The song is about the narrator and and a strange woman who says, "I'd like to poison your mind with wrong ideas that appeal to you, though I am not unkind." The narrator reads a bunch of words faintly from her head while calling for help.
Presumably the chorus — which immediately follows this introduction — would be the "wrong ideas that appeal to you." The chorus suggests four ideas by my count:
- "There's only one thing that I know how to do well"
- You can only do "what you know how to do well"
- "Be you, be what you're like, be yourself"
- "And so I'm having a wonderful time, but I'd rather be whistling in the dark."
What is poisonous and wrong about the ideas in this chorus? Some ideas:
- (1) Sounds like a shitty thing to believe about oneself. Anyone can claim competence in breathing as well as in being what you're like.
- (2) Doing things badly is part of learning to do them well.
- (3) could be taken as pragmatically bad advice, or as asserting the existence of a True Self to be true to, which would be wrong and unhelpful.
- (4) Maybe the narrator wouldn't rather be whistling in the dark.
What does it mean in this song to be whistling in the dark? I read it as whistling in the dark rather than switching on a light. That is: It's the work of staying ignorant of what's right there in front of me. I could also read it literally—the lyrics are surreal, whistling in the dark seems appropriate enough.
Wiktionary gives two other definitions for the phrase whistling in the dark, but they don't make sense to me in this song. One is "to make a show of bravery despite one's fears." This song has fear—the narrator fears the women, hence the cry for help—but no obvious show of bravery, unless it's the reciting of the chorus that's the show of bravery. The other definition is "To speak of something despite having little knowledge of it" which fits if anything worse.
"Whistling in the dark" could mean other things in this song. I wonder what else it could mean.