A song I love came on the car radio today and made me think about a previous post where I rhapsodized about what a fun, pretty song it is. Well, it is. And it does make me happy every time I hear it. But not quite as much as when I wrote that post. The song is Ho Hey by The Lumineers, and I’ve since realized that there’s a lot more going on in those lyrics than I grasped for a long time.

Yes, it’s the bouncy, footstomping, bubbly sound I’ve enjoyed from the first time I heard it. However. I thought then that it was simple, when in fact the deceptively bubbly surface is layered over a bedrock of crumpled heart shards. I started really paying attention when the final words kicked in, after many listens. “You’re my sweet– Ho!…hey…ho hey.” The subtle wording got me thinking about the way it went from sweetheart to sweet–ho. The juxtaposition was startling, once it occurred to me. It kept bugging me to the point that I really listened to the entire lyrics. Oh. Loving and longing, dumped for another and tinged with jaded bitterness. What a difference really listening beyond the auditory norm makes.

That little epiphany made me wonder if the layers of subtext that are written into most fiction and screenplays could account for the way a dozen people can read or watch something and have a dozen different reactions to the very same piece. I listened to that song dozens,  possibly scores considering how hooked on it I was, of times before I really understood that I’d had it all wrong.

Most people are not going to read the same book dozens of times. Even most movies top out at about the sixth rewatch, I’d imagine. People who do rewatch multiple times often say they catch something new with each viewing. Serial readers of the same book say they gain new understanding of its depths.

Make sense.

Different details woven in the intricate layers necessary to the formation of an entire tapestry can be so subtle that they become lost in the overall picture. The same must be true of written works. The more skilled the author, the more subtle the subtext.  When in the early stages of general exposure, books and movies are read or watched once and reacted to. Critics love or hate, make or break, black or white. By the time the shades of gray start being discerned by the masses, devouring something that catches their attention over and over, the object of their devotion may already be locked into hit heaven or failure prison. That’s how cult classics are born.

It may be that we think on the  surface initially, looking for quick entertainment that we gobble down like tripple buttered with not real butter theater popcorn. Then, when the subtext is done so well that it kicks in like an after burner, we start thinking in layers.

Wait, what? Maybe there’s more. Maybe another read or watch will be even better. Back to the multiplex and multipage.

Individuals glom onto different details. Tastes, interests, and moods vary. Whatever true essence waits to be distilled from one person’s creativity, having everyone really get it could take a long time. It could take forever. That’s why it’s like magic when you create something and other people get it right away. There must be people who think in the same layer patterns, so that they share the same subtle subtext language.

Perhaps not.

I’m just late night pondering the mysteries of reactions, opinions, and understanding. Every one of us is an individual, with personal context that colors the subtext of every other individual walking the earth. It’s a miracle any of us find those rare, elusive, and precious meeting of minds at all.

Ho Hey by The Lumineers Official Video

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