PRE-DURST

Fuck you, nu-metal. Fuck you, "modern rock." We're taking it back to when A&R agents got paid to watch David Yow knot up his weiner and I didn't know what a titty felt like.

Beastie Boys - So What’cha Want

In light of the news that Adam Yauch, AKA MCA passed away today, I’d just like to share the song and video that introduced me to the Beastie Boys. At the age I was when this song came out, in my mind, there were three types of music: crap my parents listened to, rock music, and finally R&B and Rap. At the risk of further wearing out a tired cliche, the Beastie Boys bridge a very important and significant gap in my musical vocabulary and played an important part in opening my mind to a whole new world of music.

Enough has been said elsewhere today about the type of person Yauch was, and what the Beastie Boys meant to music, so I’ll spare you any more of that here because we like to keep it light (see: awkward teenage romances and fuck jams).

I will say this: We love music. All kinds of music. For me, the Beastie Boys were a big part of that. Specifically, MCA was my favorite of the group, and not just for his musical contributions. I’m sad he’s passed, but glad he left this music and a legacy of giving the world more than just songs and being more to the world than just a musician.

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Silk: “Freak Me”

If you lived through the paradigm shift of The Internet, it is still almost beyond belief that information is so nakedly accessible — that the functional distance between you and any cell of the corpus of human knowledge can be machine-reduced to a single point. Saying this makes me sound, I am sure, like an old man dribbling mushed peas onto a Kozmo.com bib, but it is likely to be the only global sociocultural paradigm shift I’ll ever be privileged enough to experience both sides of as a conscious living being, and so I relish reliving it. 

BEAR WITH ME, sorry, I am going to talk about fuck jams in a minute. 

Because: I think the much more interesting perspective one can have of the internet—my own bias, of course—is basically the one I had of the microcomputer when I was growing up; a culture-secreting machine that was simultaneously ubiquitous and capable of magic. Technology so useful and so pervasive weirds things; that all other technology doesn’t resemble it seems utterly backwards. And so I love to look at this culture of infinite, instantaneous data retrieval from the opposite angle; to view the past as an environment in which knowledge necessarily required pursuit. 

Which can be problematic! One huge danger in rubbernecking the reverse chronology of cultural evolution, FOR EXAMPLE, is ascribing false nobility to actions which once were and are no longer standard practice. It is mind-blowing to think, in a surface-level way, that there have been millions of people who have built their own homes with their own hands — but when you get a little closer to the reality of the process you begin to understand that what it is, is merely difficult, but necessary, work. The same is true for the conception people in their late teens have now, I would imagine, about a pre-internet culture; that we were not marinating in graspable data did not make the pursuit of such romantic so much as it meant, at least in my experience, that you just speculated a whole bunch.

Where the power of naïveté came most into play, were you a pre-teen glued to the R&B station, was in the interpretation of—and here we are—the fuck jam.


SCENE THE FIRST

I’m sitting on a microbeach the size of a sedan’s shadow. I am eleven years old and have a crush the size of an exploding star on a girl whose first name and surname are synonymic. In fact, in the summer of 1992 the entire world is, basically, this girl, basketball, Nintendo, and the tiny plastic boombox I have carried with me to the microbeach. Casey Kasem is introducing the #1 song of the week, and for the first time since I’ve started listening to the radio, he sounds audibly disappointed in the title of the song. “Freak Me,” he overenunciates.

I am still sheltered enough that I haven’t yet caught on to the fact that something can be experienced by millions, and yet still be distasteful to adults, so this shakes me out of my proto-pubescent bummer reverie. “Freak Me?” I try catching the words as they ooze, perfumed, out of the speakers, and spread into the air. Something completely ineffable is fundamentally different between this and the song I’d tuned in to hear (“Jump,” by Kris Kross). I get serious. I stop mooning out over the lake and focus all of my attention — if I don’t listen with all my might at this instant, I could forever lose this song and its weird totemic power, gone to time. For the first time in memory, the boombox has edged out Nintendo for third place.

SCENE THE SECOND

I’m playing basketball by myself in the middle of the woods, where my parents live. The amount of pavement available for me to dribble on is two-thirds the size of the key and at a ten-degree angle, and every ten minutes I brick a shot so bad it careens down the driveway. The boombox is shoved up against the house, positioned in a spot I hit with relative irregularity, and is tuned to a radio station that has recently switched formats and is, unbeknownst to me, actively imprinting me with a love of the Yamaha DX7. (Good.) The DJ crossfades into “Freak Me” and it’s like a gift. “Baby don’t you understand,” I sing along, “I wanna be your next man.”

