"Here we are now, in containers."
Yes! This is your song. You sing it dramatically in the shower, imagining yourself as Kurt Cobain. Now it's blaring through the speakers.
"HERE WE ARE NOW ...
"... IN CONTAINERS! I feel stupid and contagious!"
The people around you give you looks. There are snickers.
"Dude. It's 'Here we are now, ENTERTAIN US.' "
These lyrics, courtesy of Nirvana, are an example of a "mondegreen," that is, a word or phrase that results from a mishearing, oftentimes in reference to song lyrics.
As both an intense analyzer of lyrics and a very fallible human, I fall prey to mondegreens all the time, ending up crushed that the string of words I attributed such deep meaning to sounds comically nonsensical to everyone else. Admittedly, I sometimes even find myself defending my misinterpretations as somehow better than the original.
Take the Nirvana example again. Apparently, a whole slew of people on the Internet have made the "in containers" mistake. Learning this, I was amused and found myself not only hearing it their way, but also defending this new version.
After all, "entertain us" is so straightforward, so blatantly tied to the song's title. "In containers" is obtuse and thus potentially symbolic. Do we "box ourselves in" too much in life? Is it because we're stupid and/or contagious?
Alternately, these lyrics can be interpreted literally. Houses, offices, they're all containers of sorts for our bodies. Through this lens, the apathetic teen anthem takes on a removed and almost intellectualized perspective regarding our mundane earthly existence. Now, it becomes somewhat Talking Heads-esque.
"And you may find yourself, in a container!"
Other commonly misheard classics include Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising."
Is Hendrix saying, "Excuse me while I kiss the sky" or "Excuse me while I kiss this guy"? Either option is pretty great.
As is the choice between Bon Jovi's line "It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not" and the mondegreen "It doesn't make a difference if we're naked or not." The second version is almost touching. Whether they're clothed or unclothed, these two have "got each other, and that's a lot."
Unfortunately, there's not much significance to be drawn from the misinterpretation of Creedence's line "there's a bad moon on the rise" with "there's a bathroom on the right." But it's still great to hear restroom directions delivered with such Americana gusto.
Although these examples come from anonymous Internet users willing to share (and defend) their mistakes, my fascination with mondegreens stems from many mishearings made on my own part.
To specify, what is Bon Iver actually saying? Most listeners of the indie-folk group seem to agree that singer-songwriter Justin Vernon is espousing profound poetry revolving around love lost and nature. But if you've ever attempted a heartfelt group sing-along, there was probably a lot of mumbling involved.
Take the song "Holocene." You know that part right before he sings, "And I could see for miles, miles, miles." What are those words?
I definitely wouldn't have guessed that they were "Jagged vacance, thick with ice." I could have sworn he was singing, "Shake 'n' bake, and stick with her." A drastic difference. But it makes about as much sense, seeing as "vacance" isn't even an English word.
I encourage you to boldly ascribe meaning to whatever lyrics you think you hear. Because just as Bon Iver will always be singing to me about Shake 'n' Bake, Nirvana will always be singing to others about existing inside containers.
And those are both things worth pondering.
Katie Brigham is a former photo and multimedia intern with the Post-Gazette. She likes language and music a whole lot, and when she can simultaneously write about both, it's a good day. You can reach her at email@example.com or @katie_brigham.