Boundbytheword Blog

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The Weight of Words April 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 8:31 AM
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Driving home the other day, I had an interesting conversation with my son. After listening to Ryan Seacrest’s Sunday Top 40, one of his favourite songs  – We Are Young by Fun, comes on. We all love that song – it’s a catchy tune after all. Listen to it here.

The conversation gets interesting when Sam says to me, “Why did you tell Dad you like this song, but too bad about the lyrics?”

“Because it’s a drinking song, and tons of little kids are going around singing it now. Sort of weird.” I tell him.

“How is it about drinking?”

“It’s about everybody getting drunk and having to carry each other out at the end of the night. And at the beginning of the song, he talks about his girlfriend wearing a pair of sunglasses to hide a scar he gave her – so he’s a woman beater to boot.”

Sam is shocked.  “No – the part about sunglasses is code for a type of guy (apparently who thinks he’s über cool, but is a poser) , and he asks for a scar.” (which made no sense at all to me, but he insisted that was how it was worded).

When we came home, I googled the lyrics – and it turns out we were both right.

Give  me a second, I need to get my  story straight

My friends are  in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State

my lover she’s  waiting for me just across the bar

My seats been taken by some sunglasses asking ’bout a scar

and I know I gave it to you months  ago

I know you’re trying to forget

but between the  drinks and subtle things

the holes in my apologies

you  know I’m trying hard to take it back

so if by the time the bar closes

and you feel like falling down

I’ll carry you  home


We are  young

So let’s set the world on fire

We can burn  brighter than the sun


Great song, very catchy tune, but really – these words are horrible for our kids to be chanting as an anthem. And I know perhaps my daughter doesn’t get the lyrics, and I guess my son didn’t either until I tuned him into it – but beyond my kids who are 9 and 12, endless teenagers  – who do understand the lyrics – have this looped on their iPods. And I don’t want to completely age myself as a fuddy-duddy here – but can’t we sing about love, lust, heart ache and good times without talking about violence and the acceptance of it? About falling down drunk being jolly and grand?

Here, let me beat you, lets all get drunk and forget about it – we’re young! Ugh.

I know, I know, we had those songs too  – I know you’ll remind me of some doozies. After all – in the 80’s bands like AC-DC, Nazareth, Black Sabbath ruled, and I guess they weren’t singing about apple pie and being kind to their women. But did they really openly confess to beating them and have us sing along? I could say I long for the good old days of George Micheal and Boy George – but I guess there may be arguments about intent there too.

I find it an odd predicament – as a writer, and one who facilitates writing workshops, I love when people delve into the dark places. I read or listen to their work and don’t feel like I’m condoning bad behavior or a contributing to a shift of acceptance of such in our society. But as a Mom who sings along to songs like this with her kids on a long car ride, it’s something that makes me cringe, but that tune is just so friggin’ catchy.

I do remember loving the song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and belting out the lyrics, and I guess that was about an assassin with bargain basement prices. But it was also the time of Bananarama, The Go Go’s and the rockers like Bryan Adams who could belt a tune, but not make my mother choke on the words being sung over the radio waves.

How about you readers? Do you remember songs you loved as a kid that make you cringe looking back?

Tell me the truth…am I showing my age?


20 Responses to “The Weight of Words”

  1. Dave Jones Says:

    Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap!! Frigg me. I thought it waqs Dirty Deeds and the Thunder Chief. No wonder I’m twisted…

  2. Thought-provoking post. I always hate it when a catchy tune is wasted on rotten lyrics. I understand the quandry–digging into the dark places, as you said–is important. But I guess the point of doing that (and I”m sure someone may disagree with me) is to find light, or to shed light. A song or a poem or a piece of prose that flat-out celebrates the dark without showing the way out or at least raising questions about how best to get there seems a waste to me. Call me a fuddy-duddy.

  3. Phil Dwyer Says:

    It’s an interesting debate. When he was around 16 I had an email spat with Tim, my second son, about the lyrics of Eminem’s songs. He was a big Eminem fan. I didn’t attack the artist, or the genre, but I did ask him how he felt about the homophobia and misogyny in his lyrics. Of course (being a teenager) he exploded. His main argument being that I didn’t listen to the music, so how could I judge it? My argument being that I didn’t need to listen to the lyrics. I could read them, and they were offensive. Didn’t win that debate at the time, but he grew up.

