Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

What happens when no one’s listening?

By Bryan Stevens


“Do you hear me? Do you care?”

Those lyrics open a 1982 New Wave buried gem by the title of “Words.” 

I’m a child of the ’80s. Perhaps those who are children of the ’60s or ’70s will understand. There’s always a pop song, sometimes an obscure one, in my mental catalog that will help me sort out my thoughts.

Dale Bozzio, best known as the founder of the New Wave band Missing Persons, sang one of the group’s biggest hits, “Words,” with a quirky voice and a unique persona. Bozzio and her band are unfairly classified as one-hit wonders. Today, “Words” and some of the group’s other singles are classics of early New Age music.

That’s neither here nor there when it comes to my renewed interest in the song “Words” and its prescient lyrics. If you make it to the end of these words, at the most you’ve lost a few minutes of time over a silly song from decades ago.

Like the best of the written word, however, there are unexpected layers.

Here’s another sample from the lyrics: “What are words for when no one listens anymore? What are words for when no one listens? What are words for when no one listens? It’s no use talkin’ at all.”

Wouldn’t Bozzio have had great fun if social media had existed in the early 1980s?  Well, maybe not. That must stand out as another great thing about that decade – no internet and no Facebook. 

We can’t talk to each other these days. We don’t listen. We don’t want to listen. We go so far as to deny the true value of words. 

Words are useful. Words can express sympathy and empathy. Words can impart knowledge. Words can deliver urgent warnings, if we listen.

Words can get twisted. Words can be used to spread lies. Words can express fear and hate. Words magnify confusion, unless we take the time to think about them critically.

Here are a few more lyrics from the song: “Something has to happen to change the direction. What little filters through is giving you the wrong impression. It’s a sorry state…”

I’m not interested in arguing about how we got into our sorry state. We’re there. We’ve been there for some time now.

What happened to people who care about others? What happened to a sense of being united? People praise the heroes who won World War II as “the greatest generation.” Rightfully so. Everything I’ve read and studied about that era backs up that description. So, tell me, how have we gotten so far off course? 

It’s frustrating. As Bozzio signs in her song,  “I might as well go up and talk to a wall ’cause all the words are having no effect at all. It’s a funny thing. Am I all alone?”

I hope not. I’m looking for signs that those of us living here in this era of strange times can unite behind a common cause. Americans scrimped, saved, sacrificed and rationed to help win World War II. Already, far more Americans have died from COVID-19 than American soldiers were killed in World War II. 

But we don’t even want to wear a mask, let alone get a vaccination that could save not only our own lives but those of others.

Back to “Words” and Bozzio: “Pursue it further and another thing you’ll find: Not only are they deaf and dumb, they could be going blind, and no one notices. I think I’ll dye my hair blue.”

Someone look Bozzio up and give her some sort of award. Then ask her where she’s hidden her time machine/crystal ball.

“Media overload bombarding you with action?” Bozzio sings. “It’s getting near impossible to cause distraction. Someone answer me before I pull out the plug.”

These words have been my attempt to understand. 

I’ll close with some more “Words” lyrics: 

“My lips are moving and the sound’s coming out. The words are audible but I have my doubts that you realize what has been said. You look at me as if you’re in a daze. It’s like the feeling at the end of the page when you realize you don’t know what you just read.”

If you feel that way, it’s all right. I don’t think words are changing any minds.

These words are just my attempt to remind myself later that I tried to use words to help.

“So tell me what are words for?”

“Do you care?” 

The words of Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible put it another way: “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”