Category Archives: Previous Selves

“Mad World” — Gary Jules

“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”

I was dismayed the other day when the TV ate my VHS copy of Donnie Darko.  I’ll admit that I quoted the movie far more than was necessary in my college days.  I even found the above quote in a magazine and included it in my profile collage for arts and cultures.  I doubt, though, that I’d have made such a strong connection to the movie without its use of Gary Jules’s song “Mad World.”

“All around me are familiar faces, worn-out places, worn-out faces.

Bright and early for the daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere.

The tears are filling up their glasses, no expression, no expression.

Hide my head, I wanna drown my sorrow, no tomorrow, no tomorrow.”

The words evoke everyday-tragic images which fit neatly with the haunting melody.  Everyday-tragic, you may ask?  First, I’m an English teacher, so I’m allowed to make up words.  Shakespeare did it.  But also, what I mean is that these words are like the line from Black Guayaba’s “Ayer:” “Una lágrima suelto al suelo—un acto criminal” (a tear falls to the floor—a criminal act).  Small, meaningful, sorrowful occurrences lead to haunting images that reflect the tragedy that can be found in everyday life.  They’re smaller, more subtle tragic images . . . but they still resonate within you.  Tears coursing over expressionless, worn-out faces to fill empty glasses.  People racing about their daily routines, unaware that they accomplish very little.

In Donnie Darko, the montage of characters at night is an apt pairing for this tune.  Then, this summer, I saw the tune paired with another montage of  characters that seemed, if possible, even more perfect.  The cast of The Glee Project turned “Mad World” into a music video for their week on vulnerability.  Each of the aspiring stars had to walk through a mall with a signboard listing what made him or her most vulnerable—words like “fat,” “used,” “anorexic,” “numb,” and “gay.”  Even though the video was only a few minutes long, I wept when I watched it because it felt so real.

“And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad.

The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.

I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take.

When people run in circles, It’s a very, very mad world.”

I’ll admit to a certain fatalism when I listen to the line “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.”  I’ll also admit to listening to this song when those fatalistic thoughts run rampant; somehow, expressing them (because of course I have to sing) makes those thoughts easier to bear.

“Went to school and I was very nervous.

No one knew me, no one knew me.

Hello, teacher, tell me, what’s my lesson?

Look right through me, look right through me.”

For the most part, I was happy in school; even if I wasn’t super-popular, I had my group of friends.  Still, I felt at times like I was completely invisible.  To be honest, I still do.  This song allows me to explore those feelings of alienation and everyday tragedy but still come out unscathed at the end.

So, yes, I know it is a mad world, but in a strange way, this song reminds me that maybe I’m not alone.


Find more artists like Gary Jules at Myspace Music.

How Drum and Bass Ruined/Saved My Life

I walked into the dark, sweaty, smoky backroom in Loretta’s where Hazeus towered behind the decks bouncing a tangled mess of dreads to the roll of the ragga drums. It was love at first bass drop! (Insert every Hollywood movie cliché.) My heart skipped a beat, I had goose bumps, time froze…I was head over heels. Up until that moment I was very much into the rave scene but I loved the culture more than anything. House DJs were basically interchangeable to me and like most anything else to a 19-year-old boy, it was only a matter of time before I grew tired of it and moved on to the next “greatest thing ever.”

Drum and Bass was a completely different animal. While trance and house concentrated on simple, repetitive drums used to drive inspirational synth patterns and elevate the crowd into a sense of faux-euphoria, DnB took another approach to move the crowd.  It almost completely threw out all the pretty melodies, sped everything up nearly double time and turned its focus to… drums and bass. (duh!)  It was deep, moody, heavy and inspirational in its own way, and it was exactly what I needed in my life.

I felt empowered, important and privileged to be a part of this movement, as nearly every college kid feels about whatever it is that they are passionate about. Drum and bass quickly engulfed every aspect of my life. Nearly every CD in my car was a DJ mix, nearly every outfit in my closet was completely out-of-place anywhere but a nightclub, and every waking moment was spent thinking about the next party. Within a year the music was everything. “How can I go to class?  Tech Itch is playing tonight.” “Dom and Roland is playing Saturday. I never liked that job anyway.” “Family?  My family is at the party already.” Before I knew it I was a college dropout, unemployed and essentially homeless. I floated through life for half a decade like this and I had never been happier.

All great highs are followed by devastating lows and mine hit like a ton a bricks. I woke up one day to realize that somehow I had enlisted in the military, gotten married and become a father. What? When did I become so utterly normal? Wasn’t I special? I should’ve been someone by now. Why was I not a famous producer/DJ or at least running a record label? That was my path in life, right? I mean, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a rock star as far back as I could remember. While most boys were dreaming about being fighter pilots or firefighters, all I could picture was a stage in my future. But there I was in my mid 20s…aging early, overweight and nursing what had to be an undiagnosed case of clinical depression. I gave Drum and Bass my heart and she gave me nothing in return.

I look back now at that angry, ungrateful “man” with overwhelming embarrassment. If anything I am lucky to be alive, let alone a father to two beautiful children and a husband to a wonderful wife who stuck with me for better or WORSE. I can’t pinpoint the turning point when maturity knocked at my door. I’m just glad that it finally joined the party. It brought with it a peacefulness that I had never felt and a realization that I am anything but normal. I have seen half the world and I am nowhere near the end of my travels. I have never tucked a Hawaiian-style shirt into a pair of bermuda shorts. I have never owned sandals with Velcro straps and most importantly, I do not listen to Nickelback. I can’t be angry at DnB. In fact, I thank her for shaping me into who I am today. I really like this guy.

Drum and Bass, and more recently its offspring Dubstep, is still a huge part of who I am. I exercise to it, I dream to it, I drink to it. It is the soundtrack to a heaving handful of meaningful memories. It’s where I fell in love with the mother of my children and my partner in life. It’s playing as I write this. It will forever be a part of who I am. About a year ago I saw Dieselboy in San Diego and it was nothing short of amazing! After the show, out of nowhere, I actually shed a tear. The next morning it became clear to me that for the first time in a decade, I felt the magic again. I caught the dragon I had spent the last third of my life chasing. The music never left me out to dry and it certainly didn’t owe me anything. It has always been there — growing and evolving with me.


Find more artists like Roni Size at Myspace Music.

“6 Underground” — Sneaker Pimps

There was no way I wasn’t going to go and see The Saint as soon as it was released–I was infatuated with Val Kilmer at the time and 116 minutes of him on the big screen was something I couldn’t bear to miss. Once I heard him slur “I’m your huckleberry” the first time I saw Tombstone, well, I was a goner. So in April 1997, off to Carmike I went to see Val playing a recreated version of Simon Templar.

I can remember that the reviews of The Saint weren’t all that great, but I didn’t care. I really enjoyed watching Val the movie. I used to have a VHS copy and I’ll still watch it once in a while if it happens to be on HBO or OnDemand. I also loved the music that was incorporated into the film, so I bought a copy of the soundtrack shortly after seeing it in the theater.

That CD lived in my car from 1997-1999, and for the last half of my senior year of high school I found myself constantly putting “6 Underground” by the Sneaker Pimps on repeat. I was mesmerized by how the combination of the piano motif (which was sampled from the Goldfinger score), Kelli Dayton‘s sexy vocals and everything else that made up that song sounded just like I felt.

I’ve got a head full of drought, down here…

It isn’t an easy feeling to verbalize, but the word that comes to mind is bored. Not the “wowthereisnothingontvtonight” variety. I’m talking about the “whydoeseverythingfeelsoemptyandpointless” type. Perhaps bored isn’t the word. Hmmm… stifled? Smothered? Trapped? Maybe those are better.

Anyway, that’s how I felt for the last few months of my senior year. I hid it well (I think) but I was damn sick of everything. I was tired of the persona I was wearing: smart, straight-laced, predictable. I wanted to reinvent myself. I wanted to be reckless, mysterious, alluring. I think that’s why the line “I’m open to falling from grace” resonated with me.

If you do a little reading online, you’ll find many interpretations of the “6 Underground” lyrics. Some believe it is about a prostitute. Some believe it is about being in the grips of a drug addiction. Some believe it is about dying.

I’ll be honest: I don’t have a clue as to whether any of those suggested meanings are correct. I guess I never really heard the song as a narrative. I don’t think it tells a story, exactly, but I do think it captures a feeling of dissatisfaction and that was something I could relate to at the time. The words are dark and I liked that, because I was so over being a *good* girl (whatever that means) and I desperately wanted to break out of that role. “6 Underground” was a great place for me to go to process and try to figure out those feelings, strange and frightening as they were. It was a song that was all about wanting to go a different way, to be a different way. Maybe that way wasn’t the *right* way (again, whatever that means), but to me it promised the excitement of new experiences, new people, and a new scene. And, you know, I guess I just really wanted to misbehave.

After graduation and during college, I was finally able to take off my good girl hat–at least some of the time anyway. I was never brave (or stupid?) enough to push the limits as far as I imagined in my high school dreams, but I did have a bit of fun and I escaped it all with minimal damage. I suppose I was lucky since I know that not everyone who makes similar choices comes out okay on the other side. But I did. And it was awesome.


Find more artists like Sneaker Pimps at Myspace Music.

“Someday You Will Be Loved” — Death Cab for Cutie

In the morning I fled

Left a note and it read

Someday you will be loved.

Death Cab for Cutie consistently create amazing music and lyrics. This song, like so many of their works, uses simple words to convey powerful feelings. This power of the simple, combined with the vocals and composition, gels into a song that is haunting, emotional, beautiful.

That said, this is not my favorite song. It can’t be.

I don’t listen to it very often. I can’t.

When I do listen to it, I don’t connect much with the *speaker* of the lyrics. Instead, I think of the girl he sings about. In my mind, she is the girl I used to be: my middle school and high school self.

I like that girl. She’s really pretty cool. She knows how to have fun, she’s intelligent, she’s cute, and she makes people laugh. But in spite of all that, I can’t hang out with her too often because she breaks my freaking heart.

Her tragic flaw is that she bases about 90% of her self-worth upon whether or not she has a boy’s attention. This is a dangerous game to play, especially if you aren’t the most emotionally stable kid on the block. And she isn’t.

In this game, she can’t win. So instead she loses. Every single time.

There are lots of reasons for why she’s like this, reasons that aren’t that interesting to me anymore. The *why* of it isn’t the point, anyway. The point is the *is* of it.

Since she is cute and fun, boys do take an interest in her from time to time. When one does, she clings to this guy and tries to figure out ways to keep him interested. Inevitably, the boy one day decides that he wants to date other girls or just be single. When this happens, she can’t handle it. Her reaction is huge, irrational, broken. The hammer smashes her heart. She isn’t being fair, but she can’t see that. And the cycle happens again and again.

With a couple of exceptions, these boys aren’t *bad* guys — but they are teenagers. She is, too, but her wiring doesn’t allow her to see that school-age dating is supposed to be casual and fun. She needs it to be something else, to do something else. She needs it to fill a void. Sadly, she doesn’t understand that high school romances aren’t real or deep enough to do that.

The worst bit is that she is so fixated on obtaining and holding onto a guy’s attention (which she equates with approval), that she misses out on opportunities for some really positive teenage experiences. I don’t mean to say that she doesn’t have any positive experiences. She does. But she misses out because she can’t always appreciate them because of the control she allows this unhealthy obsession to wield over her life during these tender years. That’s really tragic, you know, because she can’t have a *do over* (unless time travel becomes a real option).

I feel an overwhelming sadness for my teenage self. She’s so wrong about so many things. But she’s also important to me. I need to remember her experiences, honor her emotions (no matter how crazy they were sometimes), and accept that she plays a crucial — maybe necessary? — role in how I *finally* woke up. (That happened in college.)

I can’t do it often, but there are times when I need to take a moment to love on this girl. I like trying to heal her wounds, because I know that I carry a part of her within me. And so, “Someday You Will Be Loved” is the vehicle I use when I need to visit her. I imagine holding her hand, wiping her eyes, brushing her hair, and telling her about all the experiences she will have that will help her to understand that she is bigger than the trivial way she measures her worth. I try to explain that in a few short years the things she’s so worried about right now won’t matter to her anymore and that she will gain a new, clearer understanding of herself. I show her pictures of the friends she will meet in college, the man she will marry, the students she will teach, the son she will have.

I stay with her for a while and then I go, and while I can never change her past, I can always acknowledge it as a part of the journey that made me who I am today. It feels nice to do that.

Oh, and that stuff I said earlier about most of those ex-boyfriends being good guys? I meant that. Really. reallyreally.

But I have to say, the guy in the song is an ass and a coward. Yeah, yeah, I know. He is saying she will be better off with someone who will love her like she deserves to be loved. Sorry, I call bullshit on that. Good intentions or not, this dude gets no respect since he essentially breaks up with this girl (who he knows is in love with him) on a Post-It.

Despicable.

And even though I know most of the guys I dated in high school weren’t total jerks, I do get a sick sort of vicarious pleasure in really hating the guy in the song (calling him inappropriate names, imagining ways to make him suffer, etc.).

I mean, geez, I’m only human.


Find more artists like Death Cab For Cutie at Myspace Music.

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