A few weeks ago, in service of a joke, I looked up the lyrics to the Degrassi Junior High theme song ("Wake up in the morning/feeling kinda lonely/Gee, I gotta go to school"). The memory of that song, shared by pretty much any Canadian or Kevin Smith around my age, has a liturgical feel to it, a point of shared consciousness captured in the song's stacatto dada-dada-dada phrases. The lyrics start off in an anxious frame of mind, but the breathless pace doesn't give you time to dwell. And of course, by the time you get to that aspirational chorus (Everybody can succeed, all you gotta do is believe/Let's be honest with yourself, forget your fears and doubts), the anxiety dissolves away and you're left with a pleasure that is like an empty school hallway, a kind of mentholated pep-rally aftertaste of the soul.
During my search, I also dug up the lyrics to the Zit Remedy's only song, "Everybody Wants Something". The Zit Remedy (originally just The Zits) were a fictional band comprising Joey, Snake and Wheels (no drummer? Why not just go for keyboard bass?). "Everybody Wants Something" was the only song they ever wrote, sang or performed. There was something kind of brilliant about the tune; it was clunky but catchy, awkward but charming, silly but earnest - in other words, precisely the song that a group of mildly talented 15 year olds would come up with.
But when I read the lyrics, I realized that I had misheard them - that I had spent the last twenty and some years with a false idea about The Zit Remedy, Degrassi, and life itself. You think I joke, but half-remembered lyrics are little bits of linguistic RNA, binding with our memory and our ideas until they're indistinguishable from the way we think about things. They twist our minds, and we twist them in turn, exchanging and rechanging. So you can imagine (obviously) the tidal shift in my brain when I discovered that The Zit Remedy were not singing:
Everybody wants something that'll never give up
Everybody wants something that'll take your money, and never give up
But instead were singing:
Everybody wants something, they'll never give up
Everybody wants something, they'll take your money, and never give up
I'll come out and say it: my version is superior in every way. In the first place, my version does not commit a comma splice - the ugliest of all grammatical errors. Furthermore, it is not clear in the original version to whom the "they" in the second and fourth clauses refer, since "everybody" is singular. If you don't believe me, just fill in the pronouns with genuine nouns. You get results like:
Every rabbit wants a banana, forceps'll never give up
Every hairstyle wants a raven, cheeses'll take your money, and never give up
See? It's a terrible chorus after all. Even if you pick sensible nouns like person and people, there's still no rationale for the relentlessness and avarice depicted.
In my version, however, the song acquires a terrible and compelling logic that has haunted me for the last two decades. The Zit Remedy hints at a story of unquenchable desire for an elusive but powerful object, an inexhaustible, sacred thing that will certainly impoverish you - but it will never, ever give up. You will die attempting to possess it, but you never will. Instead, it will possess you.
The rest of the song is about believing in yourself and doing the best you can, darnit.