Ever listen to a song and realize that when you were a kid, you totally misinterpreted the lyrics? In 4th Grade, I was really into the Beastie Boys because my friend Arthur was really into the Beastie Boys. But rap was new to me, so I looked to Arthur to explain some of the finer points of the lyrics on Licensed to Ill. Almost every detail I remember of what he said was untrue in retrospect:
1. The Beastie Boys all live together in a house that they call “White Castle.” There were no White Castle restaurants in Upstate New York, so Arthur and I discussed the lyric and decided that it must be where they live. After all, they chill there because “it’s the best” (“It’s the New Style”). Unclear how we explained away the other lyric, “White Castle fries only come in one size” (“Slow and Low”). Perhaps we thought they were saying “White Castle flies! It comes in one size!” but that hardly makes sense either.
2. The Beastie Boys have a rivalry with The Monkees. Long before the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, references to pirate lore were lost on 4th graders. So, “Deliver Colonel Sanders down to Davey Jones’ Locker” (“Rhymin’ and Stealin'”) could only mean one thing — The Beastie Boys were poking fun at a group of actors who played musicians on a 60’s TV show. We interpreted “locker” as a school locker, since we assumed the Beastie Boys were in high school. (random note of interest: I also attended a Monkees concert in 1986, so it’s possible that I convinced Arthur this was the case.)
3. Katherine is a girl at their school that they don’t like. This was simply a misheard lyric. We heard, “I got a lot of girlies and not one’s cattin'” (“Posse in Effect”) as “I got a lot of girlies and not one’s Katherine.” So the story we formed was that Katherine is kind of a dweeb and they’re bragging that they’ve had all these girls but have never had to stoop to Katherine’s level. I actually like our line better here. I still don’t know what “cattin'” means and sadly I’ve lost touch with Arthur so I can’t ask him to reinterpret.
4. “The New Style” is about game shows. I distinctly remember Arthur trying to convince me of this. We were on our bikes at the corner of Bay Colony Drive and Charter Oaks in Pittsford. I don’t remember how it came up, but Arthur referred to, “You know, that song about game shows.” “What song about game shows?” “The New Style. It’s all about game shows.” The root of this misconception was the line, “K-I-N-G-A-D whammy. All the fly ladies are on my jammy.” Of course, whammy was a reference to the show “Press Your Luck.” Somehow that was all we needed to be convinced that the entire song was about game shows. Incidentally, remember the line, “So I went into the locker room during classes. Went into your locker and I smashed your glasses”? We assumed that it was Davey Jones’ locker he went into and possibly Katherine’s glasses.
5. “Paul Revere” is the true story of how the Beastie Boys met. Why would you write a song about the members of your band meeting in the Old West and shooting up bars together unless it were true?
Despite the errors in our interpretation, we were right about a lot of things, too. “Brass Monkey” is about a drink that’ll fuck you up. If you don’t fight for it, you will actually lose your right to party. “Girls” is incredibly sexist, but intentionally so.
Coming next week: Arthur’s take on Peter Gabriel’s “So”.