Tag Archives: music

I’ll give you two hundred dollars

Sometime last spring I was hanging out in the backyard with my friend Dennis. We weren’t really doing anything, just enjoying the weather, listening to music via this one giant speaker, something I’d found laying outside of some house down the block, I don’t know if it was part of like a bigger PA system or whatever, but I got this wire at RadioShack and hooked it up and, man, it was definitely louder than anything I owned before.


My iPod was on shuffle, but it was something like twelve, thirteen good songs in a row, one of those shuffles that had to have been as close to divine intervention as I’m ever going to get to experience in my life, and I’m not just talking about the quality of the songs, but the order that they were played in, the way they seemed to apply to just that moment, of us hanging outside, one of the first really warm days of the year.

I think it was halfway through “Release” by Pearl Jam, I was tossing this tennis ball up and down, leaning back in this rinky-dink IKEA wooden lawn chair, I had my head leaned to where my neck was perpendicular to the ground, staring straight up, I kept trying to throw the tennis ball as straight and as far up as I could, of course never really getting what I was going for, and so I was sort of leaning the chair this was and that way if and when my arm couldn’t reach the unintended angle at which the ball decided to fall.

The playlist, the moment, it all should have been enough for me, I could have just basked in my contentment for a little while longer, but twelve or thirteen songs is about as long as I can ever really remember being at peace for one continuous stretch of time, I blurted out to Dennis who was spinning an old football in his hands, I said, “Hey Dennis, I’ll give you two hundred dollars if you can throw that football right into that hole in the garage door.”

He was looking right in that direction, and so I didn’t have to really explain myself any further, but if it’s not just right there, you might be getting the wrong idea. It wasn’t a hole, not really. It was just the garage door, on the top there are all of these square panes, and one of them didn’t have any glass. I’m not sure how it got to be glassless, like I don’t remember any specific glass-breaking incident, and there weren’t any shards sticking out of the framing.

Who knows, that’s really not that important, besides giving you a clear visual here. There was a hole, I said something stupid not for any reason really, just to kind of hear my own voice, to break up the monotony of what had up until then been this moment of almost impossible springtime serenity.

And what does Dennis do? He doesn’t even get up, there’s no hesitation, he just cranked his arm back and let it fly. And of course, it went right through the hole, a perfect spiral, it sailed inside so effortlessly, like there wasn’t any resistance from the wood, nothing touched, I don’t think it’s possible for this ball to have fit through that hole any more perfect than it did right then.

Even Dennis was surprised. I guess he could have played it off a little cooler, acted like it was no big deal, but there was definitely a look of shock on his face. I mean, neither one of us, if we were talking really honestly, like remove all of the bravado and the bullshit jokes that we try to interlace into even the most regular of sentences and conversations, there’s no way you can predict something like that from happening.

One, and I already said this, but Dennis was still sitting down. It’s not like he took a minute to consider the challenge, not like he stood up and did any practice throwing motions or anything like that. No, he just kind of cocked his arm and threw this wildly lucky throw. And two, the garage had to have been at least thirty, thirty-five feet away. So even if he did get up and really make an effort to try to aim, there’s no way he would have made it in.

Except that he did make it in, and after what I can only guess was his thinking that I noticed his own realization that what happened was a fluke throw, he tried to capitalize on the financial side of the ball-in-the-hole, tried to skip past any, wows, or holy-shits, or did-you-see-thats. It’s like his arm went back, it threw the football into the garage, and then it effortlessly extended back toward my direction, the palm outturned and facing up, as if to say, pay up man, I’ll take that two hundred dollars right here.

So I cut him off, I told him, “Dennis, I’m not paying you two hundred dollars. That was a great throw, but I’m not giving you two hundred dollars. It’s just not going to happen.”

And in the same way Dennis kind of betrayed his own surprise with his shocked facial expression, he gave me a different look after I told him there wouldn’t be any money, like he might protest, put up some sort of a fight, like come on man, I made it in, you shouldn’t have said you’d give me two hundred bucks if you weren’t at least somewhat willing to pay up.

