right now wondering if I’m going to end up doing this as a seven part article. My original thought was four parts, but sheesh I filled up the pages.

1 thought on “Lyrics Are Important (Part Five)

Leave a Reply