When Song Lyrics Suddenly Become Unacceptable

When Rickie Lee Jones released an album of cover songs more than 15 years ago The Curmudgeon couldn’t stop listening to it.  He probably listened to it at least twice a week for more about a year.  If you were ever interested in what the My Fair Lady song “On the Street Where You Live” might sound like as a jazz song, Rickie Lee sang it.  If you ever wondered if anyone other than Traffic could possibly sing “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” wonder no more.  If you pondered whether it might be possible for Rickie Lee to sing a duet with Joe Jackson on the West Side Story song “One Hand, One Heart,” well, it is, and it’s as adenoidally wonderful as it is absolutely strange.  The Curmudgeon was so enthusiastic about the album that he made a copy for his sister.

A few weeks later The Curmudgeonly Sister told of her listening:  that she was in her office first thing in the morning, when the building where she works is mostly empty, and she put the tape into the boom box she keeps on the other side of her office and turned up the volume.

“Great,” The Curmudgeon thought to himself, knowing first, that sister rarely listens to music he gives her and second, that he had been trying to get her to listen to Rickie Lee Jones for more than two decades without even a hint of success.

So sister relates that she practically leaped out of her seat when the Rickie Lee cover of Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” came to the lines

Show biz kids making movies

Of themselves you know they

Don’t give a fuck about anybody else

“Are you trying to get me fired?” she asked.

She had a point:  it’s an interesting version of an interesting song but in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Brother had no idea sister used her pre-work quiet time to listen to music and apologized even though, in the broader scheme of things, he had done nothing wrong.

The Curmudgeon’s not sure he believes there’s such a thing as absolutely inappropriate song lyrics but he does believe there are some lyrics that are inappropriate for some of the people some of the time.  This belief was reinforced recently when he decided to listen to the 1970s Warren Zevon album Excitable Boy one evening while cooking dinner because he likes some energy when he cooks; mournful and slow stuff just doesn’t cut it.  His teenaged stepson was home and he does his school work in silence at the dining room table in the adjacent room (open concept!) but J was taking a break from studying, his headphones on and his face buried in his iPhone, and The Curmudgeon thought he would take advantage of the lull in the need for silence to crank up the music while cooking the shepherd’s pie.

When you’ve listened to an album as often as The Curmudgeon has listened to Excitable Boy – maybe 100 times over the years, make that 101 because he’s listening now as he writes this – you tend not to pay attention to the lyrics as much as you once did and just revel in the sound and the strong atty-tood of pretty much anything Zevon writes (his final album, released after he was told he had only a few months left to live, included a song titled “My Shit’s Fucked Up”).

So it was with a sense of something between dismay and horror that The Curmudgeon slowly processed the words coming out of the little desktop speaker:

Well, he went down to dinner in his Sunday best
Excitable boy, they all said
And he rubbed the pot roast all over his chest
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

Well that’s not good, but it’s not so bad, right?

But then the song continued:

He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark
Excitable boy, they all said
And he bit the usherette’s leg in the dark
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

Okay, that’s worse, but surely that’s the extent of it.

He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said

Now that’s pretty bad, but it’s not going to get worse.

After ten long years they let him out of the home
Excitable boy, they all said
And he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he’s just an excitable boy

Okay, it DID get worse, and the only saving grace was that J never raised his face from his iPhone or acknowledged hearing anything unusual – or hearing anything at all, for that matter.  The Curmudgeon grabbed his iPod, turned off Excitable Boy, and made a mental note to pay more attention in the future when he turns on the music with an impressionable 17-year-old in the next room.







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