Too Legit to Quit

I woke up twice in the middle of the night with this song on endless repeat in my head. Well, really just the “Too Legit/Too Legit to Quit – (keyboard hit twice)” part, over and over. And when I finally decided to get up FOR REALZ, there it was again, egging me on like a hip-hop mantra. It was as if MC Hammer had been standing beside my bed the entire night, waiting for me to rouse so he could offer his wisdom, be my personal inspirational speaker, my own Anthony Robbins (I can’t wait for the Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru documentary to air on Netflix later this month!).

It all leads me to wonder if somehow Mr. Hammer knew about my other mantra, the one I created as a joke at work (though like most jokes, housing a high dose of truth in its bosom): I like to quit before I’ve tried everything. It was a reaction to all the annoying inspirational quotes I’ve seen my whole life like: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Yes, I tend toward impatience, especially when I have my day planned out and one of the items on my list (usually a work-related item) is taking longer than it should, but I like to think of this as ambition. I’ve got a lot on my plate and in order to stay on schedule, outside elements, like my boss requesting a last second task or Facebook beeping because I received a new response to my dancing cat post, can’t interrupt the flow and throw everything out of whack and WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT! I’M NOT TALKING LOUD!

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But what really gets my goat (must look up derivation of that phrase), is when something technical is not working as it should, as I pride myself on my electronic handiness on the job. I am good (usually) at figuring out why a piece of software my coworker is using is acting buggy or why the sound is suddenly not coming through someone’s speaker like it should. Yet for some reason, when it’s my own computer I am less open to patient experimentation. I curse (goddammit being a favorite), I verbally list all the things I will now have to cancel should this take more than 5 more minutes (I’m gonna miss my noontime yoga class!…No lunch for me!… No, don’t pick me up a sandwich from Whole Foods, I have a bag of  sunflower seeds somewhere…). And then when the 25 year old editor at the desk next to mine comes to check if I’m alright, asks me if I’ve tried such and such technique for solving said problem and I realize, no, I haven’t tried that, and 10 seconds later everything is working again, it leads to the creation of my now infamous quote “I like to quit before I’ve tried everything,” as a response to the (snarky) question “why hadn’t I thought to try” said successful method.

“Oh my God, can I write that down? That is SO YOU!” And she rushes off to find construction paper and a nice pen.

And then, ten minutes later, on the wall of my edit room, in perfect thick black sharpie handwriting, my quote is displayed for all to see and admire.

I can’t help but feel simultaneously proud and embarrassed (though mostly proud) at this anti-motivational quote, this quote that is the opposite of everything Tony Robbins would ever say. I don’t worry about strangers reading my quote and not understanding the context. I’m not some mainstream workplace philosopher. I am now part of a rich pantheon of famous thinkers and activists, people who have said things that are now written on walls and chalkboards and bumper stickers across America. Martin Luther King, Audre Lorde, Mark Twain, Gandhi, MC Hammer, and now, Steve Goldberg.

 

 

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We’re the Kids in America

I was going to post this a few days ago, in honor of the 4th of July, but there are a ton of songs about the good ol’ U S of A and about the 4th of July in particular. I couldn’t decide on just one and retreated into my shell of inaction. I considered writing about this sad song by Sufjan Stevens, but, first of all, it isn’t a song that is remotely an ear worm for me, and secondly, a more iconic stars-and-stripes tune seems more appropriate as a commentary on this nationalistic holiday where we blow up things and act even more stupid than usual.

Though there is something creepily fitting about celebrating a song called “Fourth of July” that repeats the line, We’re all gonna die, over and over at the end. Unfortunately the song lacks a lasting hook.

Alas, I decided on a classic from the 80s, 1981 in particular, Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” This one definitely pops into regular brain rotation uninvited, and sometimes I catch myself mid white-man’s-overbite dancing, occasionally in public.

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There’s something about the beginning of this song, the iconic single repeating keyboard note, that feels like a warning, a signal to GET READY TO BE PART OF SOMETHING FUN! Not in a Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” way, which, though amazing in its own right, really only addresses half of the young population. This song, though, includes everyone: We’re the kids of America! Whoa Oh! Everybody live for the music, go round! It doesn’t matter who you are, black-white-blue-green-straight-gay-everything-in-between, just get up and dance! But don’t expect to take this girl (I’m assuming these lines are from Kim’s perspective) home anytime soon because she’s not going anywhere.

Bright lights the music get faster.
Look boy, don’t check on your watch, not another glance.
I’m not leaving now, honey not a chance.

