Last year, the folks at Merriam-Webster added a bunch of new words to the 2009 edition of their Collegiate Dictionary. One of those new entries is “mondegreen,” a word or phrase that “results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” An easier definition would be “‘Scuze me while I kiss this guy.”
It wasn’t until I used my unexpected Best Buy Rewards Zone coupon recently that I recalled my first memorable bout of mondegreen. It was an error that stayed with me for many years, and it was of the magnitude that only two people know about it—they play central roles during the revelation of the true song lyrics—and its secret has been kept private since that time.
When “Brass In Pocket” was a hit, I was in junior high school. There was a lot of pressure to young men in the 7th grade to consider girls and all that mystery that comes with them. Even if you’re not physically or emotionally ready to begin dealing with sex, you were still expected to talk with authority on the topic. We didn’t know shit, of course, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the girls already realized how clueless we were.
Since I was expected to know sex even though it was ridiculous, I began to obsess over sex. Not to the point where I was caught masturbating in class and sent to a counselor… No, I obsessed until I heard the Pretenders “Brass In Pocket” with a different set of words.
In this classic song, Chrissie Hynde runs down a litany of things that she is going to do, just to get the attention of a man that’s caught her eyes. Her list is substantial, to the point, and sometimes a bit confusing. For example, it’s very clear when Chrissie is going to use her arms, legs, fingers and there’s no confusion when she mentions the virtues of her style. It gets a bit curious when she states how she will use her sidestep—I guess she’s a decent dancer—but I totally thought that the last thing she was going to use was her “virgination.”
Understand, my priorities are so unbalanced at this age and my hormones are such a jumbled mess that I’m always thinking about girls, sex, and the reality that I’m still a virgin at the age of 13. “Brass In Pocket” spoke to me and it was something I could relate to. Chrissie Hynde was so into her potential beau that she was willing to sacrifice her virginity to the guy. What’s more, there’s a word for chronic virginity: virgination. Don’t bother looking it up in Merriam-Webster. That noun comes straight off the dome, motherfucker.
A few years later, I’m hanging out with a friend one Sunday afternoon, dubbing off a few of his records that I don’t have. I come across The Pretenders’ first album and realize that I don’t own a copy of it myself. I quickly load up a TDK SA-90 and begin recording.
The album is awesome—you already know this—but for a first time listener, to hear Chrissie tell you to how she’s “shittin’ bricks” and how you can “fuck off,” is one of the most amazing things ever.
I notice that “Brass In Pocket” is on the album. Side two. But on side one, it’s hard to believe how the chick that’s letting dudes show her “what that hole is for” is the same chick that’s going to give up her “virgination” in about twenty minutes.
It is at this moment that I start to ponder, “I don’t think ‘virgination’ is even a real word.”
I turn the record over and begin recording side two. I grab the album sleeve and begin looking for the words to “Brass In Pocket.”
It’s not there.
My friend’s doing something else, so I decide to see how ridiculous my misinterpretation may be. I was also hoping to see if, just maybe, there were others that held equally poor lyric deciphering with this particular Pretenders song.
The song begins. I clearly hear my error on this playback.
“You know,” I gingerly begin, “for years I thought that she was saying ‘gonna use my, my, my virgination’ on ‘Brass In Pocket.'”
“What?” my friend asks, only halfway paying attention to my confession.
“I thought she said ‘virgination’ instead of ‘imagination’ on the words to ‘Brass In Pocket,'” I offer again, more desperate for an acknowledgement than the first time.
My friend only gives a slight chuckle before going back to whatever he was doing before, remaining silent about my stunning admission.
I did not give up completely. I brought the cassette with me one night while my girlfriend and I cruised up and down Main Street in my hometown. I put in the tape and we began an endless monotony of weekend cruising, occasionally drifting off course into the neighborhoods just to change the scenery.
When the cassette began to play “Brass In Pocket,” my girlfriend began singing.
“Got brass…in pocket.”
She made it all the way to the chorus before I realized that she knew every goddamn word to this song.
I finally had to fess up.
“You know,” I began, “when this song first came out, I thought she said that she was going to use her ‘virgination’.
“What?” she stopped singing and looked at me for clarification.
“It was on the radio,” I offered, thinking that maybe by including the radio as an excuse, it would somehow explain how I could completely fuck up a lyric so bad.
I went over the gonna use my arm, legs, style, side step and fingers before giving another “gonna use my, my, my…virgination” for illustrative purposes.
My girlfriend immediately started laughing at me.
“Virgination?!” she repeated hysterically. “That’s not even a word!”
The Pretenders is one of my all time favorite albums. As soon as I ran across the deluxe edition in Best Buy, I knew how I’d be using my Reward Zone award. After looking at the bonus material (the deluxe edition comes with the Extended Play e.p. and a bunch of demo takes) it became clear that I needed to put my coupon towards an album that I already “had” twice before.
The material’s great, obviously, the sound quality is improved, and I’m listening to it with both fresh and experienced ears. I know the correct lyrics, but I haven’t forgotten my first assumptions. Occasionally, when “Brass In Pocket” finds its way through my speakers, I’ll belt out the “original” lyrics in a humorous acknowledgement of my most notable mondegreen. It represents a time when hormones, sexual exploration and the lack of a lyric sheet all helped to fuel my first case of embarrassing lyrical ignorance.