R’n’R Confessional: Can’t Stop the Bum Rush

Rock ‘n’ Roll Confessional

For better or worse, I’ve spent the last three years as this magazine’s Lisa Simpson: the young, self-righteous know-it-all who can’t understand why everyone else seems to be having so much fun.  Plus I go for Leslie Feist like Lisa went for Corey.  Of course, all Simpsons analogues stop there: our boss is barely more than half the tyrant of Mr. Burns, Smithers has sailed to bigger and better power plants (go buy the new issue of Magnet, you’ll see what I mean), and, as you read last month, Bart’s moved out to Hollywood.  So it looks like you’re stuck with me for the time being, or at least until Leo realizes that he’s just made an editor of the only staffer who will proudly admit to owning the first Third Eye Blind record.

As summer comes to a close and I try to make it through September acting comfortable in my Levi’s, I figured it would be best to wish the festering boils of August adieu by paying tribute to that great musical tradition: the summer jam.  Take, for instance, Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”  It was impossible to walk into any public space last summer without your head automatically bobbing to Danger Mouse’s still-funky beat and every NASCAR dad worth his salt can now do a pretty decent Cee-Lo Green imitation.  “Crazy” was 2006’s “Hey Ya:” a pop song that everyone could like, guilt-free like a skinny latte and equally delicious (told you; I’m just getting the nerdiness warmed up).  These are qualities that we want in a summer jam; there’s no need to get all deep and heavy (which disqualifies the otherwise excellent “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John).  It’s  way too hot to do any real thinking anyway.

On that note, let’s now look back to 1998.  The overwhelming sales of Creed’s My Own Prison the year before had made it clear that popular rock was going to get pretty rough for a while.  Brian Setzer was urging us all to jump, jive, and wail in our khakis and Paula Cole won a Grammy for emphatically questioning the whereabouts of our nation’s cowboys.  And in Toronto, an unknown brother-sister combo wrote one of the best pop songs of that or any decade.  I am talking, of course, about Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.”

From the bizarre spoken-word intro (“Does he like butter tarts?”) to the fumbling barroom pianos and Burger Pimp and Sharon’s (her real name, probably not his) sweet-and-sour recitation of the nonsensical chorus, it’s four and a half minutes of sunshiney weirdness that manages to take itself just seriously enough to stay together.  The story being told here is one that is common to everyone: hey, man, summer gets boring sometimes, but our friends are all pretty cool and if all else fails, there’s always the beach.  And that’s it, really.  No questions of ontology, no self-reflection.  Hell, there’s not even a hint of a love story. Just a bunch of people hangin’ out, lots of smiling, and, from what I can tell, eating.  Somehow that bubblegum managed to cut through the Jncos I was wearing back then and get my ass a’ shakin’ and I don’t know that I’ve stopped since.  Though I was too embarrassed to share my love for Len with my fellow Limp Bizkit and Insane Clown Posse fans in ’98 (weird how ironic life can be, eh?), it may be the only song from that year that I have consistently liked since its release (with the possible exception of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper”). It wasn’t until two or so years ago that I was finally able to come to terms and admit to my friends that I still listened to and enjoyed “Steal My Sunshine,” that I had flirted with buying a vinyl copy of You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush from Rocks Off, and that I wasn’t trying to be ironic in any way when I sang the song karaoke.  I even went so far as to let it moonlight as my ringtone until several awkward moments found it replaced with something a bit more, ah-hem, age-appropriate. Hey, even I have my limits.

Sadly, Len failed to produce another song as big as “Steal My Sunshine,” though they were apparently slated to release a new album – when else? – this summer.  “Steal My Sunshine” will likely never be remembered as one of the great all-time dance songs (despite being no more or less vapid than “Louie, Louie,” though I doubt that any of the Kingsmen went by the name Drunkness Monster).  Instead, it will probably be sandwiched eternally between Sisqó’s “Thong Song” and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” on mediocre 90s compilations.  An unfair deal, perhaps, but maybe in thirty years I’ll be able to retain some shred of indie cred for my love of obscure 90s pop gems.  “Lovefool,” you’d better pay off, too.

So what’s the point?  To paraphrase the song, don’t let anyone steal your sunshine (sorry, Leo).  Like what you wanna like.  That James Dean quote has become fodder for high school yearbooks, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Dance like no one’s watching.  Because we’re not young for long; life’s too short to waste on music you don’t honestly like.  If you honestly like Mandy Moore, go see her on September 2nd at the House of Blues.  If you think Xiu Xiu is unlistenable or Girl Talk is a passing fad, don’t be afraid to say so.

Autumn is upon us, at least according to the calendar if not the weather; there will always be time for the National and Sigur Rós and all of those wonderful bands who depress the hell out of us.  For now, let’s just feel the bum rush.

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