Monday, August 9, 2010

It's All In the Interpretation

During a recent and *ahem* much needed cleaning of my house, I came across a CD from my teenage years –Sinead O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.

Hoo-boy, I wore this one out in my senior year. Giddy, I took it to the car and proceeded to sing along until my voice gave out. I still had the CD in when picking my sister, Karina, up from work one day. We blissed out in nostalgia while listening to Nothing Compares to You until during the caterwauling, Karina turns to me and says, “You know our neighbor Bert* thought this song was about her singing to her mama.”

Hold the phone.


Me: “Hold the phone. Whaa?”

Karina: “Yup. He thought she was singing to her mama.”

Me: swerving to avoid hitting the curb. “Is he insane? Why the fuck would he think that? And more importantly, is he insane?”

Karina: “It’s that line, ‘All the flowers that you planted mama.’”

Me: “Yeah it’s, ‘all the flowers that you planted mama!’ Not, ‘all the flowers that you planted, mama.’”

Karina: “Well, I know that! I’m just telling you what HE thought.”

Me: “So the ‘I could put my arms around every boy I see; they’d only remind me of you' is what? Some Oedipus complex??”

Karina: “He got stuck on the Mama line.”

Me: “So when he was signing along (cuz EVERYONE sings along to Nothing Compares to You) he was thinking, “Nothing compares to you, MAMA!!! Bert, I never knew...” Commence with evil sister cackling.

ACK!!! Aside from my childhood neighbor’s very disturbing views on acceptable mama lamentations, one has to wonder over the power of a comma. Slip one in and you have a Greek tragedy on your hands.

And then there is the notion of interpretation. Clearly, not everyone is going to interpret your words the way you want them to. Yes, this example is…extreme, but even so interpretation is an open thing.

What does this mean to us as writers?

Well, this isn’t the deepest post in the world. But I do think that it highlights an important truth: the story, how it is interpreted, what people think of it, is completely out of our control. We may get good reviews, bad reviews, people may think we’re devil worshipers if we use “God damn” or think our love song is an ode to mama. It is out of our control. There is power in that. Because at the end of the day, if you did your best, that is all you can do. A bad review or criticism of your work sucks but once you're done with the writing, it’s done. That’s all she wrote. Literally.

So try not to worry about what other people think. Focus on your job; writing the best story you can.

I’ll leave you with a bit of Sinead. I’d forgotten how powerful this video is. And could the girl rock a shaved head or what?

*Names have been changed to protect the ignorant.


  1. LMAO!
    Ah, Kristen, your neighbour and my DH must have attended the same school of lyric interpretation; the poor man, he stuffs them up oh so gloriously. Like Prince's "Kiss", where the line "there's no particular sign I'm more compatible with" came out in his head as "there's no particular sign *I'm up on top of the wheel*." WTF?

    And he also messed up another 90s track, "Stone me Into the Groove" by Atomic Swing; the line "car crash in the blue" - ok, admittedly a rather absurd line - to the DH was ... "conquistador blues". Twice as absurd, IMO!

    And Sinead. Sigh. I played that song so much when I was a teen that I think the CD melted. Brilliant stuff.

  2. "Conquistador blues..." ROLF!!! Yes, he IS quiet inventive with the interpretations.

    My sister -Karina (whom I am SO ratting out) had flububs with "Hush, hush, keep it down now, it's so scary!" and I will admit to thinking it was, "come-a-come-a chameleon." I mean, what did I know about Karma at age ten?? lololololol. But my DH couldn't tell you a proper lyric if his life depended on it!

    Oh, good, so I'm not the only one who was obsessed with Sinead back in the day! Ah, she did angst so well.

  3. Ummm, excuse!"Hush, hush, keep it down now, it's so scary!" was your husband's flub. not mine.

    I thought Sade said "ohhh Margaretta.." instead of "Smooth Operator"

    get the facts straight sis.


  4. The power of the comma -- YES! Makes the difference between "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat Grandma!"

    And I was convinced that Van Halen's "Panama" was "Manimal." I don't know.

  5. Tee hee. The old age is a getting to me! Well I did say that he sucked at lyrics.

    Ohh Margaretta....

  6. Jen -"eat grandma" tee hee. Big Bad Wolf vs. Leave it to Beaver.

    And Manimal? Bwahahaahaha. Of course, now I will ONLY hear "Manimal! Maniamaaal!!"

  7. Haha, Sinead O'Connor!! In the interest of full disclosure and misheard lyrics, I hereby confess that I always thought the line was "all the flowers that you planted, bubba..."
    I never questioned who or what bubba was. This was before Forrest Gump, too...