Help! by
(12 Stories)

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‘Help’ was the first song on a reel-to-reel tape of Beatles songs that I received from a neighborhood kid who, at 14, seemed to know everything about the ways of the world while I, at 10, knew so little. Told that this was the best music ever made, I played that tape over and over in my bedroom while lying in the dark, trying to decipher the lyrics of such nonsensical songs like ‘Obladi Oblada’ and ‘The Walrus.’ I had just started English as a second language in my 5th grade class, and the Beatles’ lyrics seemed to hold the keys to a whole new world, a world I was eager to explore once I would be old enough to travel outside of Germany.

The Beatles provide a (somewhat) useful language lesson.

But without accompanying liner notes, I often misunderstood their singing. For many years I thought that the song ‘Can’t buy me love’ was a sad song about a boy named Bobby who couldn’t find a girlfriend to love. To my untrained ears, the title sounded like ‘Can’t Bobby love?’ Not until many years later when I bought the Beatles’ Red Album and saw the song’s title did I realize my error. But by then I was living in Phoenix, AZ, struggling to fit in as the only foreigner in my high school, and I wished that song lyrics were the only words I misunderstood.

Profile photo of Lutz Braum Lutz Braum
Ever since I penned my first short story (a detective story) aboard a train in Germany as a 10-year-old boy, I've considered myself an aspiring writer. I still do, 40 years later. And I still enjoy the process of writing immensely, even if nobody else reads my work (but secretly I hope someone does).

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Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    This is the first story I’ve marked both “funny” and “moving,” because it mixes humor and pathos. Rock lyrics were tough for me, too, and I’m a native English speaker! I can only imagine your struggle to understand, since they mix idiom, metaphor, and unintelligibility. Poor Bobby indeed.

  2. Susan says:

    Entire books have been written and standup comedy routines performed about misheard lyrics. Let’s hear it for “There’s a Bathroom on the Right.” Oops, I mean there’s a Bad Moon on the Rise.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love that you were trying to learn English from nonsense, trippy lyrics. Sad and funny at the same time. There was a TV program when I was young called “Kids say the darndest things” and the host got kids to say or repeat silly things, often misunderstood from adults. I think this counts!

  4. Ruth Elaine says:

    I so relate to playing Beatles songs over and over in the childhood bedroom. There is indeed an entire genre which SF writer Jon Carroll calls Mondegreens, about misheard lyrics, a fun google I promise. I find it poignant that you felt like it was just you, being misunderstood and getting things wrong, when of course, we all feel like that. A great lesson set to a great album.

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