I’m not much into radio.  As if the commercials, traffic and weather reports weren’t tedious enough, the DJs blither away as though the audience tuned in just to hear their brain-dead banter, when in fact they (the audience) suffer through it in the vain hope that they (the DJs) will play the long version of American Pie.  Much like you, dear readers, suffered through that last sentence in the vain hope that I could wend my way through it without using parenthetical helpers to make the subjects, verbs and objects agree.  Alas, I could not.


But lately I’ve been bored with my CD collection and so, in musical desperation, turned on the radio in my van.  I’m sorry to report that Seattle has nothing resembling a blues station.  And I’m disheartened to report that in the absence of a blues station, my advanced state of chronology impels me to listen exclusively to “classic rock.”   


That’s how I came to be singing along to A Horse With No Name this evening while I headed out into the dark night to retrieve Tigger from her social engagement.  And while I drove and sang, I thought to myself, “Self, what does this stupid song mean?”


On the first part of the journey
 I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds
 and rocks and things.
There was sand and hills and rings.
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
 and a sky with no clouds.
The heat was hot
 and the ground was dry
 but the air was full of sound.


Ok, we’re traipsing through the desert.  So what?  When I got home I googled the song, thinking that perhaps reading the lyrics would explain to me why:


I've been through the desert
 on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert,
 you can remember your name
'cause there ain't no one
 for to give you no pain.


Not only did I not find an answer, I stumbled upon a classic rock mystery.  See, some web sites printed the lyrics just as I heard them.  But others printed this:


In the desert you can’t remember your name


Can’t?  It’s can’t?  But why?  Why can’t you remember your name in the desert?  Is it because you’re delirious with thirst and heat stroke?  Is your name a mirage?


After two days in the desert sun
 my skin began to turn red.
After three days in the desert sun
 I was looking at a river bed.
And the story it told of a river that flowed
 made me sad to think it was dead.


Wait, it took two days in the desert before you developed a sunburn?  What is your skin made of, polycarbonate?


After nine days, I let the horse run free
 'cause the desert had turned to sea.
There were plants and birds
 and rocks and things.
There was sand and hills and rings.
The ocean is a desert
 with its life underground
 and a perfect disguise above.
Under the city
 lies a heart made of ground
 but the humans will give no love.


Did you hear that, humans?  You’re givin’ no love!  Give the desert some love, man.  Maybe then the horse will have a name.  And the singer will remember his name, or forget his name, whichever version he prefers.


You listen.  Can or can’t? 




19 thoughts on “W-OLD SEATTLE

  1. I always thought it was “In the desert, you can’t remember your name.  Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no name.”  Which contextually makes perfect sense.Mozart and the Whale had a bit of a sappy ending, but it’s Hollywood.  Everyone’s happy in the end.

  2. I have been lovin’ America since high school, and have always sung it “can” remember your name!
       I always interpreted it as one of those Calilfornia, I’m high,  let’s put in whatever rhymes next and drive intellectuals crazy for decades afterward, rock songs. Lyrics make a lot more sense to me that way. Incense and peppermints. I rest my case.

  3. Yes, I’m certain one of the verses is “cause there ain’t no one for to give you no name,” which means “can’t.”  Plus, you know, you don’t need a name in the desert, because the horse can’t talk.  Or CAN he?

  4. I’ve loved that song for years.  It’s always been “In the desert you can remember your name, cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”   That last line is probably  the worst configuration of lyrics in the history of songwriting, but it’s still a good song!  I also love Ventura Highway!

  5. This is probably why you should not listen to the radio, mon amie.  But I confess, my curiosity was piqued, so I put on my research weasel hat and found this dubious but entertaining reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Horse_with_No_Name.  I always thought it was “can” and “pain,” which actually does make sense – no one to hassle you in the desert, no stress (except the sunburn), so it’s easier to remember your name. Or something like that. From the liner notes (reportedly) (http://www.accessbackstage.com/america/song/song005.htm): 
    A tune as famous as this one deserves a detailed explanation, though Bunnell suggests that its meaning has evolved over time: “I was messing around with some open tunings–I tuned the A string way down to an E, and I found this little chord, and I just moved my two fingers back and forth, and the entire song came from basically three chords. I wanted to capture the imagery of the desert, because I was sitting in this room in England, and it was rainy. The rain was starting to get to us, and I wanted to capture the desert and the heat and the dryness.” The imagery came from Dewey’s childhood: “I had spent a good deal of time poking around in the high desert with my brother when we lived at Vandenberg Air Force Base [in California]. And we’d drive through Arizona and New Mexico. I loved the cactus and the heat. I was trying to capture the sights and sounds of the desert, and there was an environmental message at the end. But it’s grown to mean more for me. I see now that this anonymous horse was a vehicle to get me away from all the confusion and chaos of life to a peaceful, quiet place.”
    That said, I never liked it all that much. . . 

  6. Interesting. I once had a friend who was anything but reliable, but he did a lot of dope. He said the ‘horse’ referred to heroin, ‘the rain’ refers to a particular stage of either getting high or coming down, and the song was about being buzzed. However–he was higher than a kite when he told me that. Listening to that song is a long like watching 2001 Space Oddessey: sooner or later your mind taps you on the back of your head and whispers, “You know they all loved this because they were stoned…”
    Being a person who actually listened to song lyrics, that song about the horse and the deserts and the ‘rocks and things’ always drove me nuts. 

  7. Well, I loved it way back when because it WAS weird and repetitive and different and easy to sing.  We didn’t care that the singers were stoned.  WE weren’t, and we loved it anyway.
    Plus, when you’ve just gotten a guitar and you want to play something, this is THE easiest song to learn.

  8. I can get past the song’s insipidness.  I can even get past the can/can’t controversy.  But I’ve never been able to stomach the triple-negative of “‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”
    I think it parses out one of two ways:  “…there ain’t no one…” means there is someone.  That someone is is giving you no pain.  Which means you’re there with someone who isn’t hurting you. 
    Alternatively, “no one for to give you no pain” means someone who gives pain.  If there “ain’t” that someone, then you’re alone.
    Nah nah nahhhh nahnahnahnah…

  9. I was cracking up.  Yes, your name is a mirage!!!  I listened & I think it says CAN.  I take it as you can remember your name b/c no one is distracting you.  No one giving you pain is like an ex or a bad job where you just lose yourself & forget your name.  I vote for can. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s