Read My Stuff, Not My Lips

cereal boxby Frank Balistreri-

“Morning Girl! Put your dreams away… And read your box of Cheerios”

When I was a kid I would read the backs of cereal boxes over and over.  There were comic strips, magic tricks, lives of famous people, interviews with athletes – I think I actually got smarter during breakfast.  My SAT scores probably benefited from my solving minute mysteries while I gobbled Trix. (You had to eat Trix fast.  The soggy mess of deflated corn balls and food coloring that Trix morphed into in about three minutes looked like pre-puked food to me.  Yecchh!) When we’re kids, we try to be, or at least dream to be, something good, and so, we read.

In the song lyric above, the girl has just lost her virginity.   ( She’s “…several ages older now,” according to the tune.) Now she’s trying to recapture her lost innocence by reading her Cheerios box.  It’s a poignant image. I hope she read a Rocky and Bullwinkle comic – the perfect meld of adult cynicism and childlike silliness.  I mean, what is adultery if not childlike? Come on! Take your clothes off and wriggle and giggle and wrestle when you’re not supposed to?  That’s ADULTery?

Serious childishness, almost sacred childishness, requires the innocence of reading and thinking it matters.  I know so many middle-aged, mixed-up people who have turned to reading.  “That’s when I was good.  That’s when I wanted to make a difference – when I used to read,” they seem to think.

So, I worry about a dearth of references to reading in modern pop music.  Remember the old Boxtops chestnut, “The Letter.”

“I don’t care how much I’ve got spend.”

“I’ve got to find my way back home again.

… ‘Cause my baby wrote me a letter.”

It such a dramatic situation.  The singer, Alex Chilton, is yelling at a ticket agent in the airport, because, if his baby wrote him a letter, it’s obviously important.  So, he needs a ticket NOW!  A love letter – that’s certified, bona fide, love.  It’s written down! It’s evidence.  He can wave it in her face and say, “You said you couldn’t live without me no more!”

Of course if she doesn’t write to you, that’s just as important…

“She gets a long letter, sends back a postcard.  Times are hard.”

In “Mexico” I used to think James Taylor said, “kind of hard,” which would mean the woman was blowing off her folks at home, who don’t want to talk on the phone.  Now it occurs to me that if the “times are hard,” maybe she can’t afford postage for a real letter.  Either way, the non-letter is meaningful.   The woman’s situation is too depressingly adult- ”Baby’s hungry and the money’s all gone” – for her to write about it.  She wants dollars, not ideas.  A feminist side note – Isn’t it too typical that the male expatriate down in Mexico is out chasing a “senorita with the eyes on fire” while the female is, seemingly dealing with single-parenthood.  Women, look for the guy who wants to read “Love Letters Straight From Your Heart,” and dump the guy who wants to take you to the Bahamas (Come on pretty mama!)  If the guy calls you “pretty mama,” and you don’t detect an abandonment, your sincerity meter is on the fritz.

Think about poor Elvis, as long as we’re all about love letters!  When his girlfriend marked his letter “Return To Sender,” she was basically telling him to grow up and move on.  He obsesses about the mailman who put the letter “…in his sack “ and “Bright and early next morning” brought it back.  But Pelvis, if she won’t read your stuff, she’s just not that into you! Dumb girl, all those Cadillacs you could have driven!  Or Callidacs if you’re so dyslexic that you can’t read a letter from a rockabilly!  (Why doesn’t somebody build a 1959 Callidac?  Put the fins in the front and the grinning grill in the back…… I digress.)

Maybe the woman was smart, though.  I’ve noticed that the people who write in songs aren’t as noble as the people who read.  The Eagles point out that “The letter that you wrote me made me stop and wonder why,” when a girl tries to break up with them.  (Them? Was it a groupie who had to eat her lunch all by herself?)  In a Randy Newman song, a guy goes out to the park, brings some paper along, and writes, “We’re Rednecks!  We don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground.”  Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book” is acclaimed as one of his best, but his book seems to be about how a girl he has the hots for is letting strange hands under her sweater.  In fact, he has a dozen songs about that.  Another Elvis – another jilted rock star.

Hey!  I’m writing instead of reading.  I’m ignoble, ignominious and three or four other igs by my own standards, which are few.  Check out the link below to see what cereal box reading is all about.  Maybe you can reclaim your lost innocence.


Posted by at March 23, 2012
Filed in category: Culture, Songbyrds,

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