For the first ten years life, my parents were largely successful and shielding me from the wiles of pop culture. I was only familiar with classical music up until then. I had heard a little bit of country (Garth Brooks I think it was) and was not at all interested. I was unbelievably naive about all but a very narrow world of art. Then, ironically enough, on the bus to a church youth event, the driver had the radio tuned to a local pop station. I was 11 years old and starting 5th grade.

I’ll never forget it. They played “The Sign” by the Swedish group Ace of Base several times on the way to and from the hockey game or whatever it was we were going to see. The tune seems a bit cheesy looking back on it, but it had me captivated. I began listening to the radio in my bedroom in the evenings just to hear it again. And would you believe it, amidst the noise, I found other music I enjoyed too. This is all years before internet and file sharing, so the next logical step for me was to go buy an album. I remember running off in Walmart, fingering that CD with the $13.99 price tag, wondering on earth I was going to convince my mother to let me purchase it. Somehow, I must have gotten a hold of it, because I remember what came next.

Oh the horror. My parents listening to the CD. Reading through the lyrics on the liner notes. Trying to figure out what the songs where about. Seeing if they were about drugs, or sex, or gang-bangin’. Remember, this is Ace of Base we’re talkin’ about here. The high drama of “my boyfriend left me” was about as seedy as it got. I remember having to explain how the line “All that she want’s is another baby” on another one of the tracks was about how the girl is anxious to find another lover, NOT declaring some kind of serial pregnancy obsession. Really. I don’t mean to put my parents in a bad light. That’s not what this post is about and they were doing the best they could. But I’m not making that part up. It was ruled that I must get rid of the album. Actually, I can’t criticize them too much anyway – a few months later, someone had to explain to ME that Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane” really WAS about smoking marijuana.

Anyway, what bought this all to mind was another wonderful bit of verse by Billy Collins titled Introduction to Poetry:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.