Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Pop culture corrections: Lions and kisses and Beatles (Oh my)

I’ve been bless-cursed with a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. I try not to let it get too obnoxious, but every now and then I just have to make people aware that, for instance, there are actually three full verses to the Cheers theme song and I know all the words to them. Usually, though, I keep it quiet because nobody likes a know it all. It’s a good policy in general, but there have been a few instances where I’ve chosen not to speak up and forever regretted holding my piece. Here’s my chance to get three particularly festering corrections off my chest.

The Cowardly Film Student
I took a film studies course my sophomore year of college that was overall pretty solid. The professor was knowledgeable if not particularly engaging and he showed us a good roster of classic cinema. During a lecture that touched on the importance of The Wizard of Oz, however, he repeatedly referred to Charles Laughton’s performance as The Cowardly Lion. The professor was, of course confusing Laughton with Bert Lahr, a similarly portly and unsubtle (I mean that in the best way) screen star of the 1930s. I almost yelled out a rebuke, but this was an auditorium class and I didn’t have the heart to make the guy look foolish in front of 100-plus undergrads.

Ignoring a Hole
That same sophomore year, I took a British Lit class with a professor who delighted in tweaking the parameters of the standard undergraduate literature syllabus. Thus, we watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus and I’m All Right Jack, read Salman Rushdie’s Shame and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine and listened to Linton Kwesi Johnson and The Beatles.

I was pretty excited about that last part, as I’d fancied myself something of a Beatles scholar ever since I first read Nicholas Schaffner’s The Beatles Forever in sixth grade. My excitement turned to dismay, however, when the professor spent a good portion of his lecture dissecting the lyrics to “Fixing a Hole.” For one thing, I’ve always considered that a rather mediocre Beatles song, and for another thing, the guy had the words wrong. He dedicated a fair bit of time to the clever nuance of the line “fixing a hole where the rain gets in / to stop my mind from wandering.” He was especially impressed by the double meaning of “to” – did it refer to Paul’s patching job or to the rain itself? In other words, was he trying to keep his mind focused or allow it to roam freely?

It would have made for a fine discussion point (and arguably a better song) except that the actual lyric is the much less ambiguous “and stops my mind from wandering,” not “to.” It was awfully hard not to call him out, but in the heat of the moment I doubted my own knowledge and didn’t want to risk making a dope of myself on a point of only 98% certainty.

The Kiss Not Taken
About 15 years ago I heard a DJ on an oldies radio station introduce J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ rendition of “Last Kiss,” saying something along the lines of “Here’s a bit of music trivia for you: nowhere in the song does J. Frank Wilson ever say the words “last kiss.’” I suppose he was technically correct, if you’re going on the notion that the final verse doesn’t count as part of the song. Otherwise, “I held her close / Kissed her our last kiss” is pretty evident. It still bothers me that I didn’t call the station immediately and demand that the DJ be fired.

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