For years, I thought Rickie Lee Jones was singing, “Chuck Easy, Love.”
It turns out that the singer-songwriter’s 1979 hit was actually a reference to something I would have had no way of knowing back when I was eleven. Heck, it’s something I didn’t know until this year, when I googled it.
“Chuck” is one of those words with a wide range of meanings. As a kid, I knew it primarily as the second half of “woodchuck,” as in, “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.” I also knew it in the sense of “throw,” as in, “Chuck that ball to third base and tag the runner out.”
But “chuck” also had a more bodily — you might even say scatalogical — context, being part of the word “upchuck,” which means “to vomit.” News of somebody upchucking his lunch comes with a strong visual component, whether we want it to or not.
All these meanings made “Chuck Easy, Love” a mystery. Was Jones telling her lover to gnaw on a piece of wood? To toss her a football? Maybe she was holding back her lover’s hair while he or she bent over the porcelain throne, sick from eating too many perogies at the annual church festival. “Chuck easy, love” might be helpful advice to avoid projectile vomiting, in that case. (Hey, it was the ’70s, after all, and “The Exorcist” and its pea-green soup were all the rage.)
Ultimately, I reconciled the cryptic lyrics in my childhood mind by interpreting it as a girl telling a guy to take the relationship slowly. Just chuck easy, love. Sure, it made no sense, but when you’re eleven, nothing adults say makes much sense.
Later in life, when I had time to ponder the title — which was every time I couldn’t turn the dial fast enough to escape the song — I realized it couldn’t possibly be “Chuck Easy, Love.”
Possibly it was “Chucky’s In Love,” which conjured images of the homicidal little doll from the movie “Child’s Play” falling for one of his victims. There might’ve even been a movie called “Bride of Chucky,” but I’m too lazy to check. Plus, since NSA agents are monitoring all my Internet searches, I don’t want them to connect me with any VDTOs — ventriloquist dummy terrorist organizations — that might be lurking along the dark edges of the world, intent on blowing up sock-puppet theaters and ruining the pristine reputation of Howdy Doody.
But I was wrong about “Chucky” in the title too. According to that font of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, “Chuck E.’s in Love” is the official song title. It originated with a friend of Jones’s named — ta da! — Chuck E. Weiss, who moved away from Los Angeles to take up with a woman in Colorado. (This is long before marijuana was legal in the Mile High State, so it must have been true love that motivated him.) When Jones learned the news from her boyfriend, songwriter Tom Waits, he told her that “Chuck E.’s in love.” And so was born one of the most inane songs of all time.
Technically, my bungled lyric is a mondegreen, a misheard word or words in speech or song. Hence, “very close veins” is a mondegreen for “varicose veins,” and “old timer’s disease” is a mondegreen for “Alzheimer’s disease.”
One of the best-known music mondegreens is from the rock classic “Purple Haze,” when many people hear Jimi Hendrix sing, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”
So one of the great lyrical mysteries of the last thirty-odd years — “great lyrical mystery” being defined as something that puzzled me and only me — has been solved, albeit in a very humdrum way.
The romantic in me, however, will always hear Rickie Lee offering that sage bit of doggerel that, in a better, purer world, would have become the true motto of the twentieth century. It’s still good advice today: Chuck easy, love.
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Originally published July 17, 2014.