Friday, August 30, 2019

A measure of something

The Outnumbered, ca. 1985
Sometimes a song's hook gets in your head and stay there, but not only for a that summer or that long-ago semester or that exotic vacation, but for good. The chorus of the Outnumbered's "I Feel So Sorry Now" is one of those hooks. I came across the band's terrific debut album sometime during my first year as a DJ at WMUC at the University of Maryland. I liked the label, Homestead, which had released great records by Dogmatics, Salem 66, Naked Raygun, the Flies, and Windbreakers, but also some noisy stuff that I didn't dig; happily, the Outnumbered's album was on the lo-fi, playfully reckless janglepop side of the spectrum. And I loved the album's title, Why Are All The Good People Going Crazy, which echoed my and my friends' righteous indignation at all things.

And yet I recall little of the album now but for the chorus of the opening track, which soon after I first heard it I'd hum disconsolately to myself on campus between classes, or heading over to my girlfriend's, or aimlessly walking or driving around. If rock and roll is fun songs about sad stuff, then "I Feel So Sorry Now" is Exhibit A. I played the song weekly on my radio show; the chorus got in me, stuck around, and scored my days and nights as graphically as If I'd written it myself. The four-bar, five-word-cum-singalong phrase became a kind of musical theme for my interior movie, a refrain that'd recur when I felt lonely, regretful, blue, or hopeless—in other words, just about every other day. The chorus disengaged itself from its own song and became a micro-song, all four notes and five seconds of it. Yet what's remarkable to me is that still, thirty-plus years down the line, this refrain will sound in my head in moments of duress, or panic, or emotional anxiety—shitty feelings that are hardly limited to one's twenties—a snippet of melody so deeply ingrained that it's virtually in my DNA, inseparable from my character. Musical skin that was somehow grafted on, and took. I could sing this chorus aloud and the phrase would identify me as surely as my driver's license or blood type.

This is only to say that I marvel at all of this. But why this (admittedly great) tune? Why this chorus of this song written by some record-reviewing college student down in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois? (Jon Ginoli, who wrote the song. later decamped to San Francisco and formed Pansy Division.) Who knows? Right song, right time, right sorry kid who was open to rock and roll's beautiful tendency to sing what you can't yet say, what you can only feel, to provide a recurring theme song to your interior life. I remain in awe of random melodies, sounds, and words becoming as deeply personal—and permanent—to us as our own names and body types, finally, down the years, having little to do with the source song or artist or band anymore. I'm certain that I'll find myself humming this modest, enormous chorus until my dying day. Thanks, Jon.

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