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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Bringing the Joy of Music to People Who Really Wish I Wouldn’t

WARNING: Keep away from eyes and mouth. If ingested, induce vomiting immediately.

Okay, so now I’ve gone and scared myself with my own tagline, just a little. Must be leftover drilled-in paranoia from those Mr. Yuck stuckers way back when. You’d think I’d be over it by now. Especially after seeing the little green guy who posed as Mr. Yuck also appear on the Hitchhikers’ Guide cover, and later — with a bit more makeup — in the Grinch cartoon. But, no — that little green bastard will always be Mr. Yuck to me. Sorry, dude — I guess you’re just typecast. Hollywood’s a bitch.

All right, on to happier things. I made another CD run yesterday.

(You’d be surprised how not having a job leaves so much time to go out and buy things. Or, um, maybe you wouldn’t. I suppose it’s pretty obvious, come to think of it.)

And once again, waves of nostalgia washed over me until I was left exhausted, waterlogged and drippy, and with a few dozen dollars’ worth of new old music. I started out as I usually do, rummaging through the used CDs looking for that elusive Call or old Beat Farmers nugget. And, as usual, I forgot about ninety percent of the CDs on my ‘want list’, and ended up flipping through the ‘Various’ piles of letters that seemed promising. Take ‘S’, for instance. Your typical ‘Various S’ used CD stack in a large store might hold such gems as the Sugarcubes, the Spoons, Squeeze, and Joe Satriani. Which, if you’re interested, I — in order — already have, already have, never really got into, and have pretty much gotten over.

(These are just examples, folks — I can’t tell you what I really want, or you’ll go buy it before I get there. I know how you people are.)

So, I came up largely empty. I did finally pick up the Foo Fighters disc that came out three or four years ago.

(Yes, I’m just that cutting edge, people. Jump back!)

I also decided it was worth taking a chance on the Deep Blue Something CD that includes the song ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Okay, I’m not sure what hold that song has on me — there’s really no good reason that I should like it, but I do. Maybe it has some sort of dirt on me, or incriminating naked pictures of me; I can’t really say. I just know that I like the song, despite my best efforts. This shit happens from time to time — you’ve all got those sugar-pop bands that you don’t want to like, but you just can’t help yourself. You know you do, so stop your snickering, all right? And just because my list of ‘What the Hell? Bands‘ also includes A-ha, Real Life, and Naked Eyes doesn’t give you license to point your bony little fingers at me, either. At least I never owned a Tiffany CD, or bopped to Menudo, Hansen, or N’Sync, all right? Yeah, that’s right. I thought that’d shut most of you up.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’d normally go for the ‘one hit wonder’ band like that, unless I knew more about them, but I couldn’t really resist. The CD — full-length, mind you — was forty-nine cents. Cents! As in pennies. I mean, c’mon, people — you can find forty-nine cents in the crack of your ass if you dig hard enough. That’s chump change.

(Okay, really nasty chump change, if that’s really where you get it from. And just because I brought it up doesn’t mean I recommend that particular method of gathering coins. You’re likely to find many, many loathsome and horrifying things before you accumulate forty-nine cents from way up in there. I’m just saying it’s possible. That doesn’t mean you should run right home and lube up to give it a shot, all right? Let’s keep some minimum air of decorum around here, shall we?)

So, what I’m trying to say is, the thing was cheap. Dirt cheap, so I bought it. And I walked around with a couple of other selections for a while, until I saw it — the reason I’d walked into that store that day, without even knowing it: a two-CD box set of early They Might Be Giants, containing the self-titled disc and Lincoln, and B-sides from each album’s singles.

But wait! Don’t order yet!‘ it screamed to me. Because there were also eight or ten bonus tracks on each CD. Bonus tracks, for the love of Christmas! Well, grease my weasel, I couldn’t afford not to buy it, now, could I? That’s seventy-two songs in total, on two discs! So I put back most of the other shit I’d picked out — two-CD sets cost actual money, you see — and stepped up and bought the sucker. Oh, I kept the Deep Blue Something disc — forty-nine cents, remember — and I held onto the Foo Fighters CD, too. Mainly so the checkout guy wouldn’t think I was some retro-freaky Dr. Demento wannabe or something. I even put it on top, to avoid the checkout chit-chat that invariably ensues when I buy something really interesting. Without that one ‘normal’ purchase of a disc cut in the last ten years, I have to endure conversations like this:

Checkout Dude: Hey, there? You all set?

