Unlearning the Lines

The_Memphis_Blues_4I am a lyrics junky. I know lyrics. Not just beloved lyrics, either. I know the lyrics of hundreds of songs I actively avoid, and probably twice as many that evoke not a single emotion. I’m guessing this takes up about 5% of my working brain.

I am also hard-wired with lyrics that are totally fuckin wrong. It’s happened more than once that after blithely, boldly singing along with a song for decades, one day, for whatever reason, I stop and actually pay attention to the song I’m accompanying, instead of getting wrapped up in the drama of my own (private) performance. Listening to the song with adult ears, I realize I’ve had it wrong this whole time. And now that I think about it, my version made no sense at all, whereas the actual lyrics were really pretty clear and sometimes disappointingly banal. As a kid, my experience with vocabulary, composition, whatever, necessarily limited my range of interpretation, and hanging onto that moment of understanding – inscribing it in stone in my memory and dragging it out as-is time and time again without questioning its validity – left me stuck in that place, with little chance of creating a new, more accurate, experience.

On the occasions when that reawakening happens it’s exciting and weird and I’m happy to incorporate this new reality into my repertoire. Even when my version was, like, way deeper and more complex than the original.

The feeling of revelation is comparably awe-some when I recognize the text of self abuse belting out of my brain. For example: I settled in one night recently to continue reading a Rumi collection, and my thumb found an intriguing poem at the back. I considered skipping to it, when a voice said, “I can’t allow myself to skip ahead in a book.” And like the revelation of a song lyric, I was struck with the ridiculousness of what I had believed to be true for so long. “Hold on just a doggone second! Who is this I who can’t allow the me of myself to do something? I am the only one setting these bullshit rules. Nobody is watching me!” (Nobody but the watcher I’ve been animating for decades.) I know countless people have had this revelation before – perhaps most famously, Eckhart Tolle (stroke?) – but recognizing it yourself is its own epiphany.

Did I skip to that poem?


It seems that my ego is somewhat more attached to the rules I’ve arbitrarily set to live by than it is to song lyrics.

Maybe tomorrow. I’ve done enough cryyyy-iiiing today.*

*another misheard song lyric: Larry Gatlin’s line is actually “I’ve done enough dying today,” which in this case is way better and more apropos. 

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