• Stephen Balogh

Inversion of meaning from mental indentation


I’m going to try hard – and, with your help, pledge to succeed – in seeking out diverse sources of idea kernels from time and place for blog entries. But I’m about to make my job of diversity slightly harder by citing a second 1980s pop song (see https://www.baloghblog.uk/post/19-in-85).

In passing, I am also starting to realise that the task of headline writing, traditionally conferred on subeditors of which I currently have none, can make or break an article, especially if it is too clever by half.

Howard Jones, a pop artist still going strong nearly four decades on, had his first hit in 1983 with “New Song”. The chorus is as follows:

Don't crack up

Bend your brain

See both sides

Throw off your mental chains

If you already know the song, it will inevitably be going round your head for the rest of the day, so catchy is it. If not, look it up and join the club.

Jones’s explanation for the lyrics in this song centred on his experience of working in a factory whilst trying to break into the music industry and in his terms fundamentally a paean to positive individual thinking – although inevitably some commentators solemnly claim it as a musical version of the Communist Manifesto.

In my shifts at a Waitrose warehouse at the time (starting salary £1.12½ an hour, for which I was very grateful) I tended to let my mind wander whilst shifting around boxes of frozen minted peas and, among other things, played mental word games with syntax to change the meaning. This particular chorus was a gift because a simple indentation turned it on its head from the second line onwards, viz.

Don’t …

… crack up

… bend your brain

… see both sides

… throw off your mental chains

Harmless fun, indeed. But in reflecting on our contemporary world, one of the things I subjectively observe does actually epitomise these very things: a tendency to settle on particular standard perspectives, perhaps along the lines of dominant conventional wisdom, without actively challenging oneself to explore alternatives.

In that respect, Howard Jones’s song remains an anthem for our times and a calling cry for us all to practice being more curious, even though it costs mental effort to do so.

Then again, perhaps this whole article, not just the headline, is too clever by half.

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