“Oh, she may get woolly. Some girls, they do get woolly cause of all the stress. When they get woolly try a little tenderness.”
“It’s not woolly. Nobody gets woolly. Women get weary; they don’t get woolly. And nobody’s got stress. They’re wearing a dress. Goddamnit, I hate people that get the words wrong.”
This exchange is from a scene in the film Bull Durham, in which “Crash” Davis lectures Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh about his various mondegreens while playing the song “Try a Little Tenderness” on the guitar. For those of you who may have forgotten a mondegreen is the term used for misunderstood lyrics. Although, I’ve used it for misheard film quotes or just a general misunderstanding. For example, in the film European Vacation, the Griswald family is on an international flight to Europe, and each of them is sleeping. We see their various dreams, including the son, Rusty, who dreams about walking through a European nightclub full of various archetypes. There’s a dancer in a cheetah outfit, a new wave punk with a two-foot white mohawk, etc. Most of the women look like they should be performing in the musical “Satan’s Alley,” the fictional musical from the film Staying Alive. In the fantasy, Rusty wears a white leather suit similar to the one Eddie Murphy sports in his stand-up comedy special Eddie Murphy Raw. On the back of Rusty’s jack reads the phrase “Rusty, The European Tour.” When I was much younger, again probably six or seven, I thought it read “Rusty, The Ultimate Tear.” Like with my misunderstanding with “Garonda” from The Last Starfighter, I had just assumed it was something cool that was above my head.
Another example, more similar to the exchange between “Crash” and “Nuke” happened after the opening night of my play “Show Me Your Tong Po.” I and some of the cast were driving on our way to a bar to celebrate, and the song “There She Goes” by The LAs came on the radio. Since I was already drunk, (I’m pretty sure I had been repeatedly quoting from the film Rushmore— the dinner scene after Max Fisher’s play, an adaptation of Serpico, when Max asks Peter how Peter knows Miss Cross and Peter replies by saying they went to Harvard together. Max nods and says “Well, I wrote a hit play AND directed it; so, I’m not sweating it either.”) I started singing along with the words. One of the lead actors in the play politely told me I had been singing the wrong lyrics. I don’t remember what I had been singing specifically, but I remember not making a big deal of it at the time. You might think that it made an impression on me since I can still remember it over twenty years later, but that’s just how I operate. Would you like to know Fermat’s last theorem? How pay a mortgage? Sorry, I can’t help you. What won Best Picture and Director in 1973? Now, we’re talking.
Another similar experience happened a few years ago when I was driving with my then-girlfriend. The song “I Will Follow” by U2 came on the radio. The actual lyrics to the beginning of the chorus are “If you walkaway walkaway, I walkaway walkaway. I will follow.” Before I had discovered what they actually were, I was certain the lead singer Bono had been scatting gibberish. So, without any restraint, I belted out something like “Wanana nay a nigh wahnahna hu anay.” Now, she didn’t know what the lyrics were, but she knew what I had just sung clearly wasn’t correct. By that point in my life, I was no longer ashamed about mistakes like this, so I laughed along. However, I stopped singing along with the chorus for the remainder of the song. I still make mondegreens, and if I’m uncertain about specific lyrics or quotations, I won’t look them up. If I find out what they are, the magic will be gone. So, I’ll quote Red from The Shawshank Redemption “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.”
Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found in links on his website: asdavie.wordpress.com