Your body is a wonderland.

Ugh, gag me. Am I right?

Psych. I love that song. But I’ve also never really listened to or dwelled too much on the lyrics of the tune.

That’s just me and my relationship with lyrics. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I’ve been around music my whole life, but before I met my wife Erin, I had never thought too much about lyrics in the overall music scheme of things. I enjoy a lot of instrumental music, but until I became aware of her perspective on music I didn’t think I was completely unaware of lyrics.

For example, the John Mayer song above was one of many of his I learned to play on the guitar in 2001. “Your Body Is A Wonderland” became a radio hit later, but it’s a relatively older song he wrote in his time playing songwriter clubs in Atlanta. Back then he had a fanbase that included a lot of musicians, so sheet music and tablature for his songs was easy to access. “YBIAW” (fan shorthand) is actually fairly tricky to play and sing at the same time.

Learning John Mayer songs got me over a serious plateau in my guitar playing, and I feel a little indebted to him for that. I’m fully self-taught and have been playing for 22 years, so plateaus can, and have, developed.

John’s early playing was just simple enough for me to get through if I worked hard, and complex enough to teach me things without having a teacher present. For one thing, I learned a lot of moveable jazz chords that were all over the place in his early acoustic stuff.

But now as I think back, I’m starting to consider that the music wasn’t all that attracted me. John’s way with words is well-known. He has a poetic style to his lyrics that avoids straightforwardness, but rather dances around and implicates the understandings he wants you to receive.

It’s the honesty with which he described a time for him that also resonated with me at that moment. This solidified him as one of my all-time favorites.

Around that same time, for some people, Dave Matthews spoke the words in their hearts better than they could. I was more of a John guy, and his early words hit me.

So I’m surprised these days when I play a song for Erin and she asks if I’m trying to send her a message.

“Oh, I wasn’t listening to the words. What do they say?” This is a constant refrain from me in our house.

“It’s all about breaking up and the pain of life,” she says.

“Whoops,” I say, “I just thought the melody was good!”

Maybe I listened to lyrics only when I needed them. I certainly needed some guidance in my late teens trying to live on my own. When John riffed about a long-distance love or wrote an introspective catalog of his surroundings at midnight, for some reason I really needed to hear it.

Maybe that’s what lyrics are all about.

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