And Now, a Less Informed Opinion
Thechief questions most music listeners ask, of themselves and theirconfessors, is this: How do I properly pay tribute to a song I love?How do I prove my affection? And while many city councils andGermans have attempted to find the answers, until now, none have gottenclose. Why? Simple: The technology wasn’t there. But now it is. It justgot here this morning, and it’s very complicated. It’s insanelycomplicated, this technology, too complex to explain or understand. Theone thing we do know is that you must not fake it. Don’t phone it inand don’t go halfway. Goddammit, the song is going to know!Don’t treat your favorite songs like imbeciles. Your tributes have tobe real; they have to come from a place of both vulnerability andrecklessness. They must be both respectful and crackbrained. In short,your tributes must mirror the inherent dangers of the song.Now, below are examples of proper homages to six homage-worthy songs.Consider these models from which you may develop your own.
The Unicorns, “Sea Ghost”This song has the feel of a parade march written and played by peoplemade from candy. It doesn’t require much physical activity, so it’s agood one to start with. First, lie on the floor, on your back. If youhave headphones, use them. If not, place at least one speaker near yourears. Close your eyes tightly and envision a cartoon-video version ofthe song. The cartoon video involves robots with gorilla arms. Therobots are made of a steel-polyurethane-fiberglass blend, but theirarms are furry, because they are actual arms taken from dead gorillas.The robots with gorilla arms are wearing bright colors and are playingcroquet on a well-coiffed lawn the color of ancient tennis balls. Whileimagining the croquet game in your mind, nod your head back and forthwith the beat. Slap yourself once with your left hand. Make a bicyclemotion with your legs. Tap your fingers on your chest. Then yourforehead. Now your chin. Do it with three fingers, then two, thenthree. Tap your forehead again. Wonder why it sounds hollow. Open yourmouth, imagining that widening it to varying degrees changes the octaveof your forehead tapping. When the song ends, repeat all the steps, butharder.
The Libertines, “Death on the Stairs”You have to bemoving for this one, because it’s messy and fast, as if the Clash metthe Jam and they went swimming in a dirty river. So walk along acrowded street. If you’re not near a street, or are wearing an anklebracelet that prevents you from leaving your house, you may walkthrough your home. Actually, don’t walk. Okay, you can walk, but onlyfor the first 24 seconds. At that point, though, the song picks up andyou need to stop. You need to stop and do a dance. The dance you needto do is called the Charleston. It’s not en vogue, this dance, it’s not au courant,this dance–it’s not even French–but it is the correct dance. Twosteps, a kick back, two steps, a kick forward. Hands waving in the air,like you need to dry them quickly without hand towels. Now do themaneuver involving your knees and your hands. Do it quickly! Don’t slowdown. Why? Because the song will know! The song is watching! You want the song to think it’s not good enough for three minutes and 24 seconds of the Charleston? Jesus.
Now sing along a bit, but sing the words as though you’reoutraged. You’re outraged by their truth, you’re outraged by thegoodness of a world that allows you this song on this day. Keepdancing. Faster. More manic. Shake your head like you have water stuckinside your ear that you’re trying to get out. Instead of the lyrics,yell, “La! La! La! La! La!” Now slap yourself. Punch yourself in theleg. You may also want to kick someone nearby–family, passerby–in theshins with your swinging feet. This will emphasize that to you, yourlove of a song is more important than social mores and rules ofso-called propriety.
Okay, okay. Many of you might be thinking this: “Ican pay proper tribute to these songs in private, but I can’t do thisin public. The Charleston in public? Is that realistic?” And to that Iwould say nothing. I’m too fucking angry to speak. Not in public? You don’t even deserve music. You deserve a world of silence, of only the lesser senses. You deserve only smell–to spend your life marinating in the stench of turpentine and hummus.
Also, I forgot to mention this earlier: It’s not enough topretend to be playing an instrument along with the song. That’s theoldest and cheapest trick, and it just doesn’t work. The song sees that shtick as the unimaginative and transparent device that it is. Mimicry is not enough!Proof of dedication is more complex than that–it requires innovation!It requires acting at odds with notions of dignity. All of this shouldbe obvious.
