Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cheesy Songs, Strong Emotions


“I'll really miss ur talks about Pink Floyd, The Who and other stupid rock bands that don't affect my life in any way,” wrote Gloria in my goodbye journal. (Not the only double-edged comment – Susie's hilariously deadpan entry kind of makes me want to track her down on Facebook: “Good luck, not like you'll need it. Remember me when you're famous and I'll miss your intelligent jokes. Not.” In Nairobi, the nineties evidently didn't end until after 2002.)

Stupid it may have been, but my childhood love of dad-rock – not to mention my obnoxious habit, attested in Katy's goodbye note, of responding to the question “how's it going?” with “33rpm” has gained me a decent amount of cred over the years, as my coevals cringe at the memory of Backstreet Boys CDs past, and wish their pre-teen selves had liked bands as unembarrassing as The Who. I, however, rather wish I could participate in the collective cultural nostalgia for the nineties. Being a twenty-something who only knows three Spice Girls songs, two of them from school choir performances (TRUE FACT), can be lonely.

It's easy to like good music when you're unhappy. Nobody liked the Spice Girls in isolation. You liked them with your friends – ideally your posse of five, so that each of you could pick a Spice Girl to “Wannabe”*. If you didn't have friends, why would you listen to the Spice Girls?

*Ho ho! See what I did there?

I'm certainly not immune to the inverse correlation between amount of serotonin flowing and quality of music enjoyed. When I've been happy, and especially when I've been in a new relationship, I've imprinted emotionally on some awful dreck.

Exhibit A: LMNT's “Juliet”. I basically love this song. To my ears, it is a perfect slice of bubblegum cheesecake. I love that it apparently predates texting (“I've tried to page you twice”); I love that it completely misinterprets Romeo & Juliet as a totally awesome love story that should be emulated (though admittedly that misconception is so pervasive in popular culture as to be hardly worth remarking on); and I LOVE the utterly ridiculous gear change after the middle eight. Really, it is an unexceptional, justly-forgotten four minutes of turn-of-the-century boy-band silliness; but in my need for a little piece of aural happiness, something to express the regressing-to-adolescence giddiness of falling in love (“Every time I see you pass in my homeroom class makes my heart beat fast”), I happened on this particular nonsense, and now it is forever entwined with that period of my life and all the related emotions.

My only real criterion for a meaningful love song is that it be fresh. Obviously, the classic love songs of my childhood still speak to me, but they'll always be more about me than about anyone I fall in love with. For a song to have that especial one-time-only resonance, it must be free of all prior emotional weight for me. Something I wouldn't normally like is ideal for this purpose, because the sad and bitter end of the relationship will actually be a relief to the part of me that has musical taste and discernment.

We're about to go to quite a dark place with this. Bear with me.

This is something I haven't admitted to anyone before (except a neat girl I met at a house party last year in Haringey. If you're out there, get in touch! You worried you'd offended me by saying Willow/Oz is better than Willow/Tara. You're wrong, but we can still be friends!), but during my last relationship I used to listen to, well, certainly one of the five worst songs ever written.

Brace yourself.

Exhibit B: Blessid Union of Souls, “Hey Leonardo”.

Everything about that is just exquisitely awful, like an exact replica of Michelangelo's David sculpted from crap. Musically, of course, it's drivel, but it's the lyrics that really drive the song to Horrorville. They are lazy: the rhymes are half-hearted at best, and at one point the singer sighs rather than finish a line. And, oh God, they are so painfully dated! “She's phat like Cindy Crawford” is an actual line in an actual recorded song. I'll cop to a soft spot for anything that namedrops Fargo, though isn't it weird that one of the five worst songs ever written mentions one of the five best movies ever made?

However, there are two specific moments that instantaneously elevate this song to the peak of the highest mountain in the Himalayas of Suck.

  1. The couplet:
    “Not because I sing like Pavarotti
    Or because I'm such a hottie”
    Truly, Shakespeare missed a trick, leaving that one out of “O what a rogue and peasant slave am I”.

  2. The wacky sound effect following the mention of DVDs. 'Cause DVDs are futuristic, yo!

The really awful thing about this song, though, is that it reminds me of a particular person and the barrel of associated emotions. And I know exactly what will happen: one day I will be at a party, and I will have drunk a little too much, and some joker will put this song on. The room will fill with shouts of derision, and at first I will join in, but by the time the song attempts to rhyme “Tyson Beckford” with “Robert Redford” I will be in floods of tears.

Even knowing all the lyrics to Dark Side of the Moon before the age of twelve won't restore my cred after that.

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