Category Archives: Finding Myself

“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.

“Ladder” — Joan Osborne

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFN5KP0CDGQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player%5D

I have a diag-nonsense. Two of them, actually: Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

You were probably hoping for something sexier or more exciting, like Borderline Personality Disorder or Paranoid Schizophrenia. Sorry. I agree that mine aren’t terribly interesting, but they are enough to color my view of myself and, in a certain way, how I see the world. Oh, and most of the time they annoy the shit out of me.

That said, though, sometimes I kinda dig the fact that I can say that I’m crazy and my psychiatric file can back me up on it. Is that weird? I don’t know…I guess it might be. All I know is that when I’m feeling like *embracing my crazy*, the first song I turn to is “Ladder” by Joan Osborne.

You might remember Joan from her most recognized track “One of Us“. That’s a great song, but I don’t feel it the way I feel “Ladder”. I can still remember the internal dialogue my brain engaged in the first time I heard this song. It went something like this:

(Intro)

Today and everyday….          

***Janna’s brain: Joan! I am liking that piano. Good times.

I’m standing here in your closet

Unbuttoning all your clothes

***Janna’s brain: Whoa. That’s not normal.

I sleep in your bed tonight

But I never find you home

***Janna’s brain: Hmmm…

You’re giving me crooked answers

I’m cracking your little code

I’m learning another language

So full it’s about to explode

***Janna’s brain: Aha! I think I see where you’re going with this, Joan, but let me hit the back button on my player so I can make sure I got all that.

So that’s what I did–and it made me so happy, because I was RIGHT!

If you listen to the rest of this song, you can tell it is about a woman who is still in love with a guy who is losing (or has already lost) interest in the relationship. However, she can’t shake her obsession and she’s totally fine with admitting that to herself.

Yay!

You gave me a ladder, now

I surely believe I’ll climb

It don’t even matter, now

I’m willing to take my time

I’m gonna love you anyway

Today and everyday

Okay, I’m not saying it’s healthy. I’m not even saying it’s normal…but damn, I have a hard time not loving a song that provides me with an opportunity to honor my crazy. And I feel like that’s really the point here. For whatever reason, this guy’s still got her heart. I think she knows the relationship isn’t gonna go the way she wants, but she can’t help herself. And she doubts whether she’ll ever be able to. And that’s insane!

I don’t really relate to the obsessing over a man you can’t have facet of this story (at least not now), but I totally get being obsessed with something that you can’t change or fix. See, I’ve got my own ladder–it just leads me to a different (though equally nutty) place. I’m better off when I keep my feet firmly planted on the ground of sanity. Nevertheless, I occasionally climb it anyway. My ladder might not take me anywhere that’s positive or helpful but it’s part of who I am and sometimes that urge to climb up and see how freaked out I can get about something just wins. It.just.wins! And I think I have to be okay with that.

In all seriousness, I have a good handle on my anxiety most days…but those times when I just can’t help myself, I really appreciate this song being there for me and helping me embrace my crazy. So thanks, Joan! xoxoxo!


Find more artists like Joan Osborne at Myspace Music.

“I Need Air” — Magnetic Man

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2vWQFHP3D0%5D

I first heard Magnetic Man‘s “I Need Air” in the bar at the Generator Hostel in Camden Town, London. I don’t think all songs have to be about the depth of the lyrics – there’s a simplicity here that really caught me the moment I heard it and it really stuck. I guess sometimes it’s not the lyrical genius of songs that mesmerizes us, but the feeling and moment of life that occurs during that first listen.

Perhaps it was the few drinks in me…or maybe it was the fact that it was my first time being (legally) in a bar, my first time being overseas, my first time travelling just with friends – many firsts were happening. Whatever *it* was, when that trance-y beat started I was hooked. The atmosphere in the music video is somewhat indicative of my experience – the blue lights and flashing strobes of the bar and the flying colors on the dance floor were almost too much. The music took me.

My friends and I danced, we drank, we had the time of our lives. We were 3000 miles away from home. There was an unmatched feeling there, something I’ve yet to experience since and that I’m sure awaits me again only in London or a similarly distant locale.

Electrify my body
And you’re makin me feel
Like I’m so electric
Everything you do is makin me
Blow Blow Blow

Don’t know what to do about it
Can’t see how I’d live without it
All I wanna do is just
Know Know Know

You suffocate my mind
And now my atmosphere is crowded
And you being here is makin me
Blow Blow Blow

You penetrate my space
And now I’m looking out of place
And you’re makin it hard for me
I need air!

The chaos of that experience was strange, beautiful and suffocating all at once – that constant beat was like a wave and we were dancing on top of it. The bar was a sea of blues, greens and reds. Trippy. There was a moment where the music, the colors and the atmosphere were all one.

“I Need Air” is now one of my favorite party songs — but it’s more than that. Despite the simplicity of the lyrics, there’s something to be said here: a party, a dance floor or whatever escapist venue you might find is a welcome and constantly sought-after haven from reality. And if you find that haven crowds your space, suffocates you or feels as if it is about to blow, you can find the way through with music like this. You can let yourself go.

Kaleidoscope of colours that you’re bringing me
You’re freaking out my energy
I’m loosin and you’re makin me
Low Low Low

Don’t know what to do about it
You and I can’t live without it
All I wanna do is just
Go Go Go

You smother my emotions
Now I’m drowning in your ocean
And I’m runnin and I’m feeling like
I don’t care

You penetrate my space
And now you’re looking out of place
‘Cos you’re makin this hard for me
I need air!

Those moments in London became a kaleidoscope as the colors and vibrance of the scene suddenly rushed into the dark, flashing bar where in a single moment I seemed to experience what the city was about all at once. London = *life*. You don’t need the stunning visuals of the music video to experience that kind of natural high – you just need this song, a euphoric energy, and a venue (a physical one or one created in your mind). I was totally myself when I first experienced this song and when I hear it now, I continue to feel like it’s okay for me to be who I really am and I don’t have to care whether or not anyone else approves. It was liberating.

Now that I’m back in the states, I listen to this song to immerse myself in those memories and capture that feeling of freedom once again (and again and again). Care to join me in my reverie? The formula for getting there is a simple one: turn off all your lights, play the video at full-screen and pump up the volume until the music is so eclipsing that you need air.


Find more artists like Magnetic Man at Myspace Music.

How Drum and Bass Ruined/Saved My Life

[youtube:http://youtu.be/cwI0gbGEyuI%5D

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.

“At Seventeen” — Janis Ian

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMUz2TNMvL0%5D

I don’t remember why I bought the soundtrack to Teaching Mrs. Tingle; I certainly hadn’t yet seen the movie. The disc was probably on sale at Hastings and as I knew of the movie as something daring, risqué and above all, popular, I decided to purchase it. In it, I found my home.

“At Seventeen” was originally performed by Janis Ian, but the soundtrack featured a cover by Tara MacLean. I prefer the original but both women sing with a haunting, ethereal elegance. It’s the lyrics, though, that held—and still hold—me under their spell.

I learned the truth at seventeen

That love was meant for beauty queens

And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles

Who married young and then retired”

This became my anthem. I can still see myself, literally at seventeen, ripped from the relative comfort of my hometown (where, if not exactly universally loved by the boys in my class, I was at least universally known as “that smart girl”) and placed into an overcrowded dorm hall teeming with the impossibly beautiful. To me, they seemed unapproachably perfect, leaders of lives I could only dream. It’s no accident that my Meyers-Briggs score shifted from extrovert to introvert during that first year of college. Faced with other women who appeared so much more confident, happy and special than I, I retreated into my shell. While my roommate partied, I hunched over textbooks and listened to this song on repeat.

“The valentines I never knew

The Friday-night charades of youth

Were spent on one more beautiful

At seventeen I learned the truth”

The rhetorician in me appreciates the antimetabole in lines 1 and 8. It’s a subtler form of repetition than I encounter in current songs (Justin Bieber’s sixty-four—yes, I counted, and you would too if you had to listen to it twice while chaperoning an eighth-grade dance—repetitions of the word “baby” come to mind).

“And those of us with ravaged faces

Lacking in the social graces

Desperately remained at home

Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say come dance with me

And murmured vague obscenities

It isn’t all it seems

At seventeen”

It’s easy to look back with nostalgia, isn’t it? Sometimes I long for those days, at seventeen, when the world was wide open, its realities undiscovered, a place where “vague obscenities” were all I knew to imagine because my reality was wholly innocent. This song reminds me that time has dulled the edges of my teenage angst as it has swept away the all-too-real pain, leaving only fond memories behind.

“To those of us who knew the pain

Of valentines that never came

And those whose names were never called

When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away

The world was younger than today

And dreams were all they gave for free

To ugly-duckling girls like me”

No one in my generation had to experience the first pain. After all, we were required to bring valentines to every member of the class. Remember trying to choose the non-sappy pre-printed messages for the people you simply didn’t know? I do. Besides, I’d have been absolutely grateful if my name hadn’t been called during a basketball game. Still, “The world was younger than today” because I was younger, unacquainted with the paralyzing complexities of life.

“We all play the game

When we dare

To cheat ourselves at solitaire

Inventing lovers on the phone

Repenting other lives unknown

They call and say

Come dance with me

And murmur vague obscenities

At ugly girls like me

At seventeen

At seventeen”

Isn’t that a powerful image? Cheating oneself at a game of solitaire. How utterly fruitless. You still lose, don’t you? But it’s the line “Repenting other lives unknown” that speaks to me now. Countless times, I’ve frantically reviewed every event in my life to try to pinpoint that one moment, that one decision that would have changed everything. Maybe, if I’d done it differently, I’d have become a completely different person—thinner, perhaps; happier; deserving of (and possessing) love . . .

In a little over four months, I’ll be twenty-seven. And ten years later, I’ll admit that this song still speaks to me. After all, I am single, and not exactly by choice. I miss myself at seventeen—the innocence, the earnest desire to help others, the hunger for new experiences. To me, this song is about embracing that time in my life . . . and, perhaps, leaving it behind.


Find more artists like Janis Ian at Myspace Music.