Trying To Get To You

Monday, November 20, 2006

My New Conception Of Hell

I'm not particularly religious. But I've wondered, on occasion, if there is a hell, what is it like? Eternal fire? Nah. I had come to believe that hell, like most things, is relative, meaning that each person would have their own hell tailored to suit their worst nightmare. Obviously, in my hell, I'd be forced to deal with some truly horrible music. I figured that the soundtrack for me would be an endless loop of really horrible and cheesy club music at volumes that would make the music inescapable. Or maybe I'd be at an eternal H.O.R.D.E. festival show with not a joint in sight.

But I think I found a new version of hell that might be worse.

I was with my girlfriend yesterday in North Jersey, at a great produce market right near my parents, doing some food shopping before we went back to Brooklyn. As we started shopping, I heard the sounds of an acoustic guitar that I didn't pay any mind to initially. I didn't see a performer, so I figured it was a CD or the radio. But then the chords and the words started coming together, and I realized that it was "Tangled Up In Blue." And it was a version that in no way was good enough to be documented by anyone. The chords were halting, and the voice was plainly bad. It had to be someone playing live. So I looked around, and there he was; early 20's, long brown hair parted in the middle, checkered work shirt and Levi's. He looked like he stepped right out of "Almost Famous." About 6 people were watching him. I muttered a quick "ugh" to myself and went back to shopping. My girlfriend told me to stop it and be nice.

After "Tangled Up In Blue" came "Mr. Charlie," a not particularly well known (or particularly good) Grateful Dead song from Europe '72. Now I'm thinking, "Ok, here's the sensitive suburban stoner kid, pulling out the deep Grateful Dead cuts. He's smart, knows some stuff, but has no talent. This could be bad." And then it was.

The opening chords for Tom Petty's "American Girl" are instantly recognizable to me. After seeing "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" for about 30 times and being a child of the 80's, it's just one of those songs that's inescapable. It's a great opening riff; high on the guitar neck, they're an invitation to a blissful three and a half minute world. I think I had it on a 45. My new young singer songwriter friend hit the riff of "American Girl" and played it ok. My eyebrows were raised, waiting for him to get to the lyrics. Petty sings "American Girl" pretty high in his vocal register; I imagine that karaoke singers all over the world have strained to hit the notes, especially in the "she was an American girl" chorus. Our friend couldn't even come close to hitting the notes, even in the verses. And the chorus? Oooooooof. I don't know what key the song is in (I think it's D), but he was singing it about a half step off. Even my girlfriend, who's a much nicer person than me, made a face like she had just smelled a carton of milk that had curdled about six weeks earlier. I almost staggered around, half laughing, in utter disbelief of what I was hearing. I'm thinking, "Dude! Don't you know you're not even CLOSE to hitting this?"

After literally a five minute version (he added an instrumental bridge for effect) he then tacked Neil Young's "The Needle And The Damage Done," another classic that I know well from my own teens. Again, our boy just wasn't even close to singing in key. I was in the back of the store, ordering something at the deli, listening, saying "Oh my God" often and looking around to see if anyone else had the same pained expression on their face. If they did, I couldn't see it.

Then, for the coup-de-grace, we had a duet! A version of the great Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash version of "Jackson." And now, instead of having one singer off key, we had two, as a young woman joined our hero onstage. She wasn't much better. It was almost cool though, because they were off in the same key, so strangely enough, it sounded harmonious in it's disaster.

It was then that I muttered to myself, "This is hell." And it then dawned on me that hell wouldn't just be hearing music that I hated. Hell would have to be two things simultaneously; horrible music, but horrible music that would also turn a memory of music I had loved into a nightmare. It would make me wish that I had never heard Blood On The Tracks or Live At Folsom Prison or Harvest. It would rob me of any shelter or refuge that I could take in memory.

But hopefully, it would be awful enough that I'd be able to get a laugh out of it.

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