Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
January 28, 2022
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
This morning, as I was taking a shower, a song snippet popped into my head. I only knew the refrain, couldn’t tell you the artist who sang it or the composer who wrote it. It was just one of those random bits of information that somehow lodged in my cerebellum and then resurfaced for some inexplicable reason.
I’ve been thinking about the power of quotes and how memoirists often use them to open chapters. I often wonder what does the quote mean to the writer and how does it apply to their story? I wish they would include a paragraph or two explaining the way they interpret the quote.
I thought this might be a good quote for my memoir. It seemed quite appropriate. My intentions are good, i.e., to tell the truth. And, I’m concerned about being misunderstood, i.e., seeking revenge or trying to hurt others. But, since I didn’t know the larger context of the two lines that were now burrowing through my head like an earworm, I did some research.
The first search result was the 1965 version recorded by The Animals. Listening closely to the lyrics, it seemed the song was about a man who had gotten angry with, or perhaps violent with a woman, and was trying to apologize.
Baby, can you understand me now?
Sometimes I get a little mad
Don’t you know, no one alive can always be an angel
When things go wrong, I seem to go bad
Yikes! Was this song really about an abusive relationship? It wouldn’t be the first song about battered women. I Googled “songs about violence against women” and got a very long list.
Then, further research led to the discovery that the original recording of the song was by Nina Simone a year before The Animals’ cover.
Well If I get edgy, I want you to know
I never mean to take it out on you
Life has its problems, I get more than my share
But there’s one thing that I would never do
’Cause I love you
Oh, now don’t you know I’m human
I got my faults just like anyone
And sometimes I lie awake, alone, regretting
Some foolish thing, some sinful thing I’ve done
While The Animals were clearly a pop group, the deep, soulful rendition by Nina Simone defies categorization. Some believe the song is about her battle with bi-polar disease, others think it is a commentary on the Civil Rights movement.
Researching further still, I learned the song was composed by Horace Ott after a fight with his fiancée. At least according to Wikipedia. While I’m not accusing Mr. Ott of abuse, it seems my original instincts were not far off.
Yeah, baby, sometimes I’m so carefree
With a joy that’s hard to hide
Yeah, and other times it seems that
All I ever have is worry
And then you’re bound to see my other side
I suppose the lesson here is that a song, or a quote can mean different things to different people. We transfer individual context onto words based on our life experiences. Personally, I prefer the Nina Simone version. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.