The lyrics are, in fact, “I wanna be your nasty man,” something I would not realize until 2012, maybe two weeks before I wrote this very sentence. When I realize it — and it happens not as a result of even some cursory research, but in my own head, as I’m washing the dishes — it seems momentarily impossible that it could ever be heard any other way; the “next man” interpretation requires that you ignore an entire syllable. It is only plausible, I later decide, if you are a being to whom “nasty man” is a descriptor that makes no sense, and to whom it cannot.


SO,

The internet has solved the problem of “How can I access all music, in order to select some music?” to such a spectacular degree, that it thereafter had to invent a further solution: “I cannot cognitively process my desires when wielding the power of infinite choice. Can you select some music for me?” But it can never emulate choicelessness, so anathematic is that to the stream, and that state was a perfect Petri dish for naïveté.

It is difficult to revisit the state of naïve youth, even as a memory. I have to try. First: to exist is to take in information, constantly, without the faculties to determine which information is useful, or even true. Second: that dizzying intake paints a sheen of plausibility over any self-generated notion, no matter how improbable. Third: between birth and adulthood exists a period where thoughts you have yourself are exciting by the very virtue of being yours alone, and these thoughts can metastasize into actions, which can become rituals.

Now imagine that, as this protohuman, there is a single* device in your life, this radio, which is capable of delivering to you music that you’ve never heard — music which can be yours alone. It is, for that matter, responsible for reifying your realization that music is worth paying attention to in the first place. That it is powered by choicelessness makes it not a tool, but a conduit, in the way you couldn’t call a lightning rod a lightswitch, and trying to wish specific music out of it feels religious, in a way that visiting an actual church never had. Now you are hooked; your hope structure becomes entangled with the dial.

And when a perfect song juts out and strikes you? When you hear something you must hear again? You are stuck ricocheting its memory around your insides until your radio prayer takes. Your recall of the song mutates and evolves it as you obsess over its fading chemtrails: bridges leap from one song-memory to another; a rhyme which sticks out to you was, in fact, self-generated, in the idle downtime of a long bus ride, but is now neatly bookmarked in the second verse of a pop single.

Sometimes, actually even hearing it again could feel like too much, which now sounds absolutely insane—but when you spend months clutching the onionskin-tracing of a song you had one on-the-fly pass to sketch, the actual artifact is terribly holy when it finally shows its face to you again. But often enough, when you compared the two, you’d find that the version you’d kept differed in some fundamental ways to the genuine article; sentiment and faulty recall had modulated the memory over time down another evolutionary branch.

Here in the present, I cannot claim that this is better than unlimited access to the real thing; Youtube comment tween-spam-memes go a long way towards proving that obsession symbiotically mutates to pair with new hosts. But this past habit of song-worshipping has forever intertwined real objects with this frozen iteration of myself, inseparably. Is “Freak Me” my favorite fuck jam? Unquestionably. But that is because I co-wrote it.


* We didn’t have cable yet.

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Fountains of Wayne: “Radiation Vibe”

Why do I still have to convince people how great Fountains of Wayne’s debut album is? Why is everyone immediately resort to their Pavlovian response of changing the radio station leaving whatever store they’re in when they hear “Stacy’s Mom” as soon as I mention this band? I understand the repulsion — that song is awful and it was pounded into our ears for one horrible summer. But for my money, no amount of listening to “Stacy’s Mom” could ever take away from that feeling I get when the chorus kicks in, “And now it’s time to say.. what I forgot to say. Baby, baby babyyyyy”. There’s something about the melody paired with that chord progression that I cannot fully understand in a rational way, but I know that I love it and I know that this song is perfect and if you disagree with me I will make you watch “The Wonders” on repeat.

Actually, that movie’s not so bad.

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Positive K: “I Got A Man”

This song engendered so much false bravado in my 10-year-old psyche. There I would be, in the privacy of my bedroom, this song playing back on a tape I had ordered from Columbia House not knowing that I’d actually have to, you know, eventually pay for it (Sorry, Mom), lip syncing this song and mean mugging the mirror. Having been moderately successful at getting girls to give me valentine’s up to that age, this felt like the natural next step for me: take girls away from other guys, and when the girls object, remind them that I am not trying to hear that. I knew my next move. I knew how to handle it. I got this, I thought.