    I recently had a similar but different discussion with my eldest son, Ben, who’s now 29, with two kids of his own. I was saying that I found the lyrics of Raekwon’s songs hard to listen to. They depict an ugly, violent, drug-ridden culture where hope has died and life is cheap. It’s a really ugly world. Ben argued that Raekwon’s art is in the way he so vividly captures this world for us in a few well chosen images. Lyrically, Ben is right. The short stories in Raekwon’s lyrics are incredible, visceral, tough and unflinching. But they’re still difficult to hear. Ben asked me if I’d feel the same way about a book dealing with a difficult and raw topic, and my mind went immediately to the female circumcision scene in Sweetness in the Belly. I actually did have to stop reading halfway through that scene, because it was so tough to *witness*.

    I believe one of the jobs of art and artists (of all stripes) is to take us places we’d rather not go: confront aspects of the human condition we’d rather flinch from. Another is to elevate us. To enable us to rise above our miserable, selfish, angry, venal side, and find beautiful things about being human – things we can celebrate. So, for me, if all we’re doing is wallowing in the mud and filth, the artist is abrogating an important part of their job. Certainly, the heart is a dark place sometimes. But not always. Give me hope, Mr. Artist. I don’t want mawkish sentimentality, but I do want to see people rise above.

    • Agreed Phil, and your sentiment is similar to what Carey commented on as well.

      The difference between music and literature is that if the scene is hopeless and dark without cracks letting the light in – it remains dark. You leave feeling hopeless, dragged down, sad, whatever, but with music they can take those hopeless lyrics and put them to a uplifting tune and somehow it equals out the tone. But the message in those words remain – it’s an oxymoron – like a fine mess. My brain hears one thing, but feels another.

      As a side note, I might indeed be a fuddy duddy as I have no idea who Raekwon even is. He sounds lovely though.

  4. Lisa Llamrei Says:

    I’m not sure that glorifying drugs, violence and rough sex and giving it all a sheen of glamour is the same as an artist “going to that dark place” because it’s not being portrayed as a dark place at all. Music is certainly sending a message that these things are cool. And not just the music, some of the artists as well. Rihanna (singer of “S & M”) was beaten up by her boyfriend and in the end not only decided not to press charges, but forgave him and took him back. As for Chris Brown, said boyfriend, his music career doesn’t seem to have suffered for it.

    I don’t feel that the music is the problem, it’s merely a symptom. And as you pointed out, it’s not new. It feels to me like it’s a lot worse than it was when we were young, but then in “The Great Gatsby,” published in 1928, F. Scott Fitzgerald talks about how the younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket. Actually, the Ancient Greeks had the same complaint. In spite of it all, we turned out okay. Our kids will too.

    • Being overdue has made you quite the optimist…lol! I think you might just have a little Polly sunshine waiting to arrive.

      You have a point though – I think the world thought kids were going to hell for loving Elvis and the Beatles – and look how tame they were. Imagine Elvis seeming over the top? Shaking the hips and such – heck now musicians up on stage simulate oral sex wearing a lamae (or lame) thong. I think things are going downhill – can you imagine 100 years from now – yikes!

  5. Heather Says:

    I think it is interesting how you read the lyrics of this song and I think Sam’s perspective is very showing of several things… One… YOUR OLD, not cotton haired old, but no longer a naive kid. The difference between music and books I find, is despite the literal meaning o the lyrics, the notes and beats an rhythms can transform the words. This song is one of Korey’s and mine fav song right now, and we read it differently than both u and Sam. The scar is internal, heartbreak and even tho at a bar… If by the end of the night you feel like giving up, stop fighting with me and emotionally falling down, my arms are here and I will carry you home. We find it sweet and hum together picturing after a big fight korey carrying me home, lol. The other thing this shows ( apart from you getting old) is perspective. You heard a song about woman abuse and drinking, Sam heard a song about cool guys stealing your girl, korey and I a song about being submissive and giving in sometimes….

    • You are so smart. You mother must be proud. You probably got your brains from her.

      I think you are on to something – perspective is everything. (although I have to say – sunglasses wouldn’t be asking about a scar if he couldn’t see it – just sayin’). I am glad that you and Korey are young and in love, and willing to carry each other home – metaphorically of course – I don’t condone getting drunk enough that you can’t walk. That would be bad.


