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The Misery of a Happy Song

30 Dec

Ever had a story or experience change the entire nature of a song for you?

It happened to me when Kurt Vonnegut used Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” in Mother Night. Nazis and spies and betrayal, oh my. Diana Ross will always zap me back to the morning of a heart-rending breakup. And, for no reason I can pinpoint, the song at the beginning of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sends me into reeling, anguished, superstitious panic. The song has a name. I don’t want to think about it enough to remember it. I felt that way about the song before that movie existed, and the movie’s theme of intentional amnesia/buried memory  just makes it worse.

Those examples are due to external associations, but I can cause the shift myself, especially since I took up writing.

I’m writing a novel, so obviously I can’t actually set a chapter to music, but I do have songs that evoke scenes in my head when I hear them. One is “How Can I Be Sure” by the Young Rascals. I’d wanted to use it somehow, but it always seemed cheesy for a happy scene, verging on Eighties Musical Makeover Montage territory. Then my sister told me I had to use it. Always one to obey orders (not), I complied because I’d had a twisted idea.

Funny how making a happy waltzy song the soundtrack for the violent end to a controlling, abusive relationship changes it altogether. Why did I ever think that was a happy song? It’s creepy! And paranoid! Rather threatening. And, if I listen to the singer’s voice now, he sounds rather desperate, bitter, jealous.

But maybe that’s just me.

I also cry my eyes out over songs like “Warmth of the Sun” and “Something”. Again, my fault.

Still, seriously, look at these lyrics!

How can I be sure
In a world that’s constantly changin’?
How can I be sure
Where I stand with you?

Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
I wanna die
’cause you know I wanna stay with you

How do I know?
Maybe you’re trying to use me
Flying too high can confuse me
Touch me but don’t take me down
[that last bit sounds like a threat]

Whenever I
Whenever I am away from you
My alibi is tellin’ people I don’t care for you
Maybe I’m just hanging around
With my head up, upside down
It’s a pity
I can’t seem to find someone
Who’s as pretty ‘n’ lovely as you
[sarcasm or obsession?]

How can I be sure
I really, really, really, wanna kno-o-ow
I really, really, really, wanna kno-o-ow

(Oh oh oh …)

How’s the weather?
Whether or not we’re together
Together we’ll see it much better
I love you, I love you forever
You know where I can be found

How can I be sure
In a world that’s constantly changing?
How can I be sure
I’ll be sure with you


The Young Rascals – How Can I Be Sure lyrics


Is it just me? 😉