When my training was complete, and the time to apply my new skills at recess arrived, I set my sights on Jackie, my longtime crush, and current girlfriend of Tyler, a friend of mine who I harbored an quiet rivalry with. He was a good guy. We both liked Notre Dame. But I was going to take his girlfriend away. Sorry, Tyler.

I approach. I clumsily recite lines from this song (“I tell ya now, I got eyes for youuuu.”). Tyler gives me a new nickname (“Zipperhead”), everyone hears it, laughs, and suddenly all that swagger from my bedroom sinks to the bottom of my Reeboks right there in the middle of the tether ball court.

I slump away +1 new nickname, and no new girlfriend.

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Zhane: “Hey Mr. DJ”

Try to listen to this and not have the best time. I dare you. 

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Deep Blue Something: “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”

"Well, he’s the lead singer in a rock band," Jeff from wardrobe said, puzzling over the pants rack. "You can’t really go wrong with leather, right?”

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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

Uhh, so Kim Basinger is dead, but still looks amazing, so instead of just doing your job and preparing her for burial, you touch her a bit inappropriately, take her corpse home and put makeup on her, make her dinner, dance with her, then dump her in the ocean when you’re done with her?

Yeah, I was a child when I saw this for the first time.

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Radiohead: “Just”

I have a friend that through some internet sleuthing discovered he was a distant relative of John Wilkes Booth. My younger brother, using the internet, managed to figure out what small town in northern Mexico our grandparents our from when this important piece of information managed to evade even our own father during his life. Thousands of people are completing college degrees out in the middle of nowhere thanks to the internet. I can track down some random clip from “3-2-1 Contact” in less time than it takes me to eat a BLT on my lunch break, of course, on the internet. If you have enough money and have reached a certain level of desperation, you can order yourself a wife from a former Soviet bloc country over the internet with minimal effort. 

Impressive, I guess. But if the internet still can’t tell me what that guy says at the end of this video, it’s basically useless. 

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Red Hot Chili Peppers - Aeroplane

I understand I may be in the minority when I say that I think the Chili Peppers really became a great band when they stopped trying to play psycho-funk music that made you think you were stuck in some kind of fever-induced nightmare. I never liked it. “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” was a great album because it was their first step away from that sound, but what helped me really give the Chili Peppers a chance was when Dave Navarro joined the band and brought a bit of the “Jane’s Addiction” guitar sound to the group. They released a couple good songs after that and have since trailed off into a steady state of recycling their own songs. Whatever, good for them, they’ve built a good career for themselves when by all accounts, they really shouldn’t have lasted this long.

Their best song is “Soul to Squeeze” from the Coneheads soundtrack, but whenever the Red Hot Chili Peppers come to mind, this is the first song that I think of. When it came out, I was just learning to play the bass. I took bass lessons twice a week at this family-owned and operated music shop a couple of towns over. My lessons were usually going over fundamentals, but every once in a while, I’d bring a song in for my instructor to teach me how to play. (I’ve already written about what lead to the end of my tutelage with this particular fellow) We spent an entire session breaking down the bass solo to this song (which is cut short in the music video, and still cut short by alternative radio today, causing me great anger), which I would play along with in the rock arena of my bedroom, simply rewinding the song back to the beginning of the solo and repeating the process ad nauseam for months on end. That was a true crowning achievement for me as a young musician, and probably also the moment when my parents realized they probably made a mistake letting me quit sports.

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Fiona Apple: “Criminal”

I. Had. The biggggest crush on Fiona Apple for about half a minute when this video came out. Everytime MTV would play it, I would sit and watch this video, a rapt, military grade level of attention, slack jawed as she writhed around on the floor, indifferent to how this video might impact my impressionable younger brother. Whatever, he’s got to learn about women sometime.

Being a fan of loud music with guitars, I wouldn’t dare confession my obsession to my friends. An affinity for Fiona Apple was something to be treated, not celebrated. I didn’t care. I kept my secret and I cherished it, 4 minutes at a time, whenever MTV would let me. 

But then I learned she was with David Blaine, and I could no longer watch this video with any sense of joy without this face popping into my brain and ruining the whole thing. 

It was probably for the best. Fiona Apple is crazy. But still: fuck off, David Blaine. Go levitate off the edge of a cliff or something. 

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