  6. I remember one Christmas when my brother received a 45 record of Tony Orlando and Dawn singing “Knock Three Times.” (Man, does this date me!) Anyway, my parents listened to it Christmas morning and asked what the words meant. My brother told them it was about a guy who lived above a girl who danced by herself all night long. He wanted her to knock three times on the ceiling if she wanted him…twice on the pipes if the answer was no. (They just don’t write ’em like this anymore.) Well, my family was shocked that they were writing such filth for kid. Actually the lyrics were pretty tame in hindsight. Tony Orlando got thrown under the bus on that one! Loved the nostalgia of your post and the conversation between you and Sam. Funny how the song is interpreted differently by so many people. I guess that is the definition of good lyrics when people can make them their own.

    • LOL – it does date you, I’m sorry to say. But I sang along to that song, so you’re in good company.

      You’re right – good lyrics are when people can make them their own, but that does make me nervous as a writer. What a responsibility we have!

      PS – thanks a lot – I have Orlando’s tune in my head and have a feeling it will be with me a while…Oh my darlin’…knock three times…

  7. Rhonda Says:

    I definitely see your point. As parents, I think it is inherent in us to worry about the messages that our children receive from the outside world. BUT I often remind myself that I received many mixed messages as a young person and still turned out okay (not to brag!). So many of those messages go over a young person’s head. I watched the movie Grease 11 times and didn’t get the horrible messages of “change who you are” and “unprotected casual sex” (to say the least) until I watched it as an adult. When it comes to the music I listened to as a teenager, I can think of very few songs that I listened to FOR the lyrics. Most songs I sung along, even belted out but didn’t really give any thought to the words I was singing. Again, I didnt’ realize it until as an adult I was listening to the songs and realized that many of the 80’s bands that I loved (New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, etc) sang lyrics that made very little sense!
    Bottom line and my point is simply, if we offer our children a solid foundation of love and support and talk to them about the tough stuff, then they can enjoy the beat of a song without being negatively affected by the message.

    • I know you well enough to say you were indeed affected by Grease – I saw those outfits…lol!

      I think we’ve had this discussion before – and you are right again – kids don’t think about the lyrics, or they put their own spin on them. I guess we bring our own baggage to the headphones while we listen to music. Now I just have to worry if I did indeed build that foundation for them! Eeks – no pressure!

      PS – I remember none of those bands…well, the Smiths slightly.

  8. George R. Says:

    I’ll write more later, but I’ll throw this into the mix now. How about this guy is now on the side of growing up after realizing his past transgressions? He screwed up, realizes it, and says to her ‘ O. K. My bad, now….if you screw up, I’m there for you, because “I’ve been there, and you helped me.” It’s not a song about wife beating, drinking, or partying, it’s about growing up, receiving forgiveness, and celebrating these hallmarks.

    • Interesting, George. That would be the deepest version of the song – one with transformation and hope. I’s say you get votes for optimism!

      • George R. Says:

        I guess I amd considering the obvious meaning? As I read the lyrics to all the other songs on Some Nights, I see his angst w/ different aspects of his life. I’d say this song is part of the big picture. I’m a huge, and to get the meaning out of this song (or any on the album), you have to understand that SOME NIGHTS, is an array of just that; some nights, and who the author is on any given night in his life. The album is alook into his life on any night. In other words, the song you are listening to on the album (All Alright, Stars, etc.) represent his “night” he has experienced/ is experiencing. I’d be interested in any thoughts on the discussion on one particular song, (We Are Young) in the context of the whole albums songs (nights).

      • I have to admit – I haven’t heard the rest of the album, at this point it’s a radio favorite. It probably won’t be long before my kids will want to download it on iTunes. The thing about being a writer (whether that is song writing, poetry, novels, whatever) a reader or listener can’t assume that it is all personal experience. Perhaps he was mocking this very thing, or perhaps he was opening his own story, nobody really knows. I once heard Sarah McLachlan say in an interview that she doesn’t like to say what a song is about, because however it resonates with the listener is what she wants it to mean to them. It was probably a nice way for her to say mind your own friggin’ business, but hey – she has a point! Thanks for your thoughts George, and for reading!

  9. Dale Long Says:

    Sorry I’m late to the party.
    I just recently heard this song and saw the video. The girl in question is not physically marred which matched up with my interpretation of the lyrics. The way I understood it, before I saw the video, is that he had done something wrong and had emotionally scarred her. Maybe said something he shouldn’t have, been caught cheating or just forgot about a date. Maybe he dumped her.
    I may be giving too mauch credit to the artist because, like people have said, a lot of artist are glorifying violence. I also think that there is a new wave of young artists that are more intelligent than we give them credit for. That your son thought along those lines is something to be proud of. You guys did good and instilled good values.

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