Me: Yep, I think so.

Checkout Dude: Okay, let’s see… Big Country, the Alarm, and the Smithereens… Dude! Shouldn’t you have your collar turned up and a skinny tie?

Me: Yeah, very funny. How much you makin’ at this job, skippy?

Checkout Dude: Hey, hey, I’m just kiddin’. Man, you old people get so defensive.

Me: I’m not… all right, fine, I am old. But I’m not defensive! Just gimme my albums.

Checkout Dude: Heh. You mean CDs. *snicker* Look, I’m sorry. Here, I’ll make it up to you.

Me: I don’t know, man…

Checkout Dude: No, really. Look, I’ll give you this Bananarama compilation. It’s —

Me: Nooooo!

Checkout Dude: What? Oh, don’t like them, eh? Okay, here’s an old Phil Collins

Me: No! Blech! Pfffft!

Checkout Dude: Okay, okay, wait. What else do I have? Um… let’s see — Huey Lewis and the News?

Me (running in circles holding my ears): La la la la la la la…

Checkout Dude: No? Uh, how about… Heart?

Me (twitching on the floor): Ack! Sppppt! Hrooooo!

Checkout Dude: Um, shit. Uh… Adam Ant?

Me: Ttthhhhhhhppp — wait. Adam Ant, or Adam and the Ants?

Checkout Dude: There’s, um, a difference?

Me: Well, sh-yah! Which is it?

Checkout Dude: It’s, er, Adam and the Ants.

Me: ‘Stand and Deliver’ on there?

Checkout Dude: Uh… yeah.

Me: Sold. Here’s your cash. Thanks.

Checkout Dude (waving as I leave): Okay, thanks for shopping with us. Enjoy reliving your wasted youth, old dude!

Clearly, no one wants to have to go through that, least of all me. On the other hand, I actually don’t have that Adam and the Ants disc. Maybe I should add it to the ‘wish list’, assuming I can find it somewhere for a quarter or so.

Anyway, back to They Might Be Giants. This was actually quite a major find for me, for reasons that may not be immediately obvious. You see, when I was a senior in high school, I got to work as a DJ at the local college radio station. I had a two hour slot every week, and got called in occasionally on weekend mornings when the regular guy was too hungover to get his shit together. It was a fun gig, and I got to be silly on the radio, and take requests, and generally pick and choose what I wanted to play, as long as most of it was from the ‘heavy’ or ‘medium’ rotation bins.

But the really cool part was that I could come in anytime I wanted and tape whatever I could get my grubby paws on. So, of friggin’ course, I did. I spent hour after hour pulling down obscure songs and artsy crap from bands that no one had ever heard of then, much less now. On the other hand, I had the coolest fucking musical tastes of anyone I knew. While the mindless drones around me were dimming their bulbs with Starship and Bon Jovi and Whitney Houston and Great White Lion Snake, or whatever the hell they were called, I was gettin’ down with the Waxing Poetics and the Long Ryders and the Del-Lords and the Throwing Muses and Wire Train and the Replacements and Husker Du and a thousand other kick-ass bands that could run circles around the mega-station saccharine crap that was passing itself off as pop at the time. Or now, for that matter.

So, of course, just as I got onto a They Might Be Giants kick because of their odd, quirky, bohemian style and nonsensical lyrics, I went off to college. In Kentucky. To a tiny little pissant liberal arts school, in a tiny little pissant town, where eighty percent or so of the students came from inside the state. (Or as I liked to tease them with, ‘So you loaded up the truck and moved to uni-ver-si-ty, eh, Clem?‘) In any case, it wasn’t exactly a Mecca for alternative music. Or any music, for that matter, unless you count ‘blowin’ jugs’ and spoons as legitimate instruments. Which I might, if they’re not used in songs about dogs or trucks or ‘mah woman leavin’ me’. Sadly, though, those were just about the only types of songs around the place, at least until I came along with my bootleg tapes and alterna-rock.

Now, you have to understand — these folks weren’t ‘mildly resistant‘ to my brand of musical entertainment. These were real live country music bumpkins. They paid homage to ‘Hank’, and ‘Hank Junior’, and ‘Boz’ and “Bocephus’. Some of which may have been the same person; I really never asked for the ‘long version’ of those sorts of things. And their god, apparently, was this ‘Garth’ something-or-other; at the mere mention of his name, the moonshine jugs would come out and they’d fly into some complicated synchronized square-dancing thing that resembled a small village of halfwit cowpokes trying to shake waterbugs out of their boots.

