Saturday, July 16, 2011

Slurpees and Murder Record Club: My Favourite Song That I Can't Identify

I happen to be on Google+ now, if you're into that sort of thing; part of the whole Information Science rigamarole means paying attention to emerging trends in social media, in case a prospective employer considers it the kind of stuff that may be lumped into one's hypothetical job description. So I am now, if nothing else, aware of it -- but the platform is popularly seen as a response to Facebook and Facebook never really ended up being my bag, so I'll have to wait and see how well Google+ grabs me.

Twitter, as you're aware, I dig; it's built around the rapid-fire short-form delivery of information, a helpful skill not otherwise often taught, so I check it fairly frequently to see how people work within its disciplines. But Facebook? Man, my Facebook use is entirely sporadic, as anyone who's tried to contact me through Facebook has long since figured out by now. Facebook only exists in my mind as a way to remind me of folks' birthdays and to keep me updated on adorable baby photos of tiny relatives, which, I mean, I guess that's still pretty good for a website. But its continually rotating air-quotes "Privacy" settings and its gradual, Myspaceian advertising creep are bad enough before you realize that there isn't much to it or on it at this point; most of its clientele only seem to use it now for personality tests, web quizzes, Flash games and copy-paste exercises.


I guess people enjoy it, but man, I can't be bothered. There is one quiz-reposter-thing, however, that I wouldn't mind finally seeing, and I didn't really realize it until I thought it over and noticed that I've never seen it happen. You'd think it would be an obvious one, too; with the ubiquity of iTunes-compatible devices, fancy things that people will gleefully show off at the first opportunity, it's always mildly surprised me that no repost-meme has ever emerged asking people to post what their Top 25 Most Played tracks are. Isn't that weird? It's not like it would be difficult information to find, the device compiles and presents it for you in a handy-dandy list right there in the Playlists of whatever it is you're toting around.

Now, I'm pretty sure the reason we haven't seen it is because everybody realizes it would be embarassing, like dudes just know they're going to look at their Top 25 Most Played list and it'll have the entirety of MuchMusic Dance Mix '94 or something on it. It'd be really fun, though, wouldn't it? I reckon it would be; for all the lengths that people go to on Facebook and other social media sites to help people get to know them better, I think finding out what someone listens to most often would be the quickest way to get a really good sense of their character. I figure, if a guy posted his Most Played list and it was twenty-five Slipknot songs, you'd probably know what to expect from that guy if you ran into him in real life.

If such a meme did exist, however, my participation would have a different problem entirely, and that problem is this: I can't tell you what my most played song is. I literally can not. I can tell you about the song, and I can play the song for you -- I just can't identify the song.

There is a story behind this; being something of a low-level raconteur, I have a story behind most things. So humour me if you will as I reminisce a bit, all the way back to the far-flung olden days of May 2009.

I was dating a very lovely young woman when I was doing my Master's in Ontario, and the relationship lasted about a year before it finally imploded under long distances because we were in different provinces. I'd begun dating her after my courtship ended with a very lovely young woman here in Winnipeg, that relationship having lasted about a year before it finally imploded under long distances because we were in different provinces. I've gleamed from this pattern that my charm on the ladies is directly proportional to personal distance, very effective up close and completely useless from afar, like some kind of... love... shotgun. Shotgun of love! Wow that is a terrible metaphor, what am I doing. Let's start over.

So I was dating this very lovely young Ontario woman, at the time; she was a longtime Torontonian originally from Mississauga, and in May of 2009 she was packing up in preparation for a four-month work placement in Calgary, so I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could before she ventured off into then-unfamiliar territory. We agreed to meet up in downtown Toronto for the weekend and catch the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which meant -- me being in London, a few hours away -- I hopped a Greyhound just as soon as my start-of-term classes were out that week. Now, I don't know if you've ever taken a Greyhound bus into Toronto through Friday afternoon traffic on their 401 Highway, but... it's kind of a bad idea. Not entirely recommended as a pastime you might enjoy. But you do these things for love, god damn it! It was worth it to be there.

(I spent most of this same academic term paring back my already-sparse grad school food budget, enjoying the culinary subtleties of no-name ramen, to save up for plane tickets so I could go visit my ladyfriend in Alberta during the Reading Week break. Well, you do these things for love, god damn it! It was worth it to be there.)

It was a weekend very well spent, running around her various Toronto haunts and then being big ol' comics nerds; at the end of our weekend it ended up somehow that her train out of downtown was way earlier than my bus back to London. So that ultimately left me about four hours to kill by myself in Toronto -- albeit when a lot of stuff was closed and with the caveat that I couldn't get too far away from the bus depot -- and eventually meant me wandering around its Chinatown after dark just to see what was open. Because, hey. Why the hell not.

Not nearly as much remains open as you'd think -- a couple grocery places, maybe a snack stop or two -- but I did happen across one very brightly lit palace of bootlegs and knockoffs, still open for business and neoned to the nines, crammed ceiling to floor with whatever handbags and hats and plush toys and digital media had just happened to fall off a truck onto a boat that had then sailed across the ocean. Ten bucks for a purse, seven bucks for a giant Hello Kitty, five bucks for a DVD of heavily pixelated Asian pornography. All in the same aisle! That kind of a place.

Not owning an iPod at the time -- remember, I was a grad student, I was happy to own tuna -- I was still that guy who had to cart a CD player around in his backpack everywhere he went if he wanted anything but silence on his Greyhound trips. I'd only brought one old-ass burnt CD with me on the Greyhound into town, for reasons I'm sure had been brilliant at the time, and I was a couple hours away from another long bus ride back to London. So I figured, you know what? I need some tunes.

