It was 1977 and the Manfred Mann Earth Band was Blinded by the Light. I was ten and the lyrics were nonsense to kids and adults everywhere, but it didn’t really matter. We sang that song and danced together like a bunch of idiots, and shouted that one particular word so loudly – you know – the one that was supposed to be deuce, but it came out sounding much more like something else; something that was tantalizing and oh-so-scandalous for a pre-pubescent mind.
To this day, I’m not even sure what the lyrics meant, but that anthem played out that long summer of my youth. Manfred Mann probably didn't know what they meant either because, what few knew at the time, was that Blinded by the Light was actually a song re-done. The words were the same and the music sort of close, but the actual songwriter was an artist who was well on his way to becoming critically acclaimed and much more famous than Manfred Mann and his Earth Band would ever be.
His name was Bruce Springsteen. He knew what the lyrics meant.
His original version of Blinded by the Light was a bit more disjointed and folksy and not as well received. It was his first release from his very first album. The song was a stream of consciousness sort of tribute to his life thus far, and though it made sense to him, maybe the general public just didn’t get it. So, while it went to # 1 for Manfred Mann four years later, in 1973 it didn’t even make it to the charts for the Boss. It could be that the Manfred Mann version fit the times better, or they were more catchy with their arrangement, but any way you look at it, this was Springsteen’s first shot out of the box and he fell flat on his face. But, thankfully, the artist would soon emerge, and he would rarely taste that dirt again. Just as cream rises to the top, so would the world know that this particular songwriter could not go unnoticed for long.
And while he was rising, the Manfred Mann Earth Band started to fade into obscurity. Their version of the song endures, sure, but most can't recall any original work of theirs that put them in the same league with other greats.
This got me to thinking, which is a dangerous thing, I know. There’s a song that was written long ago and many of us dance to it, in one way or another. It’s a familiar tune, but someone always tries to improve upon it and in subtle and not so subtle ways, he or she calls it their own, and sometimes, even turns it into a hit. Could be that this particular someone makes it more catchy, to fit the times better, and it connects with a more modern audience.
Nothing wrong with that. In fact, sometimes a modern rendition endures.
Whatever the latest version may be, though, we sing along with it like a bunch of idiots and sometimes lose sight of what the actual lyrics mean. The music is sort of close to the original, but we’re butchering some of the words, sometimes to the point that they tantalize and excite us into a frenzy.
Now, far be it from me to draw any similarities between the Boss and Jesus, but you see where I’m going with this. Regardless of how we mix up the message and the music and try to make it better for listening ears, the true songwriter will rise. In fact, his lyrics make perfect sense to him as a stream of consciousness tribute to a perfect life, and if we try to improve upon them, we may know some success for a time, but we’ll eventually fade away into obscurity.
Does the more modern adaptation help us get it? I hope so. Just so we eventually know that the song is re-done, and the true Artist is on his way to becoming more famous than we’ll ever be.