Honestly, I never really understood what the hell they were doing, or why the hell they’d want to listen to that twangy, drawly crap when there were so many people out there with normal voices (and unrelated parents) playing actual instruments and making music you could rock to. Or think about, or even just tap your toes to, appreciatively. But those yahoos stood by their ‘gettin’ drunk music’, and wore their boots and watermelon-sized belt buckles, and blared that shit at every opportunity. They knew what they liked — to their credit, I suppose — and they wouldn’t stand for anything different. Oh, Skynyrd was okay, and a dose of Charlie Daniels wouldn’t kill ’em every once in a while, but everything else was just so much cow shit to them. Billy Idol? ‘Punk ass bitch. Needs a haircut,’ they’d say. Bruce Springsteen? ‘Pussy.Poison, or Ratt? ‘They’d get their ass kicked in a real hoedown.‘ And so it went.

And that’s where I came in, with shit they’d never even dreamed of, and They Might Be Giants in heavy rotation. And once I found out how much it annoyed the piss out of most of them? Well, that was about all I played for the first year, until I finally relented and obsessed over Pearl Jam for a while. But in the meantime? It was all ‘Youth Culture Killed My Dog’ and ‘Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head’ and ‘Toddler Hiway’. It was fucking spectacular, people. After a while, I got them exactly where I wanted them — well, the immediate neighbors in my dorm, anyway — and they’d beg, ‘Please, please, anything but that! Play anything else!‘ So I’d dig out Camper van Beethoven and poke ’em with ‘Where the Hell Is Bill?’ or ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’. Yay! Fun with slope-browed goobers!

So, I’d like to say that I turned some of them on to better music. Even one. But I’m afraid I can’t. We coexisted as best we could for four years, and then I scrambled off to civilization, leaving them with their ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and their ‘Poop Chute Boogie’, or whatever it was called. I’m pretty sure none of my good medicine ‘took’ with any of them. Still, you never know. Maybe, just maybe — out there on the farm somewhere — there’s a guy my age, sittin’ in his overalls, milking Ol’ Bessie (yes, I’m hoping that’s his cow, and not his wife or daughter or sister, and certainly not his pet name for Mr. Wiggles). And just maybe, when the wind blows just right through the trees, without even knowing what he’s doing, he starts humming ‘Ana Ng’ or ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Clothes’. Maybe even ‘Chess Piece Face’, though that would be wicked hard to hum, under any circumstances. Anyway, something that he heard from me, and thoroughly despised, and yet now is stuck somewhere in the back of that thick skull.

And now, I’ve got the originals again, on CD and laid down as MP3s, so I can sing along with his absent-minded humming. And that makes me Happy™, in a very big way. This is what I mean when I say I want to make a difference in people’s lives — I’m really looking to slip cool shit into the subconscious minds of people that would be simply aghast if they knew what the fuck was happening. Ideally, it’ll eventually dawn on them, and they’ll go nuts trying to figure out what the hell it is, who put it there, and how they’re going to get it out. But even that’s not necessary. Just knowing it’s there is enough for me. Hey, maybe you feel the same way out there. If so, grab those They Might Be Giants CDs for yourself. I’m sure I infected somebody with those over four years in the backwoods, and now you’re in on the joke, too. Grab the soundtrack, and you can sing along, too! Whee!

Permalink  |  3 Comments

3 Responses to “Bringing the Joy of Music to People Who Really Wish I Wouldn’t”

  1. Lara says:

    I know how you feel…I’ve owned one cassette tape and 4 count ’em FOUR CDs of Black Flag’s Who’s got the 10 1/2? I have either worn out or broken them or lost them. Most people hated it and I made more than a few suffer through this CD…but I love it even still! I get very nostalgic everytime I realize that Kira had the 10 1/2 and when you bend over…and let Kira come over…OH Sorry! I got caught up in the song! It’s just THAT GOOD!

  2. last sentence... says:

    my dear friend, pehaps an gastrotomy? but, nothing so radical as that at this stage…may i suggest grits…recipe follows….tomorrow. i have no time now. tomorrow.

  3. SueP. says:

    My favorite hidden track from TMBG is on Severe Tire Damage. It’s part of the Planet of The Apes homage and it’s called Conquest.

    It’s a type of quest.

    They play it at request.

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