Ironically, Kim Wilde is British; doubly ironic, this song was a much bigger hit in Britain, hitting #2 on the charts 35 years ago (vs only reaching 25 in US). So, a non-American wrote a song about America that was more popular outside of America than stateside. To me, this simple fact is another reason why this song is the perfect choice to represent USA nationalism in 2016.

I hadn’t bothered to look more closely at the lyrics before today, and had assumed the message to be, essentially, “We are the new generation, don’t underestimate us, we like to party and dance and we aren’t going anywhere, you old farts!” But there are a couple lines that imbue the song with more depth than I had remembered.

Kind hearts don’t make a new story..
Kind hearts don’t grab any glory!

So, in other words, nice folks are forgotten and will never get any credit. That’s pretty friggin’ dark. I guess if you exchange the word “kind” with “passive” one can see the message as, “Get out and make your own history!” “No one’s gonna hand you success on a platter!” But it can also be seen as, “Sometimes you have to crush a few skulls with your jackboots on the way to glory!” Or to quote another female-fronted band’s iconic song from that same year, you better harden your heart.

OK, clearly I was just looking for a way to add Quarterflash to this post. But the comparison sorta works. Side note: For about a year or two so back when this song came out (and I was 14, so cut me some slack), I thought that Patti Smith, the iconic NY punk-rock poet and Patty Smyth, lead vocalist of Quarterflash were one and the same. I figured she used one spelling for her edgy-poet persona and another for her pop-songstress persona. Clearly I didn’t own the album Horses at the time.

Now that I think about it, I do see parallels between Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” and Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” Both songs express clear beliefs that the night belongs to, in Wilde’s hit, “Kids in America” and in Smith’s song, “Lovers.” One is a more global view, a generational expression; the other a more intimate view–a bedroom view you might say–a sexual expression. Maybe “Because The Night” is “Kids in America” a few years later, when (we) the protagonist in the story have matured a bit, have decided that, sure, it’s fun to sleep around, but now we crave something deeper, realer, more primal.

But a couple months later, we get dumped by this (surely much older) lover and, not wanting to feel that sort of pain again, have to harden our heart.Then the next thing we know it’s 4th of July all over again and we fall into existential despair, realizing that we are all gonna die.

I Can’t Whistle

So I’m sitting in the sauna at the gym after a grueling 90 minute spinning class, trying to continue sweating out the day’s build-up of stress. I’m alone, my preference, and just as my body has adjusted to the heat, just as I am finally able to focus on my breath, my hyper-active, constantly on-alert brain finally slowing to a bearable hum, this hard-earned moment-of-zen is interrupted by the unmistakable creak of the sauna door opening. And in walks a cheery man about my age, maybe a little younger, whistling. I can’t place the tune, it may not even be a specific tune, but the general tone of the whistling, the tone that accompanies pretty much all whistling, is that of cheeriness, of carefree joy.

And inside, this enrages me.

I could feel my overheated skin bristling at this uninvited Jiminy Cricket wanna-be. I mean, sometimes I’ll be in the sauna and some millennial will come in with his iPhone and be playing some stupid multi-player shooter game with the sound on and I’ll silently seethe and wonder what is wrong with this guy, what is wrong with his generation, what is wrong with the world (it happens that fast, taking something small and singular and blowing it out of proportion to represent the entire universe: I call it my version of, “think local, act global”). But, now, I’d take the computerized rat-a-rat of Doom over THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD expressing himself via pursed lips.

You see, I’m not a whistler. First off, I don’t know how to whistle. I wish I could simply follow Lauren Bacall’s instructions, I mean, if anyone is going to get me to try it’s gonna be her, but I think I must have a defective part somewhere (I know, a screw loose, hardy har har), as every time I try, every time I put my lips together and blow, it just sounds like a bunch of hot air.

But now that I’m almost 50 years on this planet earth, I think that it’s not a matter of mechanics or practice, I think that there are whistlers and there are non-whistlers. Much like there are optimists and pessimists. Extroverts and introverts. Leno’s and Letterman’s. Leno probably is a great whistler. I mean, that chin must really make him a top echelon whistler.

Part of me was glad that I couldn’t make out a distinct tune from the whistler, that he didn’t trigger an ear worm. He could have easily been whistling something that would have taken days to work its way through my system. Something like “Eye of the Tiger” or “Moves Like Jagger.” Or even a song that I initially enjoyed like Peter, Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks.”

A lot depends on when you initially discover a song that eventually becomes exceedingly popular. Whether you develop a fondness for it before it spreads like an aural wildfire or if you, like the majority of the world, are subjected to it without control, as it plays seemingly every 20 minutes on the radio and at the gym. I, thankfully, had already been a fan of PB&J (love that this is their acronym), back when they were a little bit crunchy, before they became sugary and smooth. I was a fan of them before their 2006 (holy crap, it’s been 10 years since that album?!) breakthrough, Writer’s Block. I say this not to brag, not to show off my indie cred, but to explain that I was one of the few who had heard “Young Folks” before the songs’ iconic whistling wormed its way into your and most everyone under 40’s eardrums.

