Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New ears

I was listening to some albums that I haven't put on in quite some time and was reminded of the jangly pop pleasures in Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians' "So You Think You're in Love". The album it's from, Perspex Island, was released in August 1991, so I must have first heard it on the legendary alternative station 97X out of Oxford. So, temporary personal mystery solved: I heard it before heading off to college. (I was trying to figure out how I would have come across the song, as the college radio station wouldn't have been playing it and I didn't have cable in my dorm room.)

If you'll humor me, I'd like you to listen to the song now, if you haven't already, and then join me in the next paragraph once you're finished. I would have posted the video, but I couldn't find it online. For my purpose, it's actually better that it's just the song and some stills.

OK, good to go? Tell me: what is the song about? At face value it is about determining if you are in love and being honest about that feeling. Simple enough, right? Sure, it's the obvious interpretation, but it's a direct song.

Hearing it today for the first time in a long time, I wondered if the song has dual meanings. Is the character singing the song telling the person it's directed toward that he or she is probably gay and is just now realizing it? This reading seems very apparent--and equally valid--although such an interpretation hinges on how the songwriter is defining "straight". Hitchcock displays a wry sense of humor in his songs, so it certainly wouldn't surprise me if he intended it to be taken both ways. (I regret even putting a disclaimer here, but that was not intended as a pun.)

If we want to get into extra-textual evidence, this performance (with an error-riddled anchor intro) finds him altering "can you imagine what the people say?" to "can you imagine what the Pope would say?"

My point in writing about this isn't that I'm hung up on what the song means but how we--or in this case, I--hear and see things differently through the years. This secondary interpretation surely came to me at some point in the twenty years between when I first heard it and today, but I don't recall hearing it in this way when it was new. It seems blatantly obvious now. How could I have missed those less than subtle hints?

This relates to my amazement at the innuendo in older films. While this example is still newer in relative terms than I'd prefer to use, do a search for the yellow purse in Alfred Hitchcock's 1964 film Marnie and see what interpretations you turn up. (The linked YouTube clip's title is very forthcoming in what the handbag suggests. And it's not just some perv. I bet just about every academic paper on the film will point this out.)

Did the majority of people not see or hear such things as they were at the time? It seems incomprehensible to think so, yet with this song as an example, it would seem that I haven't always picked up on the full meaning either.

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