But I was ready for that, and I think Dennis knew that I was ready for it, I could say we didn’t shake on it, I could hear him complain and get pissed off, but I wasn’t going to give him any money. I don’t even think I had any cash on me. Maybe a twenty. Definitely not two hundred. So Dennis kind of went back to sitting in his chair, now that the football was gone, he was looking around at what else he could get his hands on without actually having to stand up.

I went back to the tennis ball just as that Pearl Jam song finished up. Next on the shuffle was “Wonderwall” by Oasis which, yeah, it’s a great song, but it didn’t really match up with the moment anymore, I quickly played through the whole song in my head and I realized that I didn’t feel like listening to the whole thing. I thought, well, thirteen songs, that was a pretty good shuffle, and I started clicking next on the iPod, next, next, next.

Weezer – The Blue Album: A near-perfect musical experience

I was just dicking around on reddit for a while when I came across this question posited on /r/AskReddit: What is an album that you enjoy every song on? In case you’re fortunate enough not to be totally enthralled to the ultimate eraser of time that is reddit, /r/AskReddit is pretty self-explanatory. Someone asks a question, and everybody else in the world throws in an answer.


It was late, I didn’t really feel like getting too lost on reddit before bed, and this question was floating right at the top of the front page. I almost didn’t feel like checking it out. There were already something like twenty thousand responses, and so what would be the point? I might as well just run a Google search of twenty thousand random popular albums.

And besides, I always get somewhat annoyed when I listen to other people opine about music. Tastes are so subjective. One person’s Pink Floyd may very well be another’s Justin Bieber, and when topics regarding musical preference explode like this on the Internet, there’s a tendency for discussion to devolve into name-calling and least common denominators.

Still, I clicked, despite my attempts to maybe go to bed like a regular human being, I always wind up clicking. And the top comment was Weezer: The Blue Album. And all of that internal debate, that voice inside always arguing that you can’t really pick a favorite music, a favorite anything, that while something might sound great one day, it might not do anything for you next month, or ten years from now, all of that went away.

Because right there, that very top comment nailed it. Of course it’s The Blue Album. I enjoy all ten of those tracks. It’s probably as close to perfection that the medium of an album is capable of achieving. From “My Name is Jonas” all the way to “Only in Dreams,” there’s not a bad track, not even a bad note really.

I remember when I was in like fourth or fifth grade, I had this tiny little boom box, a CD player with only three or four CDs to play on it. When I wanted new music, I had no other choice than to listen to FM radio. It was around that time that Weezer’s first single, “Buddy Holly” got really popular on the top forty stations.

Buying actual CDs was like a once a year thing for me, and so I don’t know if it was an actual love of “Buddy Holly” or just pure chance that led me to pick out The Blue Album when the opportunity for a new CD actually arose. But throughout the rest of my childhood, all the way through grammar school to high school, I played that CD cover to cover and none of the songs ever got old.

I always hate it when people ask me what my favorite song is, as if I could pick just one song out of my collection of music to rank number one. I hate it for like a minute before I remember, wait a second, “Say it Ain’t So,” that’s my favorite song. And I don’t think I’m alone here, like this is any unique opinion. It’s a lot of people’s favorite song.

One time when I was in high school, I went to this show a few towns over, a bunch of local ska and punk bands playing at one of these all day gigs. There was this one band, right in the middle of their set, something messed up with the audio, the mics got cut but the rest of the instruments were working fine.

They tried to fix the problem, but it wasn’t happening right away, and the crowd was starting to get a little restless. After a few long minutes, the guitarist started strumming the first few bars of “Say it Ain’t So.” And everyone went nuts. The drummer joined in, so did the bassist, and from that very first, “Oh ye-eah …” the entire audience sang together in unison.

Word for word we belted out the lyrics, I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it now, this one song, such a musical representation of how I feel when I remember growing up, the music I listened to, the same songs that gave a lot of people my age those same first feelings, like wow, I never thought music could sound this good, feel this cool. This band recorded such a great song as probably the climax to one of the most incredible records of my generation.

Part of my brain is telling me that I’m getting a little carried away, that whenever I start writing about how amazing something is – did I really just call it the record of my generation? – that maybe I need to scale back the tone just a little.

