Shuffled Thoughts From the Playlist

This past week, I received word from back home that my favorite high school teacher was busted for marijuana possession. On one hand, it doesn’t surprise me as my former teacher was quite a free spirit, but on the other, it bugs me that small town cops have nothing better to do than shake down a 66-year-old man with a lighter and a dimebag.

Although I never knew my teacher used to blaze up, nor did I ever smoke with him back in the day, I used to chat with him a lot about friends, students, teachers and life in general. “D” (as his students fondly referred to him) was/is an incredibly bright, charismatic man saddled with the job of teaching kids who didn’t really share his enthusiasm for his class’s subject matter. As a teacher, he tried to make things as interesting as possible. As a person, he was so real, funny and insanely cool that I would bail on gym class to hang out with D and hear his thoughts on things… As did a lot of other students and former students.

I was pretty bummed hearing about his arrest and definitely want to write to him and wish him well. D was always very supportive of me during my high school years and just an all-around good guy. Hearing this news from back home, it made me think about my teen and college years. During those days, barring a handful of adult figures important in my life, music was a big part of getting me through rough patches.

In college, I found myself taking up the habit of indulging in the sticky-icky. Back in the day, my favorite thing that I used to do to unwind was to smoke up, kick back on my bed with my stuffed pal Sammy, plug in the headphones and crank up some music as loud as it could go. In my Purple Sticky Punge haze, I would hear subtle nuances of vocals and instrumentation in the music. Once, I thought I had heard Motley Crue speaking directly to me from the confines of their Generation Swine CD…But that’s another story. (That must have been some really good shit that night!)

It’s been almost a decade since I’ve smoked up, but I felt a tribute to D was in order. As an adult rolling up on 30 whose job piss-tests randomly, there was no way I could go back to my carefree days as an aficionado of that green goodness. I did the next best thing, however, and plugged in my headphones, grabbed Sammy, and sat back to soak in a shuffled playlist and the knowledge it brings. Reassured that with close to 8,000 songs on my iPod, this would truly be a venture into randomly uncharted territory.

Musical Musings

Kneeling at the Tree of Knowledge that is Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison”, I pondered the insightful nature of the group’s suggestion: “Never trust a big butt and a smile.” While this certainly holds true for males of the species, if this New Jack Swing classic were to be covered by females, perhaps the granule of wisdom to women would be to “never trust a pretty boy with child-bearing hips.” (True dat, BBD. True dat.)

The opening strains of Ziggy Stardust built around Mick Ronson’s iconic riff brought to mind the type of music that would be played at a grand, pre-Revolutionary era France masquerade ball held by Louis XIV on a futuristic space station. Go ahead. Play that riff in your head again and tell me that it doesn’t sound like an electrified harpsichord.

All musical musings aside on the song, I’m still lost as to what the hell “He was the nazz / With God-given ass” actually means. I don’t know what the hell a “nazz” is, but I’m grateful for the images of David Bowie’s spandex jumpsuit-clad dumper doing its androgynous bump and grind that the lyric conjures.

Even more open to interpretation is the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting On a Friend.” With a possibility of multiple meanings, the song could be an ode to either fuck buddies or bromance with its refrain of “I’m not waiting on a lady / I’m just waiting on a friend.”

In favor of the former, it could signify a weariness of dealing with bitches with baggage, giving up hope that a worthy soulmate exists; eschewing all thoughts of real love in favor of a string of slam pieces and bang maids while waiting for a true lady friend to enter the picture. Mick Jagger ain’t holdin’ his breath, but he’s certainly philosophizing about it.

On the other hand, the song could just be talking about trading war stories with an understanding friend – a monument to the sentiment of “bros before hoes,” if you will. Long before Entourage and the concept of “bromance” being entrenched in our daily vernacular, Mick and Keith were known as the Glimmer Twins. Although this terrible twosome probably could have wrung more liquor from their livers than the rank amateurs on Celebrity Rehab combined, “Waiting on a Friend” sheds some possible insight that maybe there was a lot more to Mick and Keith than just boozin’ it up — that some real deep conversations about life and love ensued in their ’70s alcohol-addled states.

Although rock fans are usually divided into two groups, split down the middle by a distinct preference for either the Beatles or the Stones (not necessarily disliking one, but merely preferring the other), Mick and company don’t get nearly as much credit for the surprisingly thought-provoking lyrical nature of some of their songs. “Waiting on a Friend” proves it.

Switching gears from introspection on the ol’ playlist, an oldie but goodie drops into earshot with Billy Idol’s “Cradle of Love.” Damn, I forgot how much this song rocked! The beauty of “Cradle of Love” is that its meaning is straight-forward and simple: Billy Idol’s gettin’ busy with hot, young chicks and it’s fucking awesome. He’s not robbing the cradle. He’s rocking it (and probably the bedposts, too). Aside from hearing a faint tinge of Elvis in Billy’s voice, there’s nothing deep or profound about this song. Its sole purpose is to be enjoyed and maybe used as a soundtrack to getting your own freak on.

