“I have no idea to this day what those two italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t wanna know.”
– Ellis Boyd Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
The emotional climax of The Shawshank Redemption, in my mind, occurred when Andy Dufresne locked himself in the warden’s office and played the record player out into the prison P.A. system. The way the music penetrated the inmates’ souls reminded me so heavily of the same effect that music has on me as well. The gap of understanding between the inmates and the lyrics of the Italian opera song was bridged by a connection of emotional resonance from the performance of the song itself; as Red puts it, he doesn’t want to know the lyrics and its meaning, but the reality of the matter is that he doesn’t need to.
I listen to a wide variety of music, a lot of it coming from foreign language artists. When I was in high school, my first introduction to international music came in the form of Korean pop, and it was later on when I entered university and entered the world of anime fandom that my taste veered towards anime music (that is, music used for opening/closing credits for an anime series), and just like back then, I never really understood the meaning of the lyrics due to an absence of fluency of the language. It didn’t matter in the end because what I really loved the most was just the melody of the song sung, and words that roll off the tongue roll even better when sung. Meaning is meaningless.
Even today, when my taste has come full circle, and I’ve returned to my K-Pop roots and persisting animusic appreciation, a wonderful little song has entered my life called Crowds, by White Ash. It’s the opening song for the series Gatchaman Crowds. The series itself is remarkably interesting, as it deals with very unique characters who don’t mesh well with each other at first (and as of its most recent episode, episode 7, they still don’t for the most part) because of a lack of understanding and communication with each other. As an aspiring author, I would like to say that words are important, but the show itself informs me that they are not the only way of communicating and understanding others.
[the youtube video originally embedded here has been taken down, sorry!]
Crowds is a fantastic example of this simply because it is, for a lack of a better term, a Shawshank Italian Opera song. Despite having English lyrics, they are considerably incomprehensible, and if you ask most people to interpret the lyrics, different answers are given each time. Our understanding and derivation of meaning behind words is based on our unique experiences as people, and as such, our perception of words is biased to those experiences. As an exercise, here are the lyrics to the first verse of the song as I hear it:
I fly amazed, a crowd
baby flip out and I feel in a blender
only stranding me under gravity
Write a mean story
babe let’s stay up and not fear and the end
I love you surprising me, understanding me
and this planet
Pretty interesting, isn’t it? When given such open lyrical homophony such as that from Crowds, the meaning is most often taken from our own experience and bias. When we don’t understand something, we draw on what we already understand, and it becomes our perception of communication. We hear only what we want to hear, much in the same way that we derive the meaning of things (songs, movies, books) differently from other people. It’s worth noting that these lyrics were interpreted within a span of approximately 10 playthroughs, which adds up to 5 minutes at most.
Under the presumption that there is absolutely no way to derive the correct lyrics to the song (also incomprehensible when presented), it made sense for me to take this approach, to simply jot down the first word that I immediately hear as far as homophony is concerned. In a way, this exercise is almost like an aural ink blot test. From an empirical standpoint, this exercise is an appropriate measurement of personality.
So what do my lyrics say about myself? It’s pretty straightforward and accurately indicative of my state of mind and personality at present. The first half of the verse is all about my relationship with people as a whole, and the nature of introversion to cause me to feel pressured when in crowds. I tend to amplify my own personal issues internally, and it often comes out in my interactions with other people. My experience at Otakon and the lineup for the Yoko Kanno concert comes immediately to mind. No surprise that gravity pops up in that stanza.
The second half is essentially about the uncertainty of my future. I’m in a wonderful relationship, and I’ve come full circle on my writing and committed to both; I want to push myself to become a published author, independent, signed, or otherwise, and also to become a committing partner in a relationship that I feel is ready to take the next step. The foundation of that particular relationship is, unsurprisingly, based on communication and understanding.
In fact, it’s from my wonderful significant other that this entire exercise was brought to fruition. I had a conversation with her one night about this concept of lyrics and communication, and it prompted her to organize her lyrical ink blot test on her blog.
I can’t wait to see results The results are rather interesting!
Go ahead, try to listen to the above song; the series is available to stream online on Crunchyroll. What lyrics do you hear in the theme song’s verse? What does it say about you?