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What We See Is Human


I love those articles that detail how wrong we were about the meanings of various 90’s songs. Like how TLC’s “Waterfalls,” wasn’t about a waterfall at all, but rather, drug addiction and AIDS. Or how, Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” wasn’t actually about the last call at a bar, but, instead was about...wait for it...having a baby!

But, as much as I love finding out what the artist meant by the lyrics in his or her song, I have to wonder: If we think that a song means something other than what the lyricist intended, does it make us wrong?


So much of life is really about perception. Just look at what happened with that dress! Which, by the way, is brown and white. If our rods and cones tell us anything about our days on this Earth, it’s that we each see things differently, which means that we experience things differently as well. As a psychologist, I’m always amazed to hear two members of a family, or a couple, describe the same event. There’s inevitably a unique story for each person, with the truth lying somewhere in-between.

And isn’t that the point? That how we respond to events in our environment is the real test of our character. It has nothing to do with the events themselves.

How is it then, that anyone but us can say what a song means, to us? Especially, when hearing a particular tune can send us stumbling through memories that are singular to our own experience.

Dave Matthews is one artist who really gets this. He’s said, many times that once he finishes with a piece, he lets it go, free for the listener to interpret. I love that he has this attitude. I think we can hear it in his music.

And yet, because life is about opposites and paradoxical situations, I’m going to “throw off the second line” and negate everything I just said by setting the record straight about one particular lyric. People, when Dave says, “the best is yet to come,” he doesn’t mean that our best times are ahead of us. The future is no place to place your better days, remember? Seriously, what he’s saying is the opposite of that. The full line is “wash out this tired notion that the best is yet to come.” Stop believing that the best is out there, somewhere in another time or place, and celebrate now. Stop telling yourself that you will be happy when you finish that course, lose ten pounds, get a better job, etc. Be happy now. With exactly and only what you have. Because now is while the blood is running through our veins. And because life is short but sweet for certain.

So, if you want to go around believing that “Cornbread” is really about a carb, then I’m not going to stop you. I won’t even say anything if you think that “Warehouse” is really about a building. But please, for the love of all that is holy, agree with me on this one. Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself. Do it for DMB. Do it for the beauty of Winona. But whatever you do, do it while you’re still dancing on the ground.