So I clicked play on iTunes, and now I’m feeling it again, and no, I’m not exaggerating, this song is definitely amazing. It’s totally what inspired me to buy a guitar in the ninth grade and to start taking lessons. I remember it was like two or three weeks in with my guitar teacher, he was trying to teach me how to read music and learn the fundamentals, I was just like, hey, I need you to teach me how to play this song. And so he wrote it out for me, note for note in my cheapo blue notebook I bought for guitar lessons. It took me like a year to get it down, and for many years after it was really the only song I felt comfortable playing in its entirety.

I feel ridiculous cheesy saying this, but I owe so much to that song, to The Blue Album. I’m able to listen to it today and be transported back to those endless high school days, sitting around in my room, playing video games, bored out of my mind, no real responsibilities at all. I could listen to a CD and lie on my bed and not have to think about anything at all. I didn’t get bent out of shape about wasting time or not being productive. I could just concentrate on how awesome this music is, ten timeless tracks of pure bliss.

All of my music is on minidiscs and LPs

When I was fourteen or fifteen I got my parents to buy me a Sony minidisc player for my birthday. It was cool for about a month or so, I felt like I was on the cutting edge of the future. I remember taking this trip into the city to shop at the Virgin Megastore, one of the only places that actually sold music on the minidisc format. And yeah, there was a minidisc section, half a wall really, right next to the collection of LPs.


I looked through the artists, there wasn’t really anybody that I had ever heard of before. But I went there to buy minidiscs, so I settled on Pearl Jam Vitology, even though I already owned it on CD, it didn’t matter, now I could listen to it on minidisc.

This was right around the time of Napster, when I could dial-up to the Internet and hope that nobody would pick up the second phone line for the six or so hours it would take me to illegally download “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit. Multiply that process by twenty, and bam, I could make my own minidisc mixtape.

They were just like cassettes, but digital. What did that mean? I had no idea, and after a while, the whole process of taking the expensive minidisc player out of the velvet pouch it came packaged in, just so I could listen to the same twenty or so songs over and over again, it began to feel like a chore, one that I couldn’t avoid, because I had asked for this expensive piece of equipment. If I didn’t use it, if I didn’t at least put an effort into getting some sort of satisfaction out of it, then what did it say about me, about my choice in cool presents, in my vision of the future?

It’s like, if I weren’t a little kid when Nintendo’s Virtual Boy came out, I would have been one of the first suckers in line at the video game store. I guess every once in a while some new technology comes out and, even if it winds up failing, there are always going to be a few people stuck with a bunch of leftover useless pieces of hardware.

Years later, somewhere toward the end of college, I decided to swing in the opposite direction, to get into records. It started when I walked past some record shop in the city, I found a bunch of used LPs in a box and I thought, OK, this could be a pretty cool hobby. I think I might have bought Vitology again.

But this was even worse. Instead of limitations, there were way too many options in a still niche field, record collecting. I bought an old record player on eBay. Right after I made the purchase, I found an old turntable in my parents’ basement. Neither of them worked right. I tried opening them up and changing the belts. It was useless. By the time I finally got something to play, I found that if the volume was up too loud, it would cause the needle to skip and mess up the playback.

For a couple of years I had this whole setup just collecting dust in my bedroom. Eventually my parents packed everything up into boxes, who knows, maybe someday my future kids will throw them away after I’m dead.

I don’t even have all of my old CDs anymore. Everything’s online. And it’s so much better. Every once in a while I’ll read an op-ed online, something about how digital music is terrible, how we’re losing so much audio fidelity. I couldn’t care less. I don’t have time to play with manual settings or figure out how to operate all of these different mediums. It’s so much easier to click and play. And besides, all of my headphones kind of suck anyway, so I doubt that I’d be able to even tell the difference anyway.

If I ever get my hands on a time machine, well, I have a list of things I’d like to go back and stop myself from doing. And numbers thirty-seven and forty-two on that list are, “Stop myself from asking for that minidisc player,” and “Don’t walk past that record shop,” respectively.

