Friday, June 13, 2008


There’s a picture making the rounds online, maybe you’ve seen it. A road crew in Stockton, CA installed a brand spanking new red STOP sign, and then, to go with it, they painted the same word in big white letters on the road. Only they spelled it wrong. It was quickly corrected of course, but not before someone took a picture so we can all have a good laugh at their expense. Some of us wonder about the ethics of laughing, because some of us (and by that I mean me) have what’s known as dyscalculia, which is a little like dyslexia, only with numbers and spatial directions (putting together IKEA stuff is hellish torture). I’ve also been known to swap out a few words or letters here and there, too, so I sometimes tell people I’m dyslexic. Technically speaking, the two disorders are close cousins, and not actually interchangeable, but dyscalculia is neither easy nor fun to pronounce (dis-cal-KYOOL-e-yah is pretty close to it), and everybody’s heard of dyslexia, so I kind of fudge things. Does that entitle me to laugh at the Stockton road crew, or should I feel guilty? Well, too late, anyway. To make up for it, let me share about one of my personal musical miscues.

Chicago, “25 or 6 to 4” (really great video, BTW!) Part of the trouble I had with this song is that I only heard it on the radio, but I never owned a copy. Back in 1970 I was a struggling student with no discretionary income, so even though I liked it, it was not a time in life when I was adding to my record collection. Thus, when I heard the lyrics, I was mystified, because I thought he was singing “25 or 624.” What the heck does that mean? Was he trying to reconstruct the combination to a lock? Or was it some kind of weird, sinister code? Or, like John Lennon (see previous post) was he just messing with my head? Turns out I wasn’t the only one who was confused by these lyrics (oh sure, suddenly it’s cool to be dyslexic!!) It caused quite a stir, and spawned lots of interpretations. Here’s a short quote from Wikipedia:

Chicago fans have long argued about the meaning of the song. When it was released, there was speculation that the lyrics were drug-related; but the same thing was said about many songs in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the rumor has been largely dismissed. Lamm himself says that the title is "just a reference to the time of day," and that "the song is about writing a song. It's not mystical." The time of day in reference is 3:35 AM (or 3:34 AM), which would then be 25 (or 26) minutes to 4 AM. Lamm was not above perpetuating the mythology of the song, though. In one interview, he referred to the song title as "a cricket score."

Well, I don’t know how cricket is scored, but it’s obvious that Robert Lamm didn’t have a digital clock, or the whole song would have been very different. I also discovered that in 2005, a fellow named Jonathan Coulton wrote and recorded a song called, “When I’m 25 or 64” which kind of splices the Chicago song with The Beatles “When I’m 64.” Talk about confusing the situation, stuff like that should be allowed! I’m kidding...and in fact I have learned to compensate for my numerical short-comings. But I can still give cellist Yo-Yo Ma the old switcheroo if I’m not careful.

1 comment:

ellyodd said...

If you ever want to talk to other dyscalculics, go to :)