How’s That Again?

speakersWe all have our favorite misheard lyrics – there are even websites devoted to cataloging them. This site takes its name from one of the most often repeated “misheards” --- “scuse me while I kiss this guy” is from Purple Haze and most of us know that Jimi Hendrix was singing “kiss the sky.”

I’ve always been fond of hearing small children recite the pledge of allegiance (you do remember when we actually did that in grade school?). Especially the part where they say, “and to the republic, for Richard Stands.”

Or the Beatles “girl with colitis goes by” rather than “girl with kaleidoscope eyes.” If you remember Iron Butterfly’s totemic song, In-A-Gadda Da Vida, you may also recall that the first time you heard it played, it sounded like “In a glob of Velveeta, honey.” And some of us thought Elton John was singing “hold me closer, Tony Danza,” which may have made sense if Danza was gay, but “tiny dancer” won out on that one.

The lyrics that forever remain a mystery to me are from pompatus of love posterSteve Miller’s The Joker, recorded in 1973. Clearly, I’m not alone, because there’s even a movie titled with the same lyric and it revolves around four guys trying to figure out what the hell Steve Miller was talking about. To refresh your memory, the song starts out with this four-line opening:

Some people call me the space cowboy yeah
Some call me the gangster of love
Some people call me Maurice
Cause' I speak of the pompatus of love

The sheet music declares that it’s “pompitous,” the liner notes indicate that it’s “pompatus,” and there’s a contingent that believes the word is “puppetudes.” The characters in the movie try out “prophetess, profitless, impotence, pompous ass,” among others, but give up trying to find the one true answer.

And that’s the right thing to do. When a song’s lyrics contain a neologism that confounds so many people, perhaps it has fulfilled its mission. We play it over and over, desperate to make sense of it all, but finally just give in to the pleasure of hearing the words. I’m no song writer (trust me on that one), but if I wrote a song that mystified everyone for decades, I would be a very happy camper.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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