I have something to share. Something vulnerable, embarrassing, and difficult.
An issue of mine.
Now, in a world of real problems like famine, AIDS, sex-trafficking, and Bieber-fever, this does not chart in the top, oh, I’m guessing 100,000 of actual situations that would qualify as an “issue.”
When I was in fifth grade I listened to really awful pop music. Of course, back then, I didn’t know it was crap. In fact, I loved it. I remember owning and being excited about Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue. On cassette.
Note: Even though it was the same era, I really disliked Tiffany. Not sure why. Redheads are weird. I’m clear about that.
There’s a certain fondness to look back at that time and remember that I really enjoyed the music. Of course, only one year after I realized that there were superior genres of music that spoke to me more effectively. I put away my Debbie Gibson, Huey Lewis, and Technotronic forever.
In the sixth grade when I would wake up on especially cold mornings, I had a “get warm” routine. Because my parents would have laughed at the idea that 72 degrees is generally associated as the temperature of comfort, I always woke up cold. By the way, if you’re one of those people that thinks that 72 degrees is crazy hot or crazy cold, you are wrong. And crazy. I understand it might not be comfortable to you, but do your family a favor, and admit your body is screwed up. We live in a 72 degree society.
Consider Toy Story 2, Rotten Tomatoes’ best reviewed movie of all time. 146 critics submitted reviews, and all 146 gave it a thumbs-up. But let’s say at I party I tell you that I thought it sucked (I don’t think this). Sure, I’m entitled to my opinion, but my opinion is wrong. And you probably shouldn’t listen to anything else I say about movies. Because, after that statement, I clearly don’t know shit about what makes a good movie.
So, when people say, “It’s way too hot in here!” and the thermostat reads 68 degrees, they are wrong. Also, probably cheap. The rest of us think 72 is ideal, so go strip down to your underwear if you’re too hot. Now that I think about it (and I put a good three minutes of reflection on this one statement), I’m willing to to submit that I would have preferred my parents walk around in their skivvies if that meant the house could have been heated to 72 degrees. Sure it would have crossed boundaries and screwed me up sexually, but at least I would have been comfortable.
So one particular cold morning, as I huddled over the vent on the floor of my bedroom, trying to warm up, I did something I never had before. I changed the dial on my radio from KZ93, the pop station, to ROCK106. I had seen enough bumper stickers to know that ROCK106 was the place to “Get the Led Out” (what that meant, I didn’t know). And the first song that I heard that morning was Tom Petty’s “Refugee”.
Now, this is one of the more depressing classic rock and roll songs. You definitely feel worse after hearing it. But, I was hooked on rock from then on out.
So, even though my taste evolved that day to a higher quality of music (sorry
Debbie Deborah Gibson fans), I simultaneously developed a terrible habit that has stuck with me through the years.
My issue : I have needed to place myself in every song I have heard, every time, without exception from the age of twelve.
Let me explain. (And by the way, up until a few years ago, I thought everybody did this.) You know how little boys fantasize about becoming pro-baseball players and girls, ballerinas? And then, as you grow up they realize that isn’t in the cards, or you lose interest, and start to figure out what your personal dreams are based on your talents and interest?
I never did that.
After hearing that song in sixth grade, I knew the pathway to success and happiness was to write, record, and perform a song so amazing that it would rival “Refugee.” Since 12 year olds don’t possess the musical talent to do this, I had to find another way to achieve this dream. And since hard work was out of the question, I took a shortcut. I simply imagined that I HAD written Tom Petty’s “Refugee”!
I did this with every other song I thought was cool at the time. Yes, even Was (Not Was) “Walk The Dinosaur”. By the way, you have to watch the video. There’s a chick with one arm playing backup drums, and I’m pretty sure Eddie Murphy’s on secondary vocals.
I’ve come to realize that pretending that I had written and performed popular music is a coping strategy to help alleviate anxiety that from the pressure of needing to create something “great”.
After 20+ years of playing music of my own, I am here to announce that I am probably not going to write a song as proficient as “Refugee.” And when I search my heart, it’s not even something I really want. I’m not a songwriter. I’m happy playing rhythm guitar and singing some background vocals in our band. I’m not giving up on the dream – I’ve come to realize that songwriting is neither in my wheelhouse nor even a passion.
But, I still have this terrible habit. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you this. I probably average two hours of music a day. One hour to work, one hour back home. Sometimes I change it up with audiobooks, or podcasts, but mostly it’s music.
I have imagined nearly every time, in whatever genre of music I am listening to, that I have performed on that song. This has been going on from approximately the age of twelve, and still continues today. We’re talking about thousands of hours here.