The store's collection of CDs for sale was vast and wide, enticingly mysterious because I couldn't read a damn one of them, and absolutely one hundred per cent illegal right across the board. Five bucks got me anything on the music racks, so I eventually grabbed a two-CD set in a wooden case (!) with a tiny bit of English on it -- "POLYDOR DANCE STREET", across the front, with some tiny dancing shadows and a blue-green swirl on a white background -- and wended my way back to the bus depot for my eventual dead-of-night return trip.

And that, then, all of that said, is how I found the song that this post is about. It was the first track on the second of two CDs, which I put in first because it was dark on the bus and I couldn't read the package to begin with. (I only figured out it was CD2 later by comparing the track times on the back of the case.) The audio levels and quality bounced around like crazy from track to track, as is the nature of mysterious bootlegged compilations, and the music seemed to ricochet across all decades and genres of Chinese pop music -- including, as strange as this sounds, a man doing a leisurely sing-speaking (presumably-)Mandarin Kraftwerk cover. I'll post the rest of the album here sometime, you might get a kick out of it.

The epilogues to this tale are all sort of underwhelming, unfortunately. My romantic interest was still in Calgary when I eventually graduated, and by the time she went back to Ontario I'd already found sessional work back here in Winnipeg, so the relationship lasted a couple more months' worth of phone calls before that was the end of that. I came back to Winnipeg on a thirty-five-hour Greyhound ride -- what can I say, I've grown accustomed to bus travel -- and left the POLYDOR DANCE STREET compilation behind, burning it to my laptop and donating the set to Goodwill in London's wonderfully-named Sherwood Forest Mall. (The Sherwood Forest Mall is on London's Wonderland Road. London, Ontario is kind of a goofy place.) I figured, I couldn't read a lick of the packaging or song titles, and dragging random unlicensed bootlegged goods across two provinces is kind of lame, so I should give somebody else the opportunity to randomly discover the music, right? Right! But I hadn't counted on my little brother majoring in Linguistics and Asian Studies within the next couple of years, and of course he did, so now I am an idiot. Just smart enough to pay five dollars for thirty or forty digital tracks when the going rate is usually a buck a pop, but also just dumb enough to ensure that I will never know what any of the tracks actually are. C'est la vie.

But you know what? I got this song out of the whole thing, and it is a song that makes me happy. So! This was a success. I would eventually come to own an iPod, and on that iPod my most played track is the following:

POLYDOR DANCE STREET - Disc 2 Track 1 (Quick Start Edit)
(192kbps, 5.43MB)

I know nothing else about it -- not the artist, not the composer, not the title, not the year, not even what the lyrics mean. I abandoned the packaging in another province entirely, so I don't even have the cover art; the image I've embedded in the file is, instead, just Winnipeg Cat. (Folks seem to like Winnipeg Cat.) Some burning error in the bootlegging process, over in China or Hong Kong or who even knows, also meant that every track started with a fade-in -- so I'd edited the beginning of this song to start somewhere more reasonable, my explanation for the parentheses you see on the file name. Damned if I don't love it, though!

I'll admit, as you probably also will, that my initial impressions of the song were dampened somewhat by the hilariously inexpensive synthesizer the song uses for the lead instrumental melody line. And the (children's?) choir backing the later repetitions of the chorus seems entirely gratuitous for the first few listens. And the gong in the coda? You're going to laugh when you hear it the first time, because, well, that's funny. I don't think you can even get away with a gong in the coda any more. But even with these flaws and issues addressed and acknowledged, this is a song I can't get enough of; it's included in every playlist I make, which starts to undermine the point of playlists, and it makes me smile every time it comes on.

This song just sounds like adventure, to me -- capital-A Adventure with glorious trials and globe-spanning travels and courageous battles, a sweeping epic journey in four minutes, like this would have been the main theme of the soundtrack if a Chinese animation studio had made a big-budget Lord of the Rings movie adaptation in 1985. And it has a great heroic bombast to it, doesn't it? Makes everything seem more important, as though whatever you happen to be doing is in fact the fabric of destiny unfolding before you.

You'll know what I mean immediately if this song comes up in your headphones while you're walking somewhere. You don't even have to be walking anywhere in particular; in fact, if you have room around you, just stand up from your computer and walk around a bit while you're playing this. You'll stand up straighter, get a bit of march in your step, maybe have your elbows and fists swinging in time -- not consciously, but rest assured, this song'll bring it out of you. The handclaps (or synth-handclaps, or whatever a more technical term would be) grow on you immediately when you do, but the real powerhouse here is the hard-working octave bassline bounce going on throughout all the verses and choruses. As a lapsed bassist myself, I can confirm this as truth: octave basslines are way more fun to play than you would ever initially expect, and once you lock the tempo in you can just lean into those suckers all you want. Just James Jamerson the crap out of every note, it's incredibly satisfying.

And this whole package could have been undone by a noncommittal vocal performance, but no, whatever it is this woman is singing about, she is super dedicated to it. She throws herself into every phrase, and I suppose I'm just as happy that I don't know the artist or the lyrics, because I'm sure I would be disappointed to find out; it would turn out to be a Communist Party propaganda support song, or an extended jingle for a soft drink, or a song about doing the laundry, or something, and I would never quite enjoy it the same way after finding out that it isn't the majestic globetrotting adventure anthem it plays as in my head.

and then songs two through twenty-five on my most played list are all slipknot and dance mix 94
i alternate between THIS IS THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT and RARRRRGGHHHH, BRAGH SRAGH GRIGH GNEHHGH, ARDHHH GARRGGHHHHHH until i just give up on life and go lie down
put this as your status if you like music

Anyway! Coming up next: Winnipeg Beach Boardwalk Days pictures! I think that'll be nice.

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