John Barry: On Parody, Parity and Mondegreens

On parity, parody and mondegreens, John Barry explores the dark world of misunderstood lyrics, parody lyrics and why you shouldn’t hit him with your pet shark.

aNewDomain.net — Our John Barry digs into the rhyme, reason and mega-mondegreen collection at AMiRight.com, arguably the hugest collection of song lyric parodies, music trivia, mondegreens and misheard lyrics on the Internet today. Here’s how it works.

It’s likely that Charles Grosvenor is a candidate for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records. The category: Largest Archive of Song Lyrics Parodies.

Grosvenor, of Auburn, MA, is the creator of AMiRight.com,  a site that contains a trove of 78,000-plus parodies — and counting. A few parodies on the site are of poems: “Jabberwocky” and the Shakespearian “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet are on there, for example.

Authors of these parodies retain all rights to their work. Grosvenor merely provides them a publishing platform for lyrics. He hosts no parody recordings but he does supply links to sites that feature recorded versions of parodies.

And parodies represent just one of eight components of the site, the others being Misheard Lyrics, Music Trivia, Real Lyrics, Band Name, Wordplay, Song Name Wordplay, and Miscellaneous. Additionally, Grosvenor notes:

There are three message forums I host as part of the ‘in the 00s messageboard . Each category has several pages under it to make close to 100 sections of the site that people contribute to.’ “

So how did Grosvenor — or Chucky G,  as he’s been known to AMiRight.com contributors over the years — get so big into the business of pop culture? After all, he’s a programmer by training and trade. He explains:

I started off with a small collection of a dozen pages on a VMS hosted website. When the hosting ran out, I moved onto hosting my websites on Linux machines. My first website, in 1995, was devoted to 80s nostalgia.”

He later branched out, he says, to include nostalgia from the 70s and 90s. Continues Grosvenor:

One of the things I did was collect misheard lyrics. After a few years of collecting them, I decided the collection was big enough to warrant a site of its own.”

Misheard lyrics are also known as “mondegreens.” Per Webster: a mondegreen is “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, based on her mishearing of a Scottish ballad line: “Lady Mondegreen” for “laid him on the green.”

mondegreenbookimageMondegreens are rife in popular music:  For instance, ‘zcuse me while I kiss this guy is a common mishearing of a line from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” line: ‘Zcuse me while I kiss the sky.

Another famous misheard lyric: Hold me closer, Tony Danza. The Elton John lyrics actually are: Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer.

The latter mondegreen serves as the title of Grosvenor’s second book of misheard lyrics — that’s Hold Me Closer, Tony Danza. The first book was Hit Me With Your Pet Shark — the mondegreen from Pat Benatar’s “Hit me with your best shot.” The Hold Me Closer book, he notes, was even mentioned in a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

“A publisher contacted me out of the blue and asked me what a book might look like if I were to do one,” he recalls. “I wrote a couple sample pages and they liked them enough to ask me to write an entire book.

Image credit: Charles Grosvenor

“The first one sold close to 10,000 copies,” he says, although the second was not as successful. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other major book sales sites.

Ads on AMiRight.com don’t generate a lot of revenue either, although Grosvenor did try to make a living from ad revenue for about four months. He says:

Unfortunately ads don’t pay very well and I dislike working from home, so I decided to go back to working full time as a software engineer.”

But during that time he switched career paths from embedded system work to full-time web development.

Grosvenor was introduced to computers in a sixth-grade math class, with Apple IIe BASIC and then LOGO. But his interest began in earnest, he says, with access to a Tandy TRS-80 pocket computer. “I studied programming and graphic design in high school and even competed in a programming league,” he said. After graduating from college with a computer science degree, he got a job as  a network device manufacturer, where he was introduced to websites. Grosvenor continues:

I knew I had to have one of my own to replace the BBS I ran out of my bedroom during my high school and college years. I then added to them a little at a time over the years while working as a software engineer … Early on I had some help with graphics from a friend, but I decided to take a couple of courses in graphic design so that I could do that myself as well.”

From time to time, Grosvenor changes the design of the AMiRight.com site. All of Grosvenor’s sites are hosted on a dedicated Linux box, just as you’d expect.

It’s a labor of love …

Currently Grosvenor is juggling a full-time job with his labor of love that is the operation of AMiRight.com. He gets help from seven volunteer editors.

“They review new submissions to make sure they are on topic, they don’t duplicate other submissions, and (that they) are not spam. Each editor is responsible for a section of the site, and each is free to review that section as frequently or infrequently as he or she wishes,” he says.

“I review the parody submissions because I want to make sure those are done on a daily basis on the weekdays.” Which means he is up early enough to review the day’s submissions and post them. Most contributors come from the United States, but Sweden, Finland, the UK, and other countries are also represented in this parody pantheon.

Visitors to AMiRight.com have the option of voting one to five in three categories: Pacing, How Funny, and Overall Rating.

These are highly subjective criteria, especially the last two. Visitors also comment on parodies whose authors have given permission. Grosvenor runs parody-author statistics, as well, including the number of parodies posted. As a tribute to prolific contributor Malcolm Higgins, who died in a car crash in 2010, the number is listed in “Malcolms.” 1000 Malcolms equals 1,000 parodies, 100 equals 100 parodies and so on.

As Chucky G, Grosvenor for me truly represents a marriage of what C.P. Snow called “the two cultures.” Introduced to computer science at an early age, he made a career in software development. He then leveraged his programming expertise to create what may well be the website housing the largest collection of song parodies and mondegreens on the planet.

At least, I couldn’t find anything to suggest otherwise. And I should know. In the interest of full disclosure, a friend of mine steered me to AMiRight.com in 2004, and I have been submitting parodies, songs and occassional verses to the site since then.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m John Barry.

John Barry is a senior contributor here at aNewDomain.net. The founder of trACTION painting, John has coined such terms as: baint and skaint, referring to painting with a bicycle’s tires or painting with a rollerskate’s wheels, respectively. Read all of John’s stories on aNewDomain.net by clicking this link: here.

 

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