Who determines the meaning of a work of art? Can a long-held erroneous interpretation of a time-honored (and thoroughly scrutinized) classic hold any weight in the greater artistic field? I offer no simple answer, though I pose an example.
Years ago my friend Adam and I would hold 30 minute dance parties in one of our dorm rooms (usually his, because he had a sweet stereo). Despite having only 30 minutes to work with each week, our playlist remained pretty consistent. The Flashdance Soundtrack was a staple of our short-lived rituals, as was Billy Idol's 'Rebel Yell.' One of the tracks off this record that always interested me was 'Flesh For Fantasy.' One part in particular always caught my attention. In the pre-chorus section of the song Billy sang (at least to my ears) the following:
Face to face, about to bite
You see and feel my sex-a-tite.
I didn't think much of it. I thought it hilarious that Billy Idol made up his own word for Sexual Appetite, and was kind of disturbed by the cannabalistic overtones it provided. I even pointed this out to my friends over the past few years whenever this song happened to surface in some grocery store or my place of employment. Well, this came up in conversation once, and a skeptical friend of mine decided to look up the lyrics. The truth be told, I had been wrong all these years. Mr. Idol was actually singing;
Face to face, back to back
You see and feel my sex attack.
I was devestated to find that I had been wrong all these years. (the blow was softened by the realization that I had in fact invented the word sex-a-tite.) I immediately started criticizing the tasteless placement of 'Sex' and 'Attack' in the same line, but I think I was just bitter.
Moving on, the first line of one of our songs is "I'm the crackin' underneath your feet." The song is about King Phillip. My friend mark thought I said "I'm the Kraken underneath your feet." Do you know what a Kraken is? It's way cooler than 'crackin'. From now on I'm saying Kraken. Or not.
What have we learned? Not a whole lot.