Flavorwire Staffers on the Song Lyrics They Totally Didn’t Get as Kids


Did you originally start listening to Eminem as a child because you were a glutton for chocolate, then only keep listening because you were also incidentally a glutton for punishment? Did you think “…Baby One More Time” was about a temperamental, flailing infant, that “Killing Me Softly” told the story of someone poisoned with Downy, or that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an ode to BO?

Music can be an esoteric thing, its intended meanings especially elusive to the young and either too-literally or too-imaginatively minded. Here, the Flavorwire staff admits to all of their most embarrassing and adorable misinterpretations of well-known lyrics, in hopes of letting you know: You’re not alone for having frustratedly asked, “What? What exactly is it that Stacy’s mom’s got going on, and why are they being so cryptic about her schedule?!”

“Thunder Road” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” — Bruce Springsteen

My dad is from New Jersey, so naturally my family listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen on our early road trips, especially classic albums Born to Run and Born in the USA. Of course, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is a kid-friendly track, with its bouncy energy, especially when for some reason one’s brother is convinced, for years, that in the chorus the Boss is saying, “Tell the devil he can freeze hell!” — which frankly is an incredibly inventive misheard lyric for a young child, and showcases my brother Dan’s feisty attitude.

Also, for a long period I thought the end of “Thunder Road” included the line, “When you get to the poets, they’re gone,” instead of, “When you get to the porch, they’re gone.” I guess I showed early signs of being a lit nerd. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large

“Down by the Water” — PJ Harvey

As a six-year-old, I got really into PJ Harvey — at first for all the wrong reasons. On the LA radio station KROQ, for a half a year, they consistently played “Down by the Water,” whose creepily playful, whispered lyrics, “Little fish, big fish, swimming in the water/come back here, man, gimme my daughter” struck me. For I was also just coming down from a couple of years of learning to read via Dr. Seuss, whose One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish had a monopoly over my interpretations of fish — little, big, singular, multiple, etc. — in art.

Thus, I had no idea whatsoever that the song was about filicide-by-drowning, and rather thought it just another helpful tool for learning about fish diversity. (And that a couple of said diverse fish happened to be playing with Polly Jean Harvey’s daughter, and maybe it was nap time, so she needed the fish to give her daughter back, so she could, you know, take the na — yeah I was a dumb child). — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

“Hash Pipe” — Weezer

I could offer many stories about The Beatles’ seemingly nonsensical songs attempting deeper meaning (“Piggies,” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” “Helter Skelter”) and how that completely went over my head as a kid — I was too busy chasing my brother around the coffee table while pretending to bludgeon him because that’s what the Fab Four were on about. No, my most notable moment of lyrical misunderstanding came as my childhood was coming to a close.

Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” came out in 2001, when I was 13, and immediately I was hooked. The lyrics in the band’s new-millennium comeback single are difficult to decipher, as frontman Rivers Cuomo sings much of the song in a falsetto that doesn’t allow him to enunciate terribly well. Also, “Hash Pipe” features the most opaque Weezer lyrics ever, short of the wrestling reference that no one got in “El Scorcho” (“Watching Grunge leg-drop New Jack through a press table”). As I learned later, this was likely because “Hash Pipe” is about a male prostitute.

“I can’t love my business if I can’t get a trick/ Down on Santa Monica where tricks are for kids”?! “Of men that don’t bother with the taste of a teat”?!? “I got my ass wide/ You got your big G’s/ I got my hash pipe”?!?! This last line, part of the chorus, definitely sounded to me like, “I got my eye swiped/ You got your big cheese/ I got my hash pipe.” I imagined Cuomo getting beat up and dragging himself home, only to find his schlubby roommate eating a giant block of cheese on the couch. Rivers plops down next to him and smokes some hash to feel better. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor

“Cold Hearted Snake” — Paula Abdul

“He’s a cold-hearted snake / look into his eyes.”

Forget, for a moment, the frame narrative of this video — the risqué dance for square music executives. For the child Jonathon, this song was not an opportunity for sexy dancing (more like manic jiggling); nor was it an extended metaphor about an amoral, untrustworthy lover boy. It was instead a warning: beware, listener, of this dangerous humanimal endowed with the supercapacity to animorph into an enormous serpent!

From there the lyrics took on other “dimensions,” which, for me, were cruel realities. I combined “look into his eyes” with the Medusa-induced terror of turning to stone. I thought, too, of Sir Hiss (and his crazy eyes) from Disney’s Robin Hood. And when Paula Abdul sang “All the world’s a candy store / He’s been trick or treatin’,” the child me could think only of himself and the candy he might lose on Halloween. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor

“Creep” — TLC

I guess I didn’t quite understand the concept of infidelity at ten years old, because I was really sure TLC’s “Creep” was about masturbation. (Fifth grade was also the year when sex ed got real.) — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief