Nightly Song
Musings on Songs that Strike a Chord Tonight

Dyslexic Heart by Paul Westerberg

Dyslexic Heart

By Paul Westerberg

Originally released on the soundtrack for the movie Singles, you can also find it on Besterberg: The Best of Paul Westerberg. You can see/hear the official video here. Click here for a good live version. Here’s another live version. 

Paul Westerberg’s first effort after the demise of The Replacements, “Dyslexic Heart” is a nearly pure pop rendition of boy meets girl and boys winds up confused as hell. Of course, no pop is pure after you run it through the blender that is Paul Westerberg. We get a sweet harmonica, clever lyrics, fun puns, a hook almost good enough to have you humming it, rhythms that will have you tapping your foot, a few smart alack shots and a brilliant title phrase all spun together in a shiny concoction replete with waves of nanana.

The metaphor of the dyslexic heart is hard to resist and Westerberg makes the best of it. The object of his affection slips him a napkin that leaves him asking, “Is this your name or a doctor’s eye chart?” Later she gives him a book, which he stuffs under a wobbly table leg, singing, “now my table is ready/Is this a library or bar?” Later, when frustrated trying to read her signals, he declares the almost inevitable: “my heart could use some glasses.”

What starts and ends as Westerberg’s version of shimmering pop almost detours into the realm of teenage angst when he starts singing:

You keep swayin’… what are you sayin’?
Thinking ’bout stayin’?
Or are you just playing, making passes

Westerberg’s voice and the growing cacophony of the band and lashing guitar convey the confusion and yearning this girl causes him. The song pulls up with by repeating the chorus and ending – on the album version – with a minute of na nanana na nanana na na.

 A perfect song? No. A fun, clever and infectious song? Absolutely. And that’s one version of Paul Westerberg. With fifteen solo albums, including the soundtrack to the animated Open Season (Rembmer the Mats recorded “Cruella de Ville”), Westerberg has not put out more solo albums than albums with the Replacements. He still cranks up his share of punk anarchy as well as ballads, pop songs and more recently, bluesy songs cut in his basement.  Rumor has it that he’s working on an album with Gen Campbell.

 The movie Singles, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, came out in 1982. Though done before the media hype of the Grunge explosion, the studio delayed its release until Pearl Jam and its brethren were in the news. Some of the Seattle bands contributed to the soundtrack and a few band members (Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell, etc.) made cameo appearances. Westerberg contributed two songs. In addition to “Dyslexic Heart,” he also performed “Waiting for Somebody.”

You can learn more about Paul Westerberg at his web site, Man without Ties. There is a blog dedicated to Paul Westerberg called A Good Idea Whose Time Has Come. There’s a good Replacements fan site, Skyway, with good information on Westerberg.  The New York Times published a brief essay by Westerberg on the passing of Alex Chilton:

Rock guitar players are all dead men walking. It’s only a matter of time, I tell myself as I finger my calluses. Those who fail to click with the world and society at large find safe haven in music — to sing, write songs, create, perform. Each an active art in itself that offers no promise of success, let alone happiness.

(Here’s the link, though my you may need a subscription.)


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