How does it work? Well, in my mind I am usually the lead singer (even though my singing in real life is not even close to what could pass for lead vocals). In the case of a woman who sings (like Aimee Mann, for example), I put myself as her lead guitarist, but also as the dude who wrote the song.
I know this is incredibly narcissistic and delusional. I also know I really didn’t write these songs.
But, up until a few weeks ago, I was never able to take myself out of the song. I couldn’t just “hear” a song and appreciate it. I needed to be “in” the song. Sometimes I’m on stage, other times I’m in a studio recording. It’s really embarrassing to admit.
I’ve imagined that I wrote country songs, rock and roll, classical compositions (yes, even Mozart), 80s hits, and even speed metal. It all goes into the fantasy machine. And it turns out my mind even has no problem fantasizing that I wrote ALL of the Beatles’ songs. Yes, I’m that nuts.
I’m happy to announce that after nearly three years of weekly therapy, this has finally started to unravel. Obviously, fantasizing performing music is not the biggest deal in the world, but it is indicative of a larger issue. What I have come to understand is that I am not satisfied with myself just as a normal guy. I’m not good enough if I don’t write a big hit that people like. I have to constantly produce “quality output” or I think I’m wasting my life. That’s why I’ll go six months without writing a blog post, because it’s not funny enough or has the perfect premise. Everything I produce has to have a certain level of excellence (to my dumb standards). And the reality is this puts a tremendous amount of pressure to do things really well.
This is the core of what I’ve been working on in therapy, and continue to explore.
Thankfully, a few weeks ago, all of a sudden I lost nearly all interest in listening to music. It just didn’t appeal to me anymore. I would try to listen to songs, and just push “stop” halfway through. I no longer saw myself in the music, and I didn’t even wish to listen. This did not come lightly, and the change kind of fucked me up for a while.
I plunged into a deep well of sadness, which I believe is connected to “losing” this fantasy mechanism, which now seems to be broken. I can no longer find immediate happiness in this false fantasy world. Because even though my rational mind knew it wasn’t real, my emotional mind used it as a refuge, where I could always count on being “excellent.” All I had to do was pull up a great song, and there I was, doing something of quality again. Relief!
Here is a list of my most embarrassing songs that I have regularly imagined myself performing, and some of the details of each fantasy.
- The Escape Club – “Wild Wild West”
I had totally forgotten about this song until a few years ago. It’s really pretty awesome, and I see myself singing lead. Also, they talk about “D.J.” which makes it easier to fantasize, since that’s my name.
- Nickelback – “Leader of Men”
Yes, I know Nickelback sucks. We all know. This song has a particularly awful lyric that goes:
“One day, up to a cliff
that overlooks the water
I jumped in to save a girl
It was somebody’s daughter”
Of course it was somebody’s daughter. Every girl is. He was just stumped on what to rhyme with “water.” Still, in my mind I wrote this masterpiece, and sing both the lead and harmony vocals.
- Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard”
This is a straight-ahead rocker. But here’s the thing. I don’t party. I don’t even drink. Doesn’t matter!
- The B-52’s – “Rock Lobster”
Just in case you’re wondering, no I don’t see myself as the lead singer, Fred Schneider. I play the guitar.
- Kid Rock – “I Am The Bullgod”
Another bad fit based on my policy of not ingesting drugs. But somehow, I push through and sing/rap the song.
- Michael Jackson – “Blood On The Dance Floor”
Kind of a dark one about a woman who stabs a guy while he’s dancing with another gal. While I don’t have the balls to see myself singing, I did write this masterpiece. And was in the studio with MJ while he recorded. I direct his performance.
- Run DMC – “It’s Tricky”
You might think this would be a hard one to fantasize because I’m not black, from Hollis, and have never owned a pair of unlaced Adidas. BUT, they do (referring to Daryl) rap the line, “Then D dissed her and dismissed her.” I’m the D!
- The Bangles – “Walk Like An Egyptian”
I think we can all agree that Susanna Hoffs was beautiful. So, who better to fantasize about than to be her boyfriend who wrote this great song. I also taught the lead guitar girl the solo she performs in the middle.
That’s just a snippet of a few of my most shameful songs where I jam out, and not only listen, but also fantasize. I have like four thousand songs in my library, and I’m being totally honest by saying I have done with this with every single one.
But, for some reason, it doesn’t really work anymore. I can sort of do it from time to time, but I don’t have to like before. I guess that’s progress. But now I’m stuck just listening to the music, and you know what I’m realizing? When you don’t see yourself performing in a grand fantasy, you’re stuck to just listening. And a good lot of it sucks!
So, I may just be deleting Modern English’s “I Melt With You” from my playlist. Ugh.