I think it’s fair to say that each of us can look back on our childhood(s) and remember times when we did our dang best to make sense of something, but, due to our limited understanding and experience with the world, just couldn’t put the pieces together correctly. From my own generation, for instance, it would appear that a disproportionately large number of people believed that the Hall & Oates song “Maneater” was about an actual man-eating monster, which, in our defense, wasn’t exactly wrong due to how we, as a society, conspire with one another to vilify women.
That said, I thought, for fun, I’d use this space to document what happened when the precociously super-analytical, six-year-old version of my wife/best-friend, Jordyn Bonds, encountered Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” in the early 80s. My hope is that, what has been an in-joke between her and me for the past, like, twenty years, can now be an in-joke between ALL of us.
Here’s the song:
Just to set the stage here, only months before the release of “I Want to Know What Love Is,” NBC aired its super-creepy-for-a-child “V” miniseries, which Jordyn watched in its entirety due in equal parts to (a) her ability to understand and enjoy complex, adult-level things and (b) a fairly relaxed approached to parenting.
Jordyn’s basic analysis of “I Want to Know What Love Is” was that the song is being sung by an alien who came to earth and is, for some reason, crooning his life-story to the people of our planet.
While she didn’t formally line-by-line it in an essay, there were a few key components/lyrics that she felt told the whole story. Though no single point can be taken as an indication that the lyricist is from space, taken in aggregate, I think a case can certainly be made. What follows are some of the major clues, as she has explained them to me over the years, which informed her position.
1. The band is called “Foreigner”
On its face, perhaps it’s not a smoking gun, but when considered with some of the lyrics, it’s a fairly overt (though admittedly poetic) indication that the singer is, at the very least, “not from around here.”
2. “Through the clouds I see love shine.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it takes an an adult on drugs, an adult on astrophysics, or a child to realize that you don’t have to be looking up from the earth to see through the clouds — you can also be above the clouds looking down. An important feature of this line [which pops up again later] for young Jordyn was that the narrator appears loveless, but, from where he’s sitting in space, he can see love happening on earth through the clouds. Again, not proof of anything — so far, this song could be written by a New Zealander in an airplane.
3. “I’ve traveled so far.”
“So far” can mean many things. For instance, as I write this, I want to make more tea, but the kitchen is SO FAR from my desk. What “so far” meant to a particular, imaginative young lady living in Arkansas in 1984, however, was something like “light years.” There may even have been a temporal distance; we’re talking alien technology here — everything’s on the table.
4. “I want to know what love is.”
Even for an isolated, introverted, latch-key kid whose best friends were books, a young Jordyn reasoned that no sentient earthling could not know what love is. Like, saying that you don’t feel loved or you don’t love someone anymore? That wasn’t what was going on here. This is someone overtly admitting to not knowing what love is in the same way that I don’t know what the “Phragmén–Lindelöf principle” is.*
5. “I’m feeling so much love.”
This is maybe my favorite piece of her analysis. Clearly, the person singing this song is a native speaker of English. The wording of this line, however, stood out to Jordyn as a construction that no native English speaker would ever employ. People say, “I love you,” or “He was a loving person,” or “this room is so filled with love right now,” but no expert English user would ever seriously/earnestly attempt to communicate their feelings to another human by saying “I’m feeling so much love.”
Those are the main plot points in the story of “Why, As a Child, My Pal Thought That ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ Was Being Sung By an Alien.” A “foreigner” who is unable to understand what love is has traveled a great distance to somehow hover above the clouds, look down at the earth and all of its people loving each other while attempting to proclaim in an almost-Earthling-language that he is also capable of loving, which may or may not be true in an “If you can’t even say it right, you probably can’t do it right.” sort of way.
Related Bonus Link
It’s been a while since I’ve spent any time there, but if you haven’t checked out http://www.iusedtobelieve.com, like, you should really check it out.