A lifelong fan of music, I have bought and listened to records, tapes, CDs and MP3s for years. My babysitting money used to get spent on vinyl records I picked up at our local eclectic music/record/guitar store, House of Guitars. I have vinyl in the basement with my high school handwriting on it with dates purchased and the amount I spent.
As a teen I sang along, and I danced (in the privacy of my own room) to 60’s and 70’s music. Once I had my first car, I usually had tunes from the 80’s blaring from the radio/cassette deck. I can still hear my mother saying she didn’t understand how I could sing and drive at the same time. She was always terrified I’d be belting out the lyrics and hit someone, I guess. Never happened. Singing was second nature to me.
It never dawned on me that I don’t find or understand the meaning in the lyrics until just recently. For years my husband has quoted song lyrics to me. He memorizes and internalizes songs. They mean something to him. He’d quote a song, and I would smile and say “that’s nice”, but I really didn’t get what he was on about.
My oldest son is a big music fan. As he’s gotten more into music himself, he’s often asked me, “what do they mean by that?” Or “what are they trying to say here?” And it dawned on me that I don’t know. It wasn’t just an obscure lyric. It was me. I don’t decode songs for meaning.
I know the lyrics. I can sing along to songs I used to play 40 years ago. I have them memorized, but I’ve never HEARD what they are saying.
I’ve played songs on the bass that people think are “deep”, but I find them dull and boring because the music is dull and boring. I hear the beat. I don’t hear the message. A great example of this is John Lennon’s Imagine. At holiday time, my guitar teacher had all of her students play this song. I wasn’t interested. I tried to play it in rehearsals, and my mind wandered and I lost my place in the music. It was stiflingly dull. In discussing it with my boss and friend, she couldn’t understand how I didn’t tear up at the meaning and message behind this iconic song. Honestly, I’ve never gotten that song. I thought it was one of Lennon’s worst contributions and it was overplayed.
I did some research online, and I found that there are other people out there who don’t hear the lyrics, just like me. The meaning eludes them, too. One comment I saw suggested that some people are listening to the chord changes and not the words. I hear the bass and the beat and the guitar solos. I also can’t sing along when I play. I’ve read that playing bass and singing at the same time is very hard to do. Bass is all about beat and providing a framework for the song. If I sing, even to songs I know inside out and backwards, I stop playing the bass. My timing disappears, and I find I’m no longer where I should be in the music.
Everyone is going to think that I’m dumb as a box of rocks, but I just started working on Heart’s Barracuda during my lessons. I’ve heard it a million times. I didn’t know the words. So I downloaded it, listened and read the lyrics at the same time. I had no idea this song was about a fish. I thought it was about a ruthless Barracuda-type person. Again, I could sing it, but I didn’t listen to any of the words.
I have loved music for 60 years. I used to listen to 45’s an old record player in my bedroom when I was a toddler. I can remember playing the Coasters Charlie Brown which was released in 1959, the year I was born. I don’t hear any messages in the music, though. I used to ride my rocking horse and bounce along to the music. I hear the rhythm and the beat. That’s it. I love music, but it’s never been poetry to me. I don’t read poetry either for that matter. My mother tried to share her love of poetry with me when I was growing up. I always tried to make it rhyme and got irritated with it. I never got any messages from poetry either.
Perhaps my love of the rhythm and the beat in the music is why I took to bass and not to guitar. I love my bass. I wish I had had the courage to find it sooner, and I guess it doesn’t matter if I hear the lyrics. I just need to keep the beat going.