I need a Drake break

I wait tables at a big, corporate, restaurant chain. It’s one of these places with a huge sound system installed throughout the entire space, speakers hidden, blended seamlessly into the ceilings. There’s a touchscreen on the side of the wall that gives you the illusion of there being some sort of a control to the whole system, but in reality, all of the songs are selected by some company VP far, far away. The playlist never changes entirely, it’s more like, once in a while they’ll take out one song, and maybe a couple of days later they’ll add in another.

I’m very conscious of this music because, well, I’m there every day, I’m in the restaurant seven to twelve hours at a time. Where the average restaurant guest won’t ever hear the same song twice, I’m stuck listening to each track three, four times a day. These weird new age jazz mixes combined with the occasional pop hit, I’m not even really aware how engrained these sounds are in my consciousness, not until one obscure song stops and in my head, I’m already starting up the beginning of the next weird synth hit, those first few seconds cycle through my head before it actually plays out loud.

The first few times this happened I was like, no way, did I just predict that? And now it happens and I’m like, come on, please don’t actually happen, please don’t really play the next song that I know is about to come up. I just feel like I’m being programmed, like my brain is being hardwired to memorize these songs that, had I never worked in this restaurant, I’d have never been exposed to in my life.

And while, yes, it’s mostly this kind of weird instrumental music, they do throw in the occasional pop hit every now and then. About a month or two ago, this popular new song by Drake was added to the playlist, it’s the one that’s like, “You act so different around me / Just hold on we’re going home.” I hear it everywhere, in addition to the four or five times it’s piped through the walls at work, it’s on in the taxi, it’s playing on some seemingly unattended boombox propped up outside of the entrance to the subway.

When it first started cycling through, everyone went nuts. You’d go into the kitchen and everyone would be singing along, the dishwasher harmonizing with the prep cook, the smooth sounds of contemporary R&B permeating every corner of the restaurant.

But I don’t care how good you think a song is. You start listening to that song every day, five or six times a day, certain things are going to happen. You’ll start hearing it in your head, and then your brain’s going to take it to another level, it’s going to deconstruct that song, every note, every background effect will be revealed. And once you commit that song entirely to memory, it’s inescapable, it’s the type of tune-stuck-in-your-head that almost sets itself on repeat in your mind, all day long, even when it’s not playing.

Then you might even ignore it the next time it comes on. You’ll hear that song and you’ll think, what the hell? What happened? Why didn’t I get anything out of it this time? And that’s when you fall down the other side of the mountain. Pretty soon you start to hate this song, that dumb drum machine intro, it’s just one drum, the most basic of beats, it’s virtually indistinguishable from any other drum intro, but you hear it, and you know it, just one beat on that drum machine and every fiber of your being absolutely knows that it’s going to be Drake.

“I’ve got my eye on you,” over and over and over again. But like I said, this song is a hit, it’s everywhere. And maybe everyone else in the world might eventually get tired of hearing it too often, but definitely not yet, your average music listener isn’t nearly as caught up as you are on this accelerated moment of Drake.

It’ll be close to midnight on a Friday night. I won’t have any energy left. All I’ll want is for my lingering customers to pay up and go home, but everyone’s taking their time. And then I hear that drum beat, and while a small part of me dies inside, I look out across the floor, the smiles are everywhere, guests are actually starting to dance, these weird I’m-sitting-in-a-booth-but-I’m-going-to-do-my-best-to-dance dances, singing along, having a great time.

The other night it came on as I was taking an order and this guy froze midsentence. He got that huge Drake smile and he said to me, “Man, I just love this song! Just hold on we’re going home! I love it! What a great song!” and what was I going to say? That I had become numb to all music? That this was already the ninth time I’d heard this song today? No, I wanted a good tip, so I flashed my own Drake smile, I was like, “Right? Drake! I love this song too! It’s awesome! I know exactly who you could be!” and we merged into the chorus in unison, a weird restaurant duet, “Just hold on we’re going home, it’s hard to do these thing alo-one.”

It worked. Twenty bucks cash on an eighty dollar check. But man, I can’t take it anymore, I can’t listen to that Drake song again, I need a Drake break, just a small one, please.

