Come Dancing by The Kinks is such a deeply familiar song. It’s like a hurdy-gurdy is playing it, and then the bridge gets so sad with the talky part.
‘Two silhouettes saying goodnight by the garden gate…’
I was eleven years old when that was on the radio – 102.7 WNEW, most likely, and instead of ‘I can see them in the moonlight…two silhouettes saying goodnight by the garden gate’, I thought Ray Davies said, ‘I can see them in the moonlight…soaking wet saying goodnight by the garden gate’.
Plenty of people mishear lyrics. There’s a whole cottage industry around it – books, drink coasters, t-shirts that read “ ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy”, and “hold me closer, Tony Danza”. But what I love about the brain, or, at least, my tweaky brain, is the way it fills in the story so that the lyrics I hear make sense.
So, in my version of this story, as we are led from the fun “come dancing” part to the nostalgic slower part, it’s pouring rain in the flashback. It must be a real deluge. I mean, they are not just a little wet, not misty and romantic, but soaking wet. And so my brain interprets that as a sign that they were so passionately in love that even though it was a downright hurricane outside, they just stayed there, soaking wet, kissing goodnight by that garden gate. Which was going to fly off its hinges and bean them in the head if they weren’t careful.
That’s the other thing about my brain: once something lodges in there – “naked painter” instead of “incubator” in a Squeeze song, “big old jet out of ‘Lina” instead of “big old jet airliner” – it somehow makes sense out of it.
When I first heard Billy Joel’s Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, he sang, ‘a bottle of white, a bottle of red, maybe a bottle of rosé instead,’ but, partly because he takes three beats to say rosé, and, partly because I didn’t know anything about wine, I heard ‘a bottle of white, a bottle of red, maybe a bottle of Rosetti instead’. I was ten years old, my parents didn’t drink wine, and I’d certainly never heard the word ‘rosé’ before. So I assumed that Rosetti was a type of wine.
That’s the other thing about my brain: once something lodges in there – “naked painter” instead of “incubator” in a Squeeze song, “big old jet out of ‘Lina” instead of “big old jet airliner” – it somehow makes sense out of it. I decided the jet was flying out of North Carolina and that some people must shorten ‘North Carolina’ to ‘Lina’ (they don’t). And then the words just stay there, unexamined, until I’m a 45-year-old woman singing along to the Yacht Rock station on Sirius XM in the car and my husband is saying, ‘Wait, what?’
‘Big old jet out of ‘Lina,’ I reply, only noticing the strangeness of that phrase as I speak instead of sing it.
‘Big old jet airliner,’ he corrects.
‘Ah…’ I say. ‘That does make more sense. I just thought they were singing ‘Lina and that was maybe a nickname for North Carolina.’
‘You decided the thing that made the most sense is that people call North Carolina “Lina” instead of listening a little closer and thinking, “Oh, an airliner, that makes more sense?”’
‘Well, when you put it that way.’
We were newly married when he first heard me belt out ‘maybe a bottle of Rosetti instead’.
He simply said, ‘Rosetti?’
And I said, ‘yep.’
And he said, ‘What’s Rosetti?’
And I said, ‘Rosetti is…a kind of wine?’
Realizing as I said instead of sang it, it is not. Asti Spumante, now that was a type of wine back in the 80s. Zima was a wine cooler. Rosetti was nothing.
I think my husband finds this recalcitrance around mistakes with lyrics a bit embarrassing, definitely incomprehensible.
‘But at some point you realized states don’t have nicknames, right? That no one calls it “Lina”?’
What he doesn’t understand is that by the time I would have questioned it, the song as I heard it was calcified and I had made my own sense out of the misheard lyrics. What he also doesn’t understand is that this is something I like about my brain. It doesn’t just mishear a lyric and stop there. It also doesn’t compel my body to rewind, to replay, to perhaps realize my mistake through repeated listens. No, it mishears, doubles down, and then makes up a whole different type of beverage or a whole alternate world where people have nicknames for states. I picture regions of my brain that are fully occupied by the worlds that have grown out of my misheard lyrics. So ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy.’
Erika Higgins Ross is a writer and therapist who resides in rural Massachusetts after decades in NYC and LA. Her work has been published in Juice, Mommy Poppins, LA.com, Your Teen, and Stagebill. Higgins Ross was lead singer of the all-girl band Big Panty and recently completed a writing residency at The Studios of Key West.