I was listening to this song on repeat as I missed the bus home this evening. I was being soothed by Creedence Clearwater‘s greatest hits on the train, and realized the moment this song was over that it had done something unexpected. It made me forget that today’s heat was so moist and heavy that the sidewalks felt like radiators. I fell into a groove and momentarily forgot that today’s was the kind of heat that can seriously interrupt one’s flow of coherent thought. Your body keeps telling you to drink some water and lie down, but your brain has its list of important things to do. While you try your best to get through your list without lingering too long in any of the air-conditioned stores along the way (that you have no reason to visit), your body keeps admonishing you for not bringing your pillow along and staying in one store or the other until they throw you out. On the train, Green River became the only song I wanted to hear.
It crossed my mind to google the lyrics when I got home, before checking my email, because I had never understood most of what Mr. Fogerty was singing. I caught enough to know that he loved Green River and was explaining why, with details meant to evoke this place for his listeners, so I didn’t think he would include such an incomprehensible line as the one above. It’s more likely that the misheard line is evidence that I’m the one with the problem.
There’ve been some awfully funny books written on the subject of misheard lyrics. So this is obviously a widespread problem. Not so important as problems go, but still widespread. I thought about that and began to wonder if I would change his performance of the song, even if I could. My answer was, “Of course not!” If I was the producer with him in the studio, I think I would have asked for one more take, to see if he could enunciate a little more, but as for the history of it now, I like the way he sang it. For the art of it, the performance has to stay just as it is. Of course, with my next thought I remembered how the art is a little blame for the inadvertent embarrassment this sort of thing can bring to people– like the much younger Ré who had a serious crush on Greg, who worked at the store where she bought her vinyl.
I only bought records in that store because of the intoxicated way I felt around Greg’s square jaw and his broad shoulders in rock and roll t-shirts. Singles were ten cents cheaper at Sears, but Greg had to get them for you from the library-like stacks behind the counter, and I learned early on that if you gave him your name and phone number, he would order the ones they didn’t have in stock and call you when they came in. He would lean in over the counter, closer to you, as he wrote down your info, and I could gaze at the back of his neck if I positioned myself just right. I loved WXRT in Chicago for supplying me with the sometimes esoteric knowledge of obscure new music that I could both love and order from Greg.
My awful moment came when I asked for Neil Young’s new single, “Pot of Gold” which I realized was actually “Heart of Gold” after Greg tried, but was unsuccessful at suppressing a smile that wanted to be a full on laugh. I could see that he was lingering in the stacks longer than necessary, but I didn’t know why until he had composed himself, come back to the counter, and slid the single gently across it with his finger just under the title. “You mean, ‘Heart of Gold’,” he said. “That’s a really good song. I like it, too.” I never knew if he was a nice guy, and trying to make a girl who was so young and obvious feel better, or if he was trying to rub it in. It doesn’t matter now. But I do think this memory makes a reasonable case for an artist mixing a little enunciation in along with the art.
I decided not to look up the lyrics to Green River, at least not just yet, so I won’t be telling you what that line really is. I’m sure I get what John Fogerty means, so if I don’t sing my version out loud in public, where someone with better song perception can hear me (I wonder if it’s an ability like being able to keep one’s balance on ice?), I can safely go on singing what I think I heard.