Larry, don't be disappointed ... awwww :)
Just think about how many lyrics basically say "get up and dance", "I wanna get nasty with you", "boo hoo you left me" etc. They hit the spot if you are in that dancing / bonking / maudlin frame of mind at the time but to me it seems so formulaic at times, like a production line rather than a real slice of the human condition. Still, if the music is cool and - as you say - complementary to the vocal delivery and lyrics then it really can work, triteness and all.
This doesn't take away the well-made points you made about our relationship with the lyrics. Words are an element of a song like any other and when you're playing it's only logical to be aware of what's going on. It's like not being aware of the keyboardist or sax player - if you're not tuned in then you might miss the opportunity to really make things work great or you might play something that clashes.
Funny thing, working with lyrics. We play Wild Is the Wind
and it's an example of a lurve song that's more poetic and evocative than trite.
Nina Simone version (jazzy and ambient - very late night jazz club scene) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiVDzTT4CbE
David Bowie version (more upbeat and dramatic) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiVDzTT4CbE
There's a part that goes "I hear the sound of mandolins" and, as a Zappa fan, I have a desperate urge to hear the pinking of a mandolin at that spot lol. Of course that's idiotic ... the idea is that the protagonist's lover's touch puts him/her into a wild reverie. So the theme here is intensity and abandon ... so I did a little dramatic roll :)
I dunno. It's tricky at times. At times it feels like it's best to play nothing at all and wait to see what compels you. If I do anything that's not quite right Glenn is pretty quick to let me know! That helps a lot.
Having said that, I'll be buggered if I can make out enough lyrics of many songs to understand the meaning and, as I say, when I eventually find out the words it's often an anti-climax. But it's been a looong time since I hung out at a bar, hoping to be picked up so that discounts me from relating to a lot of lyrics.