Background music

One of the worst things about working in a restaurant is having to listen to the same background music every day. Why do we have music at restaurants? Who thought that it would be a good idea to constantly pump random songs into a dining room? Is it part of the dining experience? I don’t think so. Music is such a personal thing, all about tastes and preferences.

But whatever, you don’t go to a restaurant because you want to hear music, you go because you’re hungry, and so chances are you’re not even paying attention to what’s going on in the background. In fact, I’m trying to think right now, of all the places that I like to go out to eat, do any of them have music? I have no idea. But I’m sure the wait staffs at those restaurants are all very aware of the music.

I’ve worked at three restaurants in my life. The first one was in high school and college. The boss just pumped a soft-contemporary FM radio station throughout the front of house. In the kitchen, all of the chefs blasted Dominican music. At least radio stations keep things mixed up. Sure, they play mostly the same songs every day, but they’ll throw in a few wild cards, probably for their own sake as much as any listener’s.

What was great about that first job was that the whole place was run by a fifty-fifty mix of high school kids and recent Dominican immigrants. So there was a lot of joking around, a lot of changing the restaurant’s radio station when the boss went out to run an errand. Sometimes we’d feed in a metal station or a merengue mix and then keep it at a low enough volume where customers wouldn’t complain.

The boss was a great guy, but he had a crazy temper. So when he got pissed, it wasn’t like he’d fire you or anything, he’d just kind of scream and curse for a few hours, in half-English half-Italian, with the staff trying to act contrite while at the same time holding back the laughter. “You motha-fucking a-morons with your-a motha-fucking a-music! What are you a-looking at? Don’t you have a-something to do? I’ll a-give you a-something to do! Wipe-a down tha fucking counter! A-you! Go a-clean-a the motha-fucking bath-a-room! A-mooove!”

After college I thought I was done with the restaurant business. But the sitting in a chair and pretending to do work while really surfing the Internet all day business wasn’t working out, and so I started a-waiting a-tables again, full-time. This restaurant was in the city, so longer lines, higher prices, more of an expectation to treat it like a real job.

Unfortunately, the general manager at this restaurant was totally incompetent, a serious drug addict who, rather than actually manage the business, just left everything as it had been set up decades ago while she holed up her office all day getting good and coked out. The music situation there was this really old CD player with a few mix-CDs compiled sometime ten to fifteen years ago.

It used to drive me crazy, hearing the same twelve tired songs over and over again. The staff asked about getting an iPod or satellite radio, something to mix it up, but the GM wouldn’t have it. She probably loved hearing us complain, anything that made anybody else a little bit less happy was probably all that she was looking for in life anyway.

But she had no idea how to run a business, and so we started making our own CDs and throwing them in the rotation. Things got out of hand. When Whitney Houston died, somebody made an all Whitney CD. One time the GM was storming through the restaurant, screaming at this person and that person. In the background, Whitney was belting out the Star-Spangled Banner. It was such a surreal situation, again, everybody trying not to laugh at the boss’s obliviousness to the business, to life.

I’ve since switched restaurants, this time to a more upscale place. Like I have to wear a tie. Like I have to say “beverage” instead of “drink” and “guest” instead of “customer.” They have this ridiculous sound system with a bunch of songs programmed to coincide with the time of day, with the weather. It’s a little more organic sounding, but working there day after day, it’s equally ridiculous. Certain songs get stuck in my head that, had I never taken this job, I’d never even have heard in the first place. And I’m all for eclectic tastes and getting outside of my comfort zone, but most of the music is unlistenable. I’m thinking that maybe they’re doing it on purpose, just to get people to pay their checks and leave faster.

Whatever, it’s not a big deal. Every bullshit job has their fair amount of bullshit to deal with. Bad music on repeat is just a staple of the restaurant industry for whatever reason. I don’t get it. The restaurant doesn’t assume everybody likes veal and automatically serve everyone veal. But they do it with smooth jazz and bossa nova. Just, the next time you’re out to eat, pay attention to the background noise. Think about what it would be like to hear that same song in an hour, in two hours, tomorrow, the next day, everything on repeat, over and over and over again. Crazy, right?