It was a beautiful afternoon day in the middle of May 1975. The sun was stretching the days as long as it could for us, shining brilliantly onto our house as it settled to the West of our neighborhood. The Elms were drinking up as much as of that afternoon sun as they could. So were the Maples but they were constantly throwing their helicopters down for us to play with. It was the last thing the trees had to do to get our street ready for the summer.
At this time of year the sun was high enough to trick you into being late for supper. I was riding around the neighbor on my green 3-speed Huffy bike. I was taking this long afternoon to enjoy this explosion of spring. I was also testing the highest speed of my Huffy and my cornering ability. As I came up to an intersection, I would extend my foot just like a motorcyclist, to keep the bike from grounding onto the pavement. OK, it wasn’t really that close; and it was much more impressive in my own mind. After a number of these challenging corners around our neighborhood, I began meandered my way back toward our house.
From 3rd Avenue to Prairie Avenue, which paralleled Rose where we lived, I was almost home – scrapping my shoe again on the pavement as I made the turn onto Prairie. As I pedaled down Prairie, I looked to my left to a driveway because of a song I recognized. Someone was working on their car and had put a radio out on the driveway. A young man laid on his back reaching underneath the car. The singer on the radio was just getting to my favorite part of the song:
Drop of a hat she’s a Zilligen
Playful as a pussy cat
And that was what drew me to the song. I thought it was so cool that a band would use our last name in a song. I had pointed this out to my friends, they said the singer wasn’t saying ‘Zilligen‘ – that wouldn’t even make sense. But they couldn’t come up with a better answer so I insisted he was singing ‘Zilligen‘.
This wasn’t the first time I misheard the lyrics of a song. When I was a kid, as opposed to being a full twelve years old at this time, I remember a hymn my friends and I sang as “Bringing in the cheese” – instead of “bringing in the sheaves. I didn’t know it was actually wrong for months.
I’m sure mishearing song lyrics go back to ministerial times. As a kid, when you sang with all your favorite songs, it was easy to make that fateful slip into the ‘mis-heard’ lyric. And once there it was only a matter of time until your best friend or sibling caught you and humiliated you.
Sometimes you could convert your friends. My brother-in-law Phil substitutes ‘squirrels’ for ‘girls’ – and it works with many songs. The Motley Crue song – “Squirrels, Squirrels, Squirrel” started it and, for Phil impromptu karaoke sessions, the girls have been squirrels ever since. Phil has also been caught “Running With A Level” (with apologies to David Lee Roth and the Devil). Now I can’t help picturing three squirrels rocking out as Vince Neil ushers them in.
Of course there are other classic misheard lyrics. I remember in High School when AC/DC, in an effort to buy time as they replaced for the dead lead singer Bon Scott, they released an old import “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. While everyone knew the name of the song for some reason everyone was singing “dirty deed, thunder chief”.
Though my favorite misheard lyric was in college with my friends Laura and Rusty. During an evening of drinking in Rusty and Stu’s room, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ came on the radio. And while most of us were talking, apparently Laura was getting into the song and singing along when Rusty yelled, “What did you say?”
Now with all our attention on her, Laura repeated the lyrics she was singing – “Scuse me while I kiss this guy!” which drew a roar of laughter. First – it was funny, second, we were drinking. It took Laura a long time to live that down. Then again, she’s blonde so ~ you know…
Turns out, Laura’s not alone. ‘Purple Haze’ holds the distinction of being the most mis-heard lyric – according for various website I found. So why do we think Jimi Hendrix would ‘kiss a guy’? Do we think Jimi was years ahead of his times and saw the gay movement before all of us? His guitar playing was certainly years – decades – ahead.
Do those of us who hear ‘kiss this guy’ have gay tendencies? Or do we just hear what we hear without thinking what the meaning of the lyrics are? nothing more, nothing less. When others repeat them it just reinforces what we hear – whether it just simple misunderstanding or done for humor.
With the internet now lyrics are just a ‘Google-away’ for any phone; or for an app for that matter. The question is if we want to ask. Are we confident in our listening ablities? Do we really care? Does it matter? I guess it goes back to motivation. My case the misheard lyric of Queen’s ‘Killer Queen’ reinforced my love for my family’s name and how it represented me socially – from a 12 year old’s perspective.
So riding my bike down Prairie Avenue I felt re-energized from my ‘celebrity song’, I took a slight detour home by continuing down Prairie Avenue to see if my friend Jon was home or if anyone was hanging out at the West Elementary School playground. Jon wasn’t out and no one was at West playground that I could hang with so I continued home so I wouldn’t be late for Aunt Bernice’s supper.
Ah – the celebrity of being a ‘Zilligen’. I always enjoyed our last name. Visually the rhythmic mirroring of the ‘I’ double ‘L’ ‘I’ makes it appealing and fun to spell although the ‘E’ would always throw people off, particularly on the pronunciation. People would use a soft ‘G’ instead of the hard ‘G’.
And then there’s the ‘Z’ – there aren’t many cooler letters then a ‘Z’. It ways made it easier in gym class to figure out where you were supposed to line up – I was always at the end line. Rarely did I ever have to go into the second letter to see which ‘Z’ came next. But there were those rare occasions that I would run into a Zimmerman and they would claim the last spot – dammit. I always took a little pride in being last.
