August 4th, 2006

Sometimes a Cigar is Just a Cigar

I’m not so great at understanding the words of songs. (Just a month or two ago I figured out a whole new-to-me phrase in “Waterloo,” and got very excited.) So when I realize that “Walk Away” might not be the bitter break-up anthem it appears to be, I have to share my theory with my brother, the Franz Ferdinand fan.


“Do you think he’s dead?” I ask him. “Because in the second half, he says something about his gravestone crumbling when she walks away.”


To which my loving sibling replies: “Can’t you just enjoy it without analyzing it?”


Absolutely not! For me, analyzing is enjoying. It’s a hobby and a talent, cultivated from the first days of Ms. Iseli’s terrifying ninth-grade English class—and, of course, applied to real-life situations as well as literature, music, and movies.


But here’s the thing: in art there’s stuff to analyze. Creators set their projects up that way. Writers lay a trail of clues throughout their novels, their screenplays, their lyrics. Readers/ viewers/ listeners can skate along the basics of the plot or they can dive in deeper. The clues are all open to interpretation, of course. But they’re there.


In real life, though, it’s unlikely that many of us spend time investing potential conversation tidbits with meaning we expect truly devoted auditors to decode. Nevertheless, some of us persist in attempting to decode clues that we believe other people are providing us. It’s an analytical double standard.


Until recently, I figured such cud-chewing was just something I did. Now I wonder if it isn’t the burden of the entire female gender.


I must admit, this idea didn’t originate with me. I read something along those lines about women in the Middle Ages. Men of those times had so many things to do (raping and pillaging, Crusading, general mucking about) and so many places to go that the most important relationships in their lives were actually not of primary importance to them.


Women, on the other hand, though they had just as many things to do, lived a quieter life—baking, weaving, embroidering—and thus had plenty of time to spend thinking about their men. When the men came home, the women again had a present object of affection and attention to focus on—whereas the men, with their broader Weltanschauung, were never without objects of attention (or, one imagines, affection).


So much has changed; women today may lead lives even more hectic than those of the men around them. And yet! Contemporary women maintain the ability to obsess about relationships while fulfilling other responsibilities. “So then she said blah,” one woman mutters to another as they stand at the copy machine. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


“That’s because women are multitaskers,” observes one brilliant friend who agrees with my theory.


No doubt. Within the past two weeks, in one office of my acquaintance, no fewer than four women burst into in tears. At their desks. In the middle of the workday. Sure, one of those women was weeping about a forthcoming IRS audit, but the other three? Take a guess. (In fact, one cried on various occasions about two different men in her life. I don’t think I could handle so much subject matter for analysis, myself.) And they got all their work done—on time—anyway.


Do guys do this? Do they fixate on what the people in their lives said or did, and the potential meanings hiding behind the surface?


Instinctively I want to say no; no, they don’t. Whether they’re maintaining the tradition developed by men of the Middle Ages, or they believe that surface presentation is reality, or they’re just completely oblivious to everything around them—I doubt that they waste the kind of time I do rewinding conversations and looking for meanings I may not have gleaned the first thousand times through. Women 1; men 0. Subject closed; analysis terminated.


Or so I thought.


Just as I start to feel satisfied that my meta analysis is at an end, my brother comes along and screws everything up. Once again a song is to blame—this time the fabulous Kaiser Chiefs offering, “Na Na Na Na Naa.” (More on that title in a future entry.)


It’s a song that begs you to dance to it—a song with a vague pronoun for a subject. But I don’t even care. Who can analyze in the face of a beat so good?


“It does not move me/ It does not get me going at all.”

Chorus: Na na na na naaaaaaaaaaaaa.

“It does not shift me/ It’s not the kind of thing that I like.”

Chorus: Na na na na naaaaaaaaaaaaa.


And that’s when my brother says: “You know, I think this song is about a song. Listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean.”


And so I must end this entry here, add his remarks to my growing body of evidence, and re-analyze the whole thing. (I love a good project!)