We’ve Got B.C. Why Not B.I.?
I was joking to some people younger than myself about a friend who had the most interesting ‘mishearings’ of popular but barely audible song lyrics. Michael Stipe from early R.E.M. was basically a voice made of fog. Words. [I think he was singing words.] To Stipe, the microphone was a poetification machine.
Once anyone said they liked that one song, you know the one [insert that signature way of reporting melody and music to others we all have–I’m a room-clearer]… You know the tune. It came on college radio last night. Only you had to turn the rabbit ears jimmied to the radio antenna with extra coat hanger wire.
Here, let me sing it for you…
Try it, and here I begin a (now shameful upon retrospect) rendition of “Perfect Circle” in which I vacillate from Earnest Angely levels of speaking in tongues to Jim-Morrison-on-many-redbulls (et. al.) droning on about all things hip or ‘lizard’ with spin-wheel eyes and ‘hey man’ predictability.
Was that funny?
If you had been there, you’d wonder about humor maybe. Or you’d laugh on the inside. Because on the outside, the listeners of my Michael Stipe joke are beginning to look like Friday market if you catch my drift. Get it? Friday? Fish? Remember when so many meat-buying Christian Americans helped to make eating fish on Fridays a shopping reality for everyone? Plus, there’s that old visual joke about astonished or astonishingly insipid people looking like fish for sale with mouths agape, right?
Still don’t get it?
Indeed, my joke bombed because I expect to be surrounded by people who might know just who in the hell I am talking about half the time. The resulting awkwardness has less to do with the quality of my no-chair turning vocal performance than the age-difference between myself and the audience. I’m convinced of it!
When I mention it to people my own age, I feel an instant recognition. There’s a shared urgency around the issue of the generation gap and its likely role in making our humor the stinky garbage of a younger crowd’s corner. We’re usually so winningly funny.
Proof, you say?
Proof Shpoof. I told a joke back in 1993 that some dude is still laughing at–albeit through a lip ring scar now tucked under a ZZ Top blanket of facial hair, but still–And shut up, anyways wise guy, I’m talking here. Like I was saying…
If it’s true that a word is not just a sound or a symbol or even the combination of the two, but conceptual potentiality, then the best equivalent I can see for it comes to us from a long time ago (relatively speaking) from an old American family of letters–Harriet and Catherine Beecher’s brother, who said a word is a peg to hang an idea on.
Just imagine the conceptual possibilities if we were to add to our lexicon the term B.I. and its analog (A.I.) or Before Internet and After Internet respectively. Just imagine the new coats we might hang on them?
There are whole chasms of generational miscommunication we might all stop routinely falling into if we were to adopt these terms and the potential for conceptualizing difference that they engender.
So in that song by Rage Against the Machine, when he sings:
I’m a soloist on a solo list
All live, never on a floppy disk
Or when Beyonce –I mean– Destiny’s Child sings:
You make me wanna throw my pager out the window.
Tell MCI to cut the phone poles
MCI? Nope. Just B.I. No need for confusion.
At the same time, we should always consider what might be lost as a consequence of our linguistic ambitions. What do we lose if we all start using these terms of discrimination? An assumption–even in the face of its absence–of a shared origin.
Still, most of our dearest held thoughts–the ones we call beliefs–tend to be enormous incongruities, improbable to their precious black holed-up hearts, where all laddery myths start–in miscommunication, of course, the dragon bone shop of my art.
< originally published in Crack the Spine >