It is not often that I feel cool. I mean, unequivocally cool. But on that rare occasion when I do (and it usually requires sunglasses, complete anonymity, and no mouth opening potential (which I’m certain (most certain) would dispel the illusion (yes, illusion!) of cool (parenthetical (ahem) madness, I know))), this song is the soundtrack I hear in my head.
Where to begin? In 1993 I found out, quite by accident, that if you are dubbing a cassette in “hi-speed dubbing” mode, and if you connect a microphone to the stereo, and then sing or speak into the microphone while the cassette is dubbing, your voice will appear on the dubbed cassette sounding super deep and slowed down. Kind of like a sad bear. This prompted me to concoct a story about an escaped Russian circus bear that, through improbable circumstances, wound up becoming a wildly successful back-up singer in Los Angeles. Imagine listening to an REM or Nirvana song, when suddenly you hear a deep, atonal moaning sound in the chorus. That’s Zoe the bear. Occasionally, Zoe would produce a long, sad, feral howl during a guitar solo.
My Zoe the bear tapes were a big hit with my friend Mike. We would drive around listening to cassettes filled with songs marred by a sad, out of tune, fictional, Russian bear. One of our favorite Zoe the bear recordings was done over Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” I think it became our favorite because the mere idea of listening to Falco in 1993 struck us as really funny. Soon, the entire (undubbed) Falco 3 tape would be played from front to back every day after school. As a joke, of course. We’d drive around with the stereo up, the windows down, pretending we were hardcore Falco fans.
One fateful day, however, Mike soberly admitted to me just how much he liked “Tango in the Night.” I looked at him long and hard, trying to read his level of sincerity. My god, he is serious, I thought. However, this gave me the courage to admit that I thought Falco’s cover of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was actually not that bad, you know, considering. Visibly relieved, Mike asked me what my favorite song was on the tape. Without hesitation I replied, “America.” We no longer needed to pretend. It was no longer a joke. We had become actual Falco fans.
It is the biological equivalent of a doorbell, or worse, the bell that sits on an unattended counter to summons service from the back room. One cannot clear one’s throat in a public space without everyone in earshot peeking through and around their mind’s figurative curtains and doorjambs as they anxiously ask themselves, Now who could that be, and what do they want? It elicits paranoia, especially in the emotionally disturbed and some teenagers. An innocuous clearing of the throat may be interpreted as a way of saying, “I know what you’re up to, and you’d better stop,” or “I’m right behind you, and I’m about to strangle you with some piano wire.” Macho men, on the other hand, will understand throat clearing to be an instigative gesture, an animal-like grunt that initiates an altercation between two alpha-males. Clear your throat in the wrong place, and you will soon be in battle!
Though I’ve never been caught in quicksand, I understand that the more you struggle to get out, the stronger the vacuum pulls you in. This is also the case with clearing your throat. The more you clear your throat, the more you have to clear your throat. But of course not clearing your throat is the equivalent to not scratching a mosquito bite. Or worse, waiting to get to the prize at the bottom of a cereal box by eating only one serving a day until it naturally falls into your bowl. It’s just not going to happen without going mad first.
Finally, it is a dreadful sound that defies written transcription. The traditional “ahem” dresses the sound up in a way that is simply unfair. A realistic translation of the rather grating, guttural, stuttering sound would require letters – consonants, probably – to overlap. Some might even need to be cut in half. I find this highly unfortunate and unmusical sound a profound betrayal of the vocal folds. Down with throat clearing!
I think it’s a symptom our capitalist consumer culture that so many pop songs (which, of course, are products themselves) express love in the language of possession and ownership. Perhaps the financial crisis will yield a new breed of love song that warns of love’s variable interest rate.
You Belong to Me: Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters (1979)
As far as I know, there exists no official soundtrack album to The Jerk. About ten years ago, I hooked a DVD player up to my standalone Sony CD burner (purchased for a now unfathomable $600) in order to get the audio you now hear. Probably around fifteen years ago, I hooked a VCR up to my cassette deck to similar (but much hissier) result so that I could listen to this song on my portable cassette player. (Cue mullet.) Before that, I’m sure I considered holding a tape deck up to the television speakers. Needless to say, I think this performance is one of the most delightful moments in movie history – completely unexpected, terribly sweet, and then a little absurd. Ah, like young love itself.
What I love about this song is the zero-tolerance policy on ambiguity. You will either be the girl of my dreams – someone that I will love and hold and kiss, someone that I will share my life’s most intimate moments with, someone that I will file my income taxes with – or you will be a damn fool. I’m endlessly amused by the notion that one individual may possess the capacity to fulfill two dramatically disparate roles, and then the ease with which these two roles will be decided. And while I find the ruthlessness of this song funny, I think it serves as a sobering reminder that though we love people for an infinite number of reasons, our love ultimately hinges on the simple, severe, no-nonsense condition that we are loved back.