I remember seeing my Grandpa Zilligen’s stationary when he worked at a construction company. Seeing ‘George Zilligen’ across the top was impressive. I thought he was famous. I felt a connection to him, and to all of us, just by seeing our name on the stationary. It was very official looking and I was filled with pride. I was a Zilligen.
There was one draw back, mainly because of growing up in the late sixties/early seventies – ‘Gilligan’s Island‘. The spellings are very similar. Outside the ‘G’ and ‘A’ it was great to see on TV while I was learning to write my own name. While it was a fun show and we watch it all the time after school, it was easy for kids to mock you. That being said, it didn’t take too long to get used to it.
I’m sure all my brothers and sisters got the same treatment as me – the “hey Gilligan!” from their friends. One problem I had that they didn’t, because of my weight, was being called ‘Skipper’. Fat jokes were always harder to ‘let go’ but like anything else – over time – you did.
Another cool association we had was Godzilla. We used to go to all the Godzilla movies at the drive-in down the road. Planet of the Apes movies were also included in our SciFi movie adventures. For the record, my parents weren’t completely warped. They also took us to all the classic Disney cartoons and the Dean Jones, Fred MacMurray Disney movies, as well as Jerry Lewis. But Godzilla was ours.
More than a couple of friends would call me ‘Godzillagen’. And when they teased me about my weight as Godzilla, it didn’t seem as bad. There was nothing wrong being associated with a 400 foot monster that breathed fire and destroyed entire cities. Thus began a lifelong love of Godzilla and all giant monsters – probably most inspired by “Destroy All Monsters“. This was Jurassic Park years before it was a gleam in Spielberg’s eye.
Zilligen was a cool name but we really didn’t know much about where it came from. As kids all we really knew was that we were German. And since Mom was also German, that pretty much made us 100% German, except that some great aunt or someone was supposed to have been Irish or Scottish, which would have come from Grandma Zilligen’s side – or so I remembered.
A quick check on some ancestry websites shows that Zilligen is not a popular name. According to a number of websites we are ranked 119,644th for most popular surname. I guess that comes with the territory when you start with a ‘Z’. Most website have nothing about ‘Zilligen’. Ancestry.com has a little over 200 records on us – which isn’t much.
Dave did purchase the Zilligen Coat of Arms which came with a history of our family name. Below is a scan of what he got, interesting but a bit non-descript. Maybe someday we can do a Google search on images and see where this actually comes from:
This is what he got on the history of our family name:
The German surname Zilligen is patronymic origin, being one of those names based on the first name of the father. In this instance, the name can be traced to the popular medieval Christian name Zyriak, and the surname came to denote ‘a son of Zyriak’. Zyriak was a very popular choice amongst parents for their children in medieval times, in the days before the spread of Christianity and saints’ names began to enjoy considerable vogue. Zyriak was an Old Germanic patronym and it evoked images of the military battles and victories in the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of wars organized by European Christians from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, in order to rid the Holy Land from Islam. Many renowned Crusaders named Zyriak distinguished themselves in battle and were awarded for their military prowess. Thus in order to keep the spirit of the Crusades alive, parents named their sons after these famous warriors. In the rural parts of Germany this personal name took the form of Zyriakus and the surname which evolved from it was Zillacker. Surnames were becoming commonplace in medieval Germany as documents were being charted to chronicle the growth and decline of populations. The modern structured system of hereditary surnames had not yet evolved, therefore people adapted their surnames from the first name of their fathers. The first recorded instance of the name occurs in the ‘Freiburger Urkundenbuch’; one Conrad dictus Zillige is registered as living in Freiburg in 1284.
BLAZON OF ARMS: Quarterly, first and fourth argent a chevron gules between three escallops of the same; second and third argent a horse salient sable, bridled and saddled gules, the third reversed
CREST: The bust of a man vested argent with a headband twisted gules and argent.
I’m not sure how accurate this is but it does sound plausible. ‘Conrad dictus Zillige’ sounds like something from a Monty Python movie:
Despite ‘Conrad dictus’, growing up with ‘Zilligen’ as a last name was great. But clearly Freddie Mercury from Queen was not singing about us in their first hit ‘Killer Queen’. The correct lyric was:
Drop of a hat she’s as willing as
Playful as a pussy cat
Then momentarily out of action
Temporarily out of gas
To absolutely drive you wild, wild..
The ‘she’s as willing as’ sounded an awful lot like Zilligen. But I’m sure I’m not the only who misheard those lyrics though I am probably the only one that put as ‘Zilligen’.
Riding my bike around that beautiful spring afternoon allowed me to forget a bit of my recent past. I wasn’t as proud of my name these days. In fact, I didn’t like how it stood out either. I was feeling it was a bit tainted now. But time would heal the pain and pride would return. Because one thing about us Zilligens, we are more than just survivors, we would go beyond – beyond just living, beyond just surviving. We are strong and we are bound – to our families, to our loves and to our futures. And THAT is something to be proud of.
I just didn’t know this as I rode my bike home. And that brilliant sun was still shining on me. And as the shadows threatened to cover the rest of the asphalt of West Elementary’s play area, I steered my bike onto Rose Avenue, now only a couple of houses from home. Just in time for supper.