Monday, October 4, 2010

Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers

There are many misunderstood lyrics in rock music. While some musicians are very deliberate at making sure that their lyrics are understood, rock singers often do not focus on annunciation as part of their craft resulting in misunderstood lyrics or simply words aren’t understood at all.
Most of the time, this doesn’t really bother me. I’m used to looking up Springsteen and Rolling Stones lyrics to make sense of the meaning in their songs. However there is one example, one instance in which a misunderstood lyric had a profound effect on my identity: “Secret Agent Man.”

When I was in elementary school my dad would often pick me up from school and he would always be listening to Oldies stations (which is one reason I love pop music the way I do). Now I don’t know if he was serious or joking when he told me that this particular song about a spy was named “Secret Asian Man.”

Now in my elementary school brain somehow it made sense. Could you really blame me? Look, there is no hint of an ending “t” syllable when Rivers sings the chorus, AT ALL. Asian people can do spy-like James Bond stuff too. So why not? This is a song about an Asian James Bond character who was “secret” as well as a “man,” hence “Secret Asian Man.”

This connected with one of the other culturally experiences I shared with my dad, watching James Bond movies. I loved watching these films with my father and whenever marathons were on the television, we were all over it. Now, James Bond was of course, never Asian, but a lot of bad guys were like that guy who through hat at people.

Connecting my childhood fantasies of being a James Bond-like spy with a song that told of an Asian James Bond cemented in my head that I, a little Asian boy, could in fact be a “Secret Asian Man.”

Unfortunately like many childhood illusions, I came to the realization that Johnny Rivers was not actually talking about an Asian spy but instead was cashing in one the 1960s spy craze by recording a song about a generic spy character.

Realizing that there was no song about an Asian spy shattered my dreams.

Johnny Rivers, you made me think that I could do something with my life, that I could be a “Secret Asian Man.” You convinced me that racial barriers could be crossed and that stereotypes could not limit my dreams. Then reality crushed the hopes of a little boy who realized that you actually didn’t believe that an Asian man could be on the Riviera one day and hide out in Bombay the next day. All you believed was that by catching on to a craze you could cash out. 

Well I hope you’re happy and that your “Secret Agent Man” money comforts you when think of all of the little Asian boys that you misled with your incoherent Southern Drawl.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Kingsley, Follow that dream! I heard Secret Asian man in the lyrics as well.. Chow Yun Fat could do it... and so can you!