Dinosaur Jr., “Freak Scene”Go get a car and a bridge, because this is a driving song. To dojustice to Dinosaur Jr.’s loudest and most relentless song, you must bedriving over a bridge after midnight, in a five-speed stick shift. Youmust be speeding over a four-lane bridge, changing lanes and screaming.Imagine that you are driving not a Toyota Tercel but a spaceship. Youare piloting a Battlestar Galacticaneedle-nosed fighter, dodging asteroids and Cylons. This requires notonly great dexterity and hair-trigger reflexes but the yelling of thesong. The song confuses the Cylons; it messes up their navigationalsystems or something–dammit, I don’t know the science behind it–soturn it up. Pound the wheel. Pound the roof. Change lanes again. Makeangry faces. Turn your headlights off and on, simulating lasersshooting the enemy. While careening through space, think of yourfriends–for no one sings about friends, their foibles and necessarypowers, better than J Mascis–and the times they have saved you fromoblivion. Pretend to cry–or actually cry, if you feel it–thinkingabout a life without them.
K. McCarty, “Living Life”Thisis probably the bravest song ever written or sung, so you have to be onyour game. No fucking around–get honest, get stout of heart! Writtenby Daniel Johnston and sung by a woman with a voice that could breakthe heart of an army, this song is profoundly sad, and you must findthat sadness within you. If you can’t easily locate it, go walking inthe dark. Find an unfamiliar house, and a family that is not yours.Stand outside their home, looking through a window. You want to beinside, among those people. You were exiled from this family. Or you’venever been part of a family. You want what they have, and you can’tdecide whether to beg them to make you a member or to throw a garbagecan through the window. Both options bring your worlds into collision,though the second one requires some physical exertion, and you arelistening to a song that makes you too sad to muster that kind ofstrength. So forget it, walk on. No, actually don’t walk on. Stop. Geta running start and throw yourself through.
Frank Black, “Thalassocracy”Only 1:33 long, thistrack starts at 120 miles an hour, so you have to be ready. You’re at afriend’s barbecue, all the boring people have left, and now it’s justsix of you. You have known each other for many years, and one of you ispregnant. Place Teenager of the Year in the stereo and then stand in a circle. Do not laugh. No jokes! Goddammit, get serious.Stretch your arms out, as if you’re casting a spell on the personopposite you–which in a way, you are. Now cue to the second song andpress play. Quick, you have no time–shake those arms! Keep themstraight, but shake them as if 10,000 volts (or however many is a lot)of electricity were shooting through you. Make your legs buckle. Fallto the ground. Get up. Throw yourself against a wall. Throw yourselfonto your friends. Writhe on the ground with them in a nonsexual way.Get on your knees and convulse. Blink quickly, as if you’ve had acidthrown in your face. Move your tongue in and out as fast as possible,like a snake or an old person trying to find the lettuce stuck to hisupper lip. Optional: Point to your friends while singing key lyrics, asif they have done something wrong.
Bob Dylan, “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”Provingyourself to this song is the greatest test of all. It’s tricky, but itcan be done. It’s another driving song, so find a country road,something winding and long. You need low population density and manytrees and clouds, tossed across the sky like dirty pillows. Play thesong and turn it up. Open the window. Close your eyes. Leave them shutmuch too long, tempting death. Imagine that your car is invisible, likeWonder Woman’s jet, and that it can fly. Wish that you could make yourcar fly for real, even for a second, a few hundred feet, so everyonearound, the farmers and children getting filthy in the fields, wouldknow that something special is happening in your car, and that you arebeing struck by Bob.
Do you have a sunroof? You should. While Bob sings youshould always have direct sunlight or rain or moonlight upon you. Ifyou don’t have a sunroof you need to nod. Nod extravagantly. You arenodding to prove your love, but also because you agree. You don’t knowexactly what Bob is talking about here, but you agree with the idea ofhim and this song. Maybe it’s just the way he sings those words,”Sooner or later, one of us must knoooooow,” that loopy ski-slope wayhe warbles the last word.
Now rest your head against the side window. Though it’s noteasy, drive with your head this way, implying that it’s hard for you tokeep it straight up–the music is weighing your head so! Run your handthrough your hair. Scratch your head with ferocity. Slap yourself withyour right hand. Punch yourself in the thigh. Sigh so loudly that thesong can hear. Sigh again and again. Now look at the dirty-pillowclouds and smile at them, much as two war veterans would look at eachother on Armistice Day, as if to say, “Can you believe we made it through this shit?”
As the song winds down, feel as if something is about to betaken away from you. Something like a home or a child. Feel as if awave is being tossed ashore, to take your only child away from you. Butyou have a plan, a plan that will turn back that wave, that thief whowould end your time with this man of passion and ambivalence and hatredand wings. Before the song can leave you forever, hit repeat and startover. You’re lost by now anyway–you weren’t watching the road,dipshit–so you have time.