What’s Your Problem?
Do you remember the scene in Meet the Parents in which Ben Stiller shocks Robert De Niro by telling him that “Puff, the Magic Dragon” is really about marijuana? Well, I’m that Robert De Niro character. For some reason, I don’t get the hidden references of important songs. For instance, I was shocked to learn that the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” is about a vibrator. Could you tell me what else I’m missing in famous pop and rock songs?
B.F., Philadelphia, Pa.
You are missing quite a bit. While the lyrics of many songs are fairly straightforward—the AC/DC canon contains little in the way of ambiguity or poetic complexity, and 2Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” is about a man who is, in fact, very horny—I myself am continually surprised to learn the hidden meanings embedded in other works. For instance: Bob Dylan’s “Tambourine Man” is actually a Minnesota Vikings fight song. “Heart of Gold,” by Neil Young, is about the boutique allure of midget porn. The entire Justin Bieber oeuvre concerns the secret shame of knowing that he is a terrible musician and, nevertheless, fabulously wealthy. Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” is about heroin. Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” is about heroin. The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” is about heroin. Lou Reed’s “Heroin” is about cocaine. Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” is about the earned-income tax credit. If you play Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” backward, it asks you to subscribe to The Atlantic. The Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is about carbohydrates (“Here we are now/ with potatoes/ with a Mars bar/ and potatoes”). “Stairway to Heaven” is not about anything.
I am the father of a 16-year-old girl, and I’m very frightened for her future. I am worried economically, but I’m mostly worried about the dangers inherent in a society in which kids are treated like adults.
H.W., Fairfax, Va.
As a father myself—I have two daughters and a son, plus 23 foster children I rescued from Michele Bachmann in a daring commando raid in my imagination—I understand very well your concerns. Let us put aside issues of the economy, for there will be no economy by the time our children inherit this country. Still, the teenage years are a challenge. Your daughter ranges freely, and will range more freely still once she leaves home. But take solace in the fact that you survived your adolescence: Remember that time you drank that liter bottle of crème de cassis, raspberry Smirnoff, and Mountain Dew and woke up in a shopping cart in a Costco parking lot? You’re still here! Or the time that guy with the hair, Dirk Something-or-Other, with the trust fund, gave you what he described as most-excellent mushrooms, which caused you to tree yourself for 14 hours? You’re still here! You’ve survived all sorts of stupid adventures. Chances are, your daughter will survive hers as well. Just to be sure, however, you may want to consider locking her in her room until she’s 27, or until we experience a profound cultural shift—whichever comes first.
I love The Atlantic very much, and I appreciate the seriousness of the journalism it publishes, but I do think that on occasion, journalists can lighten up to good effect. The turmoil in the economy, and in foreign affairs, is important, but less weighty matters would go over well. Can you bring this up with Mr. Bennet, the editor?
C.C., New Haven, Conn.
I have raised your concerns with Mr. Bennet, who promises new, lighter fare. He himself will be writing a new column called “Mossy Things,” about his magical encounters with nature. Don Peck will be publishing an article about the brighter side of long-term unemployment. And James Fallows promises to contribute original works of ribald Chinese folk poetry.