Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What did he say?...

Someone at the FBI must not have had much to do in 1964 and 1965, according to this blog post at Daily Dose.

Apparently, in early 1964 a disgruntled parent wrote to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy complaining that the lyrics to the song "Louie Louie", by The Kingsmen, were "filthy." What I want to know is, how could she tell? I've never been able to tell what the singer is saying in that version of the song, which has been covered, some claim, by more singers and bands than The Beatles' "Yesterday", which is a lot of cover versions.

At any rate, the FBI reportedly spent the next two years attempting to decipher the song's lyrics, using such strategies as playing the 45 at 33 1/3. (If you're too young to remember 45s and LPs, you might not get that reference. Look it up.) However, according to the report the feds didn't ever bother to contact the band's lead singer, Jack Ely, or the man who wrote the song back in the 1950s, Richard Berry. Perhaps the agents tasked with the investigation were too embarrassed to ask either of them, "Did you sing/write a dirty song?" We can only hope.

The FBI never did figure out what the lyrics say (maybe the complaining mother has the superpower of being able to understand all song lyrics), and so they never said whether or not the lyrics are obscene.

Of course, there is a larger question here. That is, why are some people so determined to find something dirty or otherwise offensive in everything?

This all reminds me of the rumors that the 1963 song "Puff, The Magic Dragon", by folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, was really all about - gasp - marijuana. That would have come as a great shock to my second grade teacher (during the 1963-1964 school year), who required everyone in my class to memorize the lyrics to that song.

There were also the stories about The Beatles' song, "Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds", which was supposedly really all about LSD. Even Paul McCartney is reported to have admitted (in 2004) that the song really was about acid, but John Lennon always maintained that it was not about drugs, but was inspired by a drawing his son Julian made in nursery school. Call me naive (it's okay; people do, all the time), but since Lennon was the primary writer of the song, his testimony is good enough for me.

Sometimes, it takes a little work to find this objectionable content. For awhile, it seemed like the national pastime here in the US was to play songs backward to find messages that bands had supposedly left hidden in their music. These messages went from supposed clues in Beatles songs that Paul McCartney was dead and had been replaced by a look-alike, sound-alike, all the way to accusations that a variety of recording artists had put tributes to and recruiting messages for Satan in their songs that could only be understood when the music was played backward. A few conservative Christian speakers made names for themselves traveling the country and giving presentations about this activity.

Most of the accused, of course, denied putting any kind of reversed messages in their songs, while a few admitted to using a technique called backward masking to hide messages in their music. Most of those who admitted to doing this said they did so only after the accusations, and then to answer their accusers. Or, to make fun of them, which wasn't really that difficult a thing to do.

It isn't just music people search to find objectionable material, however. For awhile, finding the phallic symbols and other obscene messages in Disney animation was somewhat of a cottage industry. And some people managed to find things that they could get outraged about, like the minster with a supposed erection in "The Little Mermaid." The thing was, you generally had to be viewing the films in slow motion or frame by frame to see most of these "obscene" drawings, although some accusers claimed otherwise. An Arkansas woman, who will remain nameless here to protect the guilty, even went so far as to sue Disney and its video distribution company, Buena Vista Home Video, claiming that Disney displayed an "explicit sexual message" on both the package and in the movie "The Little Mermaid", although she later dropped the suit, according to Snopes.

Personally, I think the people who go looking for these things, or read things they object to into music or films or other art, have too much time on their hands and excessively dirty minds. If you have to play a song backward or watch a film frame by frame to find something objectionable, it isn't that much of a threat to the innocent.

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