Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Back in 1968, Steppenwolf released “Magic Carpet Ride.” Like so many of these songs, the lyrics are not always, well, intelligible. Not just obscure, but not well articulated either. Back around 1985, a local radio station in Cincinnati came up with a contest called, “Say What?” The idea was that they played little clips of poorly articulated lyrics and asked the callers to tell them the lyrics, and if they got the lyrics right, they would win some small prize. Unfortunately, the DJ chose this song for their contest.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to start by telling you what people were guessing. You have to understand, though, that while the internet did exist at this time, the Web did not. It was largely restricted to academia and military, although businesses were starting to look into it. The few civilians (like me) that were on the web signed up with providers like AOL (which we joked to mean “Ain’t OnLine” because of the difficulty of actually successfully connecting) through a dial-up modem. There were lyric sites that were “gofer” sites, but you had to know the actual address to find them, so most people couldn’t just “log on” and look up the lyrics.
Most people guessed, incorrectly, that the clip the DJ played said, “Last night I held a lady’s hand, and I wished that I could stay, before she could answer me someone took the lady away. I looked, all around, a lousy candle’s all I found.” It’s one of those commonly mis-sung songs that you hear periodically, and she must have been under orders to not change songs because she played it, over and over and over again for weeks. Even she became frustrated and began begging people to just go to a music store to get the lyrics, and not to call in if they didn’t. Eventually she announced that she was so tired of the clip that once somebody does get it right, the contest would come to an end so she wouldn’t have to deal with it again. And yet, people kept calling in with the wrong guess.
Seven years later, Walt Disney released the classic animated movie “Aladdin”. The story of Aladdin was actually part of the Asian collection “A Thousand and One Nights.” The story of the collection is that a prince, with the right to marry any woman in his province he pleased and execute her at will, had his heart broken and began utilizing these rights. He would marry a woman every day and have her executed the next. Is it true? I don’t know, it might be apocryphal, but eventually he set his sights on the daughter of somebody with enough power to get out of the marriage, but she bravely went through with it with a plan to end the bloodshed. The first night, she started telling him a story, but left it incomplete at a cliffhanger. If he were to hear the end of the story would be to let her live to complete the story the next night, which she did, but then she started another story ending at the cliffhanger. She did this for a thousand and one nights, telling a thousand and one tales to the king who eventually fell in love with her thus ending the bloodshed. The story of Aladdin was part of this collection of stories. The correct lyrics are, “Last night I held Aladdin’s lamp, so I wished that I could stay. Before the thing could answer me, well, someone came and took the lamp away. I looked around, a lousy candle’s all I found.”
In my opinion, one of the great flaws of people, or at the very least Americans, is the arrogance we tend to have in what we believe to be true without ever verifying our “knowledge”. Here we have a contest, going on for so long that even the DJ began to beg listeners to actually go and look up the lyrics, and yet people kept guessing wrong. The second half varied a little bit from guess to guess, but they all started with “Last night I held a lady’s hand…” The contest always played on my commute home, so I heard it many times over, and you would think anybody listening in would think to themselves, “…but that’s right, isn’t it?” And yet, they ignored her pleas not only to just find the sheet music to look it up, but were arrogant enough to call in, yet again, to guess that same error that they’ve heard many times over. It’s a habit we’ve seen many times over, and will far too frequently this year, especially, with the election coming up. Unfortunately, when people “know” they are right, no proof, no logic, no resources of any level of respectability will change their minds, and these same people are invariably proud of their erroneous knowledge. It breaks my heart.