From there, a newer favorite fades in through my headphones. You know it as “Mr. Brightside.” I know it as “the song that made me fall in love with The Killers.” In less than three minutes, it perfectly summarizes that awful, gnawing feeling in your stomach that you get when the guy you really, really liked that you asked out two weeks ago and who turned you down on the grounds that “Oh, I think you’re a great girl, but right now I can’t feel anything for anyone” suddenly shows up at a party at your friend’s house with his skanky, miniskirt-wearing new girlfriend and he starts dropping things and making her bend over to pick them up while making like R. Kelly and feelin’ on her booty RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!!

Not that that’s ever happened to me before. Just sayin’.

For you young whippersnappers out there experiencing heartbreak sometime after 1997, think of “Mr. Brightside” as describing the crippling emotion you feel when your ex or your crush suddenly switches their MyStalk or (Sit on my) Facebook profile status to “In a relationship”…. And you know that person they’re “in a relationship” with isn’t you.

As he proves that voyeurism (even when it’s internalized) can be a very, very bad thing, Brandon Flowers sounds just so damn beautiful and pitiful at the same time. And yet, “Mr. Brightside” has that warped sense of humor needed to get over that emotional speedbump. The part of me that has a 12-year-old boy’s sense of humor instantly fell in love with this song on the basis of the lyric: “Now they’re going to bed / And my stomach is sick / And it’s all in my head / But she’s touching his….Chest now.” The clever swerve towards another part of the body just when you thought he was going to drop a banal word like “dick” into a poetic and emotionally tortured ballad made me swoon as a gutter-minded grammarian.

From my prepubescent humor to my iPod’s own sadistic sense of humor, “Mr. Brightside” is followed by the double-whammy of “How Soon is Now” by The Smiths and Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.” On some strange level, these distinctly different songs are actually two sides of the same coin. Morrissey may rank as the Godfather of Emo with a doctorate in depression and “How Soon is Now” standing as his master thesis, but Britney knows a thing or two about heartache, too.

While Morrissey lays it all out there, Britney puts on a brave show of bravado while addressing said “Womanizer.” However, there is a single moment in the song’s breakdown where Britney drops the armor and allows herself to fall into a moment of reverie, saying “Maybe if we both lived in a different world / It would be all good and maybe I could be your girl / But we can’t / ‘Cause we don’t.” In that split second, she snaps out of it. The song is all scathing sarcasm and righteous anger, but those lines open another window to a sad, regretful backstreet. (And no, that locale is not populated by Backstreet Boys… But maybe someone who used to be N’Sync lives there.)

The dance-factor of both songs adds to their unlikely similarities, too. Go into a goth club and even 25 years later, its dance floor denizens flail their arms in that weird, Bela-Lugosi-attempts-to-Vogue sort of thing they do to the pulsating guitar wails on “How Soon is Now.” The vision if solitary goths dancing with themselves (oh-oh-oh-oh!) nails home the song’s most poignant lyric, “There’s a club if you’d like to go / You could meet somebody who really loves you / So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own / And you go home and you cry and you want to die.” It’s so direct and without any flowery language that it doesn’t get more real than that.

Conversely, go into any mainstream dance club (straight or gay) and everyone is shaking their goods to Britney’s brand of accusatory heartache. “Womanizer” is a lot more grind-worthy, but no less of a raw display of conflicted emotion.

Although its sense of humor is twisted, fortunately, my iPod has a modicum of compassion, configuring to serve up a remedy to the heavy, yet highly danceable medley of misery with a live version of Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.”

Upon closer examination, I’ve discerned that the live, Carnival of Sins version of the Crue’s geography-hopping ode to strippers everywhere is the perfect hangover recovery song. Live recordings give you all the loud you need without the pungent crispness of sound that cuts through your synapses when you’re recovering from a bender. Mick Mars’ guitar and Vince Neil’s vocals are still blisteringly brash, but mercifully muted enough to wake you up out of your hangover coma as painlessly as possible. And there’s something truly comforting about the live version with perennial teenager (and the celebrity figure I most look to for inner-spiritual guidance) Tommy Lee addressing the hot chicks in the front row. I don’t know why I find that comforting… I just do.

Ending this random playlist experiment on a bizarrely uplifting note (Who knew motorcycles and strippers could be so good for the soul!?), I wound my heaphones around my iPod, vowing I would have to do this again sometime soon. Hell, everyone should try doing this just to see what thoughts creep into your head along with some good tunes.

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