Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Music of Invention

One of the greatest Sunday "Peanuts" strips Charles Schultz ever drew, based on a personal experience, involves Charlie Brown wistfully telling a story about his father's short romance with another girl, a movie they shared together that brought out deep emotions that stayed with him for years, the actress who starred in it as a constant reminder of that time, and finding out decades after the fact he'd fixed his memories on the wrong actress.  Those first bites of culture we experience at pivotal points in our lives stay tethered to our hearts, but often times they are not tethered to accuracy and facts.  I was reminded of this classic strip when earlier this evening, I was chatting with my father and the topic of classic movie serials came up.  He told me a story of how, while traveling as a youth, he had seen a couple chapters of an exciting tale he remembered as "Sanazaro," and that he would go off and on for years trying to track it down with no luck, sometimes forgetting that odd title and then when it came back to him, trying to intensely memorize it harder to locate it later.  It was only after over five decades that, on a chance channel flip to Antonio Banderas on TV promoting a certain action film featuring him and Anthony Hopkins, that the serial he had been searching for so many years was in fact called SON OF ZORRO.

If you think movie titles are easily mangled, they do not hold a carbon arc to that menace of all karaoke nights, the misheard musical earworm.  Plenty of hay and lazy comedy has been made out of the disconnect between song lyrics and what people think they hear. ("Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy," "A Nine, A Ten, I'll Lay Her Again...") Some of it can be attributed to bad hearing, mental projection based in personal issues, or, yes, that the artist themselves has failure to communicate.  But what about that truly bizarre period of childhood, as my father experienced, when you hear a song that you can't quite make out, and since you're too young to know that certain things do not exist, you create an interpretation out of whole misbegotten cloth?

For example, in Beverly Cleary's book RAMONA THE PEST, first-time kindergartener Ramona Quimby spends 3/4 of her school year convinced that class starts with a song about a special lamp called a "dawnzer" that gives off a "lee light." Only months later do her parents explain there is no such thing, and clarify the actual lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner."

Yep, my nascent brain took a hit off that same lollipop.

When I was about seven, I discovered a stash of my dad's old '50's '45's at our family's summer cottage, and went apenuts playing them over and over again.


One of them was "You Bug Me, Baby" by Larry Williiams, a labelmate of Little Richard at Specialty Records. (He also sang "Bony Moronie" and "Dizzy, Miss Lizzy") It's an R&B reworking of a standard Irish jig called "The Irish Washerwoman" - to be exact, THE Irish jig that always gets used when someone wants quick stereotypical color in something - with lyrics written by Sonny Bono. There is a couplet in the song that goes

When we go riding in the pale moonlight
All I wanna do is hold-a you tight

However, factor that most rock'n'roll is more concerned with cool delivery and less concerned with enunciation and phonics, and add that to my limited childhood abilities with language and dialects, and maybe you will understand how, for at least a year or so, I would swear that he was singing

When we go riding in a Peramo Line

"Pee-kaa?"

"A Peramo Line, you say? Pray tell, Mr. Heuck, what the fuck is a Peramo Line?"

Cut me a break, I was seven!!! I was just beginning to learn about the '50's, I'd only seen a few episodes of "HAPPY DAYS," what did I know of what was real and what was a fiction in my head? I dunno: I figured something teenagers did for fun back then was get together with their dates, drive their convertibles on a long stretch of road, and call it a Peramo Line.

It gets worse. While I was grasping the concept of a Peramo Line, I initially also thought that the second line of the disputed couplet was

All I wanna do is put a hole in your tie

"Marc, how many girls do you know that wear ties on a regular basis, and why would her boyfriend want to put a hole in one of them?"

Hey, the song was called, "You Bug Me, Baby." For all I knew, putting a hole in her tie was how he got revenge on her for all the times she annoyed him. At least it took less time to get this part corrected; I was almost ten before I finally figured out that back in high school my dad wasn't double-dating with Rudy Muckinfuss to go on a Peramo Line.

But here's the kicker, here's the filip, the freeze-frame before we iris out and roll credits.

In high school Latin, I found out that "per amo" literally means "for love."

So even though this ritual never existed, and "Peramo" is an invented word that came out of that confused megalopolis I call a brain...I had been grammatically correct the entire time! If teenagers were going for a group drive with the specific goal of making out sometime during the trip, it would be acceptable English to call it a Peramo Line. BWAAAANNNG!!!

Meanwhile I googled "Sanazaro" and all I could muster, aside from a lot of people with that as a last name, was that it derived from 15th Century poet Jacopo Sanazzaro who wrote ARCADIA, and his name derived from Saint Nazarius, who was martyred with his protege Celsus for reasons at best apocryphal. Now, in fairness to Dear old Dad, my longtime grade school principal and church pastor was named Father Celsus, and like Zorro the Fox, he wore black and took no bullshit. But that is generous stretching at best, whereas my dubious disambigulation has a direct, if  retroactive, relation to reality.  So I think I trumped him. 

Meanwhile, I'm not doing anything Friday night. Who wants to go riding on a Peramo Line with me?

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