The music of our youth not only contributed to but prepared us for hearing loss.
I am speaking about loud concerts with amps cranked up to 11 and ringing ears for hours or days afterward. We are paying the price now with conversations hijacked by misunderstandings.
The other evening a friend, who had just returned from a visit to Martin, Tenn., said “The choir director had her retirement party there.”
Becky and I looked at each other, confused. “Why would the choir director from McMinn County have her retirement party in Martin?” one of us asked. “Not choir — prior,” the friend said, explaining the prior Martin library director had her party at the Martin library.
Later we were trying to make connections among friends — two people we know are cousins, and we were trying to figure just how they were related. One of the men said, “Well, I know his relative in Oak Ridge. He’s a burger.”
Is his last name Burger? I thought, or does Oak Ridge now have burghers? Well, I wouldn’t put it past them. Another guest thought he had said “burglar.”
He saw the puzzled look on our faces, and knowing our hearing deficiencies, said more clearly, “Birder. He’s a bird watcher.”
Mishearing conversations is no different than mishearing lyrics, which we have done all our lives. So we are comfortable with the little grinds and glitches as our hearing goes South.
Coincidentally, on my way home, I heard the Rascals song “Groovin’ ” on the Oldies station. It was one of my best misheard lyrics.
If you remember “Where the Action Is,” Dick Clark’s on-the-beach, afternoon music show, you must remember the “Where the Action Is” dancers. Perhaps you remember Lesley Evans, the petite brunette who got to gyrate around some of the big stars of the day: Steve Alaimo, Ian Whitcomb, Paul Revere & The Raiders. Yes, I was jealous.
So when “Groovin’ ” came out in 1967, I was even more embittered when I heard the lyrics as “Life would be ecstasy, you and me and Lesley.” Not enough that she got to be near the cute boys, now they were writing songs about her.
Not wanting to sound too petty, I commented to my sister, “Lesley must be very popular.” “Why?” she asked. “Well, the Rascals are singing about her in their new song.”
When I repeated the lyrics to her as I understood them, she kept the laughter to a minimum and explained the lyrics were “you and me endlessly.”
What a relief and an embarrassment.
Misunderstanding lyrics is a common phenomenon, and some gaffs are funnier than others. My favorite: A friend thought the opening line to The Monkees’ song “You Just May be the One” was “Oh, nimbus,” rather than “All men must.” He was way into adulthood before he discovered his error. We’ve not let that one go.
One of my earliest ear glitches occurred when “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came out 50 years ago. I heard, “I get high. I get high,” but the lyrics were “I can’t hide. I can’t hide.” At the time I was 11, and high meant happy to me. “I can’t hide” made absolutely no sense. Why would you want to hide if you were happy? Innocence.
Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella who engaged in rants prompted by hearing trouble — “What’s all this fuss about violins?” — was a favorite of our generation.
Now Emily is a lifeline out of an embarrassing situation. Whenever hearing loss intrudes, we reach for her trademark “never mind,” eliciting a laugh, and, for a moment, recovering our youth.
Jan Hearne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.