Saturday, January 03, 2009

As The Earworm Turns

My relationship with music has been lifelong, intense, and bizarrely crankish. For example, I must be the only self-described rocker who has always been bored by both Elvis Presley and the Stones. An old friend sporadically runs a blog-based game called “Jukebox from Hell,” and although I concur with most other participants on what constitutes hell (“Butterfly Kisses”? “God Bless the U.S.A.”? The entire Neil Diamond catalog?) I was usually the most likely player to actually find some of my favorites on the list. (They’ll take away my “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes when they pry it out of my cold dead iPod.)

Sometimes a song just hits me so hard in such a negative way that I become allergic to it from the time of first exposure, and often it’s a song that most other people like. For example: “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Hated it on first hearing it at age six, and still do; that one and “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” can probably take credit for driving my lifelong loathing of folk music. “Stairway to Heaven” took two or three tries, but it’s still up there on my turn-that-damn-thing-down list. And I could probably lose my pinko cred for life for admitting this, but I feel exactly the same way about everything that Bob Dylan ever wrote.

But very few songs have ever irritated me as much from the get-go as one that I keep hearing lately when some of my co-workers crank up the radio in the lab; that follows me around in supermarkets and department stores for the express purpose of annoying me; that crawls into my head like the entomologically incorrect earwig that ate Laurence Harvey’s brain on Night Gallery . It makes me want to rip out my eardrums with a crochet hook, and then, immune to the sound at last, go hunting for the sadists who wrote and performed it, and strap them down and force them to listen to Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler covers performed by a bad Dead Kennedys tribute band and blasted at full volume through the speakers of a 1965-vintage transistor radio.

I’m talking about “Clocks”, by Coldplay.

Like most visceral reactions, this one defies logic; the song was highly acclaimed when it was first released, and has the sort of relentless minor-key drone that I used to think was the pinnacle of musical goodness when I was about twelve. But it still drives me nuts. For one thing, at least for the purposes of this song, Chris Martin seems to believe in his heart of hearts and uvula of uvulae that he is Sting. My personal opinion is that no one, not even Sting, should try to sound like Sting unless Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland are physically present to keep him in line. Second, I do have respect for a good keyboard riff, and I presume the one in “Clocks” is supposed to set up a mournful, introspective ambience. Play the riff a few times and you might inspire some mildly emo high school kids to write passable snippets of poetry. Play it as many times as Coldplay does, and it’s more suited to flushing the next Manuel Noriega out of his sanctuary. (Look out, Rod Blagojevich.)

But besides all that, there’s something about the song that just projects attitude. Not the punk attitude of the Ramones or the artistically raunchy attitude of Frank Zappa or the darkly ironic attitude of Smithereens, but something more like the whiny faux-suffering-artist attitude of David Gates and Bread. Now, if you are not between 45 and 55 and don’t understand why someone in that age range who was reading over your shoulder just covered his or her ears and ran out of the room whimpering, I can tell you why; it’s because that person remembers David Gates and Bread. Even their happy songs were depressing; their albums sometimes seemed to sneak unbidden onto turntables at parties in the seventies for the express purpose of killing the buzz.

And that’s how I feel about “Clocks”, by Coldplay.

Really, I don’t even hate all whiny sad music. I like Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” I’ve loved Ambrosia’s “Holding On to Yesterday” for upwards of thirty years. Good lord, my favorite piece of music at age four was the theme from Exodus.

But I still can’t stand “Clocks” by Coldplay. It irritated me on the first hearing, and progressively more on the second, and the seventeenth, and the hundred-and-sixty-first; a mewling and puking, wretchedly repetitive, musically maudlin, lyrically insipid, emotionally manipulative feline ear mite of a song. After being subjected to it one time too many today, I had to crank up some Donna Summer on the iPod to get it out of my head. Just picture this; a superannuated New Waver who used to wear her hair a half-inch long and brutally hennaed with one long skinny bleached wisp down the back, and who misses turquoise striped pants and Roland guitar synths and the none-too-soothing sounds of Tones On Tail and Romeo Void, had to blast herself through both ears with old disco hits just to keep “Clocks” by Coldplay from driving her six or seven votes shy of quorum.

And it’s still running through my head.

Why are all these radio stations playing it now, anyway? The damned song is several years old; there’s no reason for it to keep popping up in every public place that I've visited in the last month. Maybe this means something; maybe some unknown tormentor is trying to incite me to drop out of society, renounce the use of radio, and spend the remainder of my life in an underground bunker trying on boutique headwear by Monique of Reynoldswrap.

Have I mentioned that I dislike “Clocks,” by Coldplay?

Oh, well -- just a hint: “Hot Stuff” worked best.


At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Mike B. said...

Sting-lite? I thought they were Radiohead-lite.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Julie said...

They may just be trying to be all things to all people. :-)

The vocal on that damned earworm sounds just like Sting in his more self-pitying moments. (Don't get me wrong -- I love the Police, but sometimes Sting, especially in his solo efforts, can whine like a depressed chihuahua.)

I was about to use the expression "hit the resonant frequency of my skull" but I think only Enya can really do that.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That was a lovely post. I sent it on to people who share some of your experiences, and they thought the David Gates/Bread thing was spot-on. I'd give Everything I Own to see the tunemaster put Clocks on the next Jukebox From Hell Entry.

Phil C


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