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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!

Changing My Tunes

There’s a game my friends and I play sometimes, usually when we’re out at a bar. We don’t have a particular name for it, but if we did, it might be ‘Name That Tune-Singer‘ or ‘Who Da Band?‘ or ‘Goddammit, Timmy Got Another One? Whose Stupid Idea Was This, Anyway?

The rules are simple. When a song comes on the radio or gets played on the bar mix tape du jour, you have to name the band performing the song before anyone else can. Name three in a row, and you win. Win what? Nothing, usually. Maybe a beer, if we’re in a bar and there’s a tender handy. Or you win a reprise rendition of ‘Goddammit, Timmy got another one? Whose stupid idea was this, anyway?

(Hence the name. And the primary reason why we’ll never have team T-shirts made.)

This isn’t the sort of barroom activity that endears us to the other patrons, of course. If you’re ever out in the greater Boston area enjoying an adult beverage or two at your favorite watering hole and hear a gaggle of drunken idiots screaming, ‘PEEEEEEAAAARL JAAAAAM!!‘ when one of their songs come on, please don’t be alarmed. We’re not escaped mental patients, or especially deep-voiced ‘woo girls’. We’re just drunken idiots, passing the time trying to one-up the others. Carry on and ignore us; we’ll go away or get bored or pass out soon enough.

In my crowd, it’s hard as hell to win this song game, because the regular players all cover different angles. We’ve got the one rabidly competitive guy who hangs eagerly on the last dying notes of a song, ear conspicuously perked to the speaker to hear the opening riff of the next. If he’s the only one paying particular attention at the time, he’s guaranteed a head start on anything we might know. So you’ve got to keep an eye on that guy.

Then there’s the guy who knows all the stuff the rest of us don’t. As a group, we’re overwhelmingly likely to know just about any grunge, post-grunge, classic guitar rock, hair band, alternative, college rock or heavy pop number that turns up. This guy knows Madonna songs, and Jennifer Lopez, and Beyonce. And he’s not afraid to admit it. In public, no less. So basically, if it’s some song we’ve never heard of — usually soulful or sugary poppy, and always by a chick, it seems — he’ll yell out some female artist’s name, and the rest of us look at each other with blank faces and grudgingly give him a point. We don’t know if he’s right. And if we do, we’re not about to fess up to it. Luckily, we don’t hang out in bars prone to blasting Jessica Simpson threefers, so he doesn’t win a whole lot of games.

“I think I owe the dog a six-pack or something. The rules are unclear.”

Me, I’ve got the obscure stuff covered. If it was produced between 1985 and 1995, ever played on college radio, and no one even then had ever heard of it, then I probably know it. I probably own it — and it’s probably on vinyl or cassette, which means I haven’t heard it for fifteen years, either. But if it plays during one of our games, I can safely wait until the middle or end of the song to call it, because no one else is going to get it.

Unless this one other guy is playing, who’s got the same musical background as I do. If we’re both there, we have to rush to yell out even the obscure ones — but by the second one of those, we’re locked in debate over whether Joy Division or New Order turned out to be better, or if XTC jumped the shark on Oranges and Lemons, and then we’re not listening to the stupid music, so we don’t get much of anything. Even when we do, the rest of the guys just look at each other with blank faces and grudgingly give one of us a point. Because they just don’t know.

(I’m telling you, nailing a Housemartins song or something by Guadalcanal Diary is nothing like knowing some three-minute piece of pap was warbled by Kelly Clarkson or Mandy fricking Moore. But we get treated the same.

Sometimes, pop’s just not fair.)

Then there’s Timmy. Timmy knows a lot of the old stuff, most of the new stuff, and some of the eighties and nineties stuff in-between, too. But that’s not his biggest weapon. His most devastating technique is to convince people that he’s not really playing, not even listening to whatever’s blaring over the loudspeakers at the time. Then he’ll drop the band name into casual conversation, infuriating anyone (see player #1 above) who’s actually racking their brains to figure it out. So you might be talking to Timmy, minding your own business and forgetting momentarily that he’s one band away from you owing him a beer, and he’ll say:

Y’know, I’m a big fan of these wings. Are… U2?

Or: ‘Did you see that dunk on the TV? That was a real… Coldplay.

Don’t ask how he works Finger Eleven into a sentence. It’s unprintable in its full form, but let’s just say it ends with, ‘I barely even know her eleven!

Clearly, he must be stopped. Timmy is no longer using his powers for good.

Luckily (for the rest of us), we haven’t played our little game in a while. So what made me think of it? After work today, I came home and decided to listen to a little music. I geared up my MP3 player, loaded everything the missus and I own, and put it on shuffle. A couple of songs in, I figured I could use a little practice, so I started playing our band naming game. Solo. WIth my own music.

And I sucked. I must have listened to thirty songs. And while I got some of them, I don’t think I ever got three in a row. Either I’m way out of practice, or I’ve got way, way too much music that I don’t take the time to listen to properly. I’m afraid it’s the latter. Mostly because I took some recommendations on newer stuff from Timmy a while back — so now I’ve got a player full of the stuff that he knows, only I don’t recognize it, so it’ll do me no damned good next time we’re all sitting around in a bar and Boy Hits Car or Sevendust comes on. Meanwhile, if I can’t even name three bands in a row on my own player, I don’t know what the hell that means. I think I owe the dog a six-pack or something. The rules are unclear.

So I guess I’ll be listening to a lot more music at home now, to be ready for the next match. Maybe I’ll even start working my calls into conversation, just to rub it in a little bit. I’d hate to lag behind in any smart-ass area; that could leave my reputation forever tarnished. Or Staind, even.

Oh, yeah. I’m getting the hang of this. Look out, gang! I’m back in the game!

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