Music Defense System
by Joan Opyr
or those of us over 40, there needs to be some sort of musical early warning system. We need to know in advance when some modern, punk-ass band is about to release a radical cover of some cherished, sappy song from our youth. I've had a shock today that has thrown me off my writing and forced me to lie down with a cool rag on my forehead. Back in 1986, my first serious girlfriend broke up with me. Actually, it wasn't so much a break-up as a kick in the teeth followed by a pummeling followed by her shipping me to Misery, Alaska to freeze into a solid block of desolation that would shatter into a million pieces as soon as the first snowflake fell upon me. In short, I was fairly certain that my life was over, and because I was a melodramatic soul, after every wretched, drawn out phone call, I would lie in my dormitory bed with my headphones on and listen to the most miserable and melodramatic song I knew Wham!'s Careless Whisper. Like George Michael, I was never going to dance again. Never mind that it was her guilty feet that had no rhythm, I was miserable, I was a fool, and, at the ripe old age of 20, I knew that I would never find anyone else, ever. My life was over. So, night after night, I hit the rewind button until I wore a groove in the cassette tape. We didn't have iPods back then, so
we really had to work at being unhappy. (To give props to the heartbroken of the 60s and 70s, they had to be devastated using albums and 8-track tapes. That's a lot of hard work, and it may be one of the reasons why free love was so popular.) I listened to Careless Whisper for weeks. I listened until I could hum it in my sleep. I listened until it lost all power to make me melancholy. I listened until it became shorthand for "how dare she." At some point, I threw my Wham! cassette in the trash can, looked out the window, and realized that my life was far from over. There were girls everywhere. Cute girls. Girls with far better taste in music than I had. I forgot about Wham! and woke up to The Ramones. But sometimes the past is like the IRS. Twenty-five years ago, you forgot to report ten dollars in tips you earned bar-tending a bar mitvah and there you are, looking at taxes and penalties the size of the A.I.G. bailout. As I was writing the Q View piece on Queer Sounds, I began thinking about gay artists, and that led to the Indigo Girls, Bronski Beat, The Smiths, Erasure, and, inevitably, George Michael. I couldn't resist. I loaded up iTunes, I typed in Careless Whisper . . . and I pulled up a cover by a bunch of skanky punks called Seether! That had me bouncing backwards. It was like finding that the Sex Pistols had covered Doris Day's Secret Love.
There they were, three of them. The lead singer looked like a cross between Billie Joe Armstrong and Kurt Cobain. His hair was dyed red with what appeared to be Kool-Aid, so make that Billie Joe, Kurt, and Cyndi Lauper. But I'm no fogey. I downloaded Seether's cover of Careless Whisper, and damned if I don't like it. Why? Because for all the grinding guitars and deep-throated, cheese grater delivery, I can still picture the 19-year-old me lying in my dormitory bed, listening to it and feeling miserable. Proof, I suppose, that there is nothing new under the sun. Still, I expect I'll like Seether's version even more after the Valium kicks in. These little reminders that you're 40something are hard going.
Joan Opyr is a gigantic crank. Her life is frequently weird, and she enjoys writing and talking about that. She's a transplanted Southerner who dreams of golden beaches, sweet iced tea, and sunny skies. She believes that Eva Cassidy should be beatified. Oh, and she's also an award-winning novelist.
| April 2009 | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | www.qviewnorthwest.com