Maybe it was the fact that I could never whistle along to the song; maybe I had simply moved on from a band that had moved on from me, that didn’t know how to write for both the extroverts and the introverts, the optimists and the pessimists; maybe there is just so much good music out there that it’s only natural for some artists to fall by the wayside as the years pass by.

Maybe I ought to give whistling another shot. I mean, that guy in the sauna seemed so free of angst and worry, so unconcerned about what anyone else thought of him or his methods of expression. How wonderful it must feel to purse your lips together and blow and let your inner mouth trumpet songs spew forth.

Nah, I’m a drummer. I’ll stick to beating things with my hands and sticks. That’s who I am, that’s how I’ll express myself. I’m not a whistler and that’s OK.

I’m OK – Feeling Good in the 70’s

It takes guts to write a song that’s all about self-acceptance. About not getting down on yourself when life gets hard. About believing in yourself despite external and internal opposition. It’s so much easier and more common to write about heartbreak or anger or love or frustration. There are plenty of songs that attempt a form of self-esteem, but really, they are more about defiance, about telling the powers-that-be “fuck you!” They are more anthemic rather than personal and honest.

I suppose if one decade was going to have more self-esteem themed songs than any other it would be the 70s. The decade that brought us EST. Songs like Cat Stevens’ “If You Wanna Sing Out.” And the Free-To-Be-You-And-Me song, “It’s Alright to Cry.”

But these songs, although awesome and timeless (especially Cat Stevens’ song, as used in the film Harold and Maude), are acoustic and folky. You would expect a song about self-esteem and showing (not hiding) your feelings to sound like these songs. What is less likely is for a rock n’ roll band to sing about such affirming subject matter, with no sense of irony or sarcasm attached.

I think, for a generation of awkward, pimply-faced long-haired teenage boys (and some girls too) no song triggered more widespread late 70’s self-acceptance than Styx’ “I’m OK.” Sure, it’s the least “rocking” song on the classic Pieces of Eight album, but it was clearly a rock album, with guitar solos and pounding drums.

The album starts off literally with a fight, crowds cheering as an MC announces two fighters entering the boxing ring and when the bell sounds off, the guitars crank in and James Young screams “Look at me – I’m the great white hope!” It’s all bravado and posturing, and we think we’re in for an album filled with high octane machismo.

But Styx would defy expectations immediately, on the second track, “I’m OK.” There are guitars and drums, but they are subdued, and swirling keyboards dominate. And instead of James Young’s growling baritone, we get Dennis DeYoung’s smoother, higher-pitched vocals. After a group chorus chimes in with a very strange “Hey, hey, hey, hey, eight, skate, seven on the rotate!” (If you know what this means, fill me in on the comments section), Dennis sings out,

If I could stand
Beside myself
Would I see me or maybe someone else
‘Cause it’s hard to please
Most everyone
When your spirit’s got you on the run, on the run

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So right away we can put ourselves in the song, cause, I mean, who hasn’t put on a fake persona to fit in to a particular situation. We pretend we are more experienced (at a job, in sports, in bed) because it’s scary to reveal that you’ve still got much to learn. We wear different masks to get us through the day, and this is fine, as long as we take off the mask when we are by ourselves. But getting back to Dennis and Styx….

I’m O.K.
I finally found the person I’ve been searching for
I’m alright
I’m feeling good about myself and that’s for sure

‘Cause I believed them when they said I must do things their way
Tried to cast me in their mold but I just had to say

That I’m O.K., I’m O.K. this way
Yes, I’m O.K. yes, I’m O.K

Yes, one might consider this song cheesy, especially almost 40 years later (ok, even at the time), but there’s something so unabashedly real about this song, there’s a pride and a genuine optimism that is addictive and makes a listener want to yell out, “Yes, you’re right Mr. DeYoung — I am OK this way!” And if you are in public, you might then turn to the stranger next to you at the bus stop and say, “And you too are OK just the way you are! Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise!” And then you might want to take a quick step back to avoid any punches that might be thrown your way.

Whenever I’m overtaken by a sour mood, a bout of depression or what-have-you, if I hear this song, it somehow makes me feel better. Even if I snidely bark at my stereo,”shut up Dennis DeYoung, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” I know that’s just one of my masks and that deep down it’s a damn good song….

Stay tuned for the next post: Positivity in the 80’s! What are some self-affirming songs that you loved from the 70’s?