Dedicated to those songs that I can't stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included My Morning Jacket's "Evil Urges," Ronnie & The Daytona's "Little G.T.O.," and Tender Box's "Spectacular Spider-man Theme."
I have a post-concert habit: When I return home, I try to organize a playlist of all my album (a.k.a. "non-live") tracks in the same order I remember hearing them played live mere days, hours or minutes before. I usually have a couple missing bits here and there, but I can ballpark matters pretty well. It all helps me live squarely in the past - a wonderfully controlled and regulated past. It's cozy here with no crowd noise, no lines, no smells other than that of my own seclusion. Of course sometimes being won over by the band I've seen, I'm compelled to collect more of their work, even if I already have waaaaaaaaaay more than I need, and the missing chunks are from crappy albums. This is where iTunes and music downloading really save my bacon, and that's what they did for me after seeing Beck at Outside Lands by delivering "Timebomb."
Two minutes and fifty seconds of glorious pop juice oozed on August 22, 2008 to hypnotize me. Besides putting both its magical hands on my hips and moving me in a dirty fashion, the song commanded me. "Acquire this song. Play this song. Re-play this song."
While my writing my festival review and trying my best to recreate the concerts I'd just heard, I found I was missing this track in my personal collection. However, I'm not an impulse-buy kind of guy, even if the impulse would only cost me ninety-nine cents (that's nearly two candy bars). This is where YouTube comes in handiest. In a world waged in war against the cheapskate, YouTube is the sausage-on-the-stick at the grocery store. You can almost always count on at least one video with the song in question. For evidence, see nearly every single G.S.A.T.M. columns I've written, save one ("Guns on the Roof," which actually now has a video. I'm sure I had everything to do with it finally being produced, if you can call a still photo of the Clash a "produced" video. And I do).
Turns out "Timebomb" has not only inspired this writer, but countless other video producers to create strange tributes to its glory. Many of these are simple dance videos and while they're not technically "unwatchable," they're probably more fun to watch if you know the kids involved, particularly if you gave birth to them. There are videos set to soccer games, mash-ups over "Gossip Girl" clips and old movie footage, and copious lip sync videos. But to really solve the mystery of this song's repeatability, I luckily found a video derived from the "subliminal messages" contained within when played backwards.
Now we're getting somewhere. Leave it to the never ending subliminal backwards message constituency to get to the heart of the matter. These guys should probably name themselves the "You Gotta Really Want To Hear It Group." And trust me, they REALLY want to hear it. I've been intrigued by the notion of Beck having subliminal messages ever since a friend joked that "Timebomb" had secret Scientology messages worked in, but this particular video makes a claim that Beck is really singing about Mars, and prophets, and cigarettes (which he sings about in the non-subliminal part, too. This repetition must be due to the fact that Beck really, really wants us to smoke cigarettes and he'll go to the trouble of recording the word forwards and backwards to get you to do it!). There's more stretching in these video's thesis than a first-baseman on a double play, with long passages being "deciphered" into phrases that make almost as little sense as the non-subliminal ones. And if that weren't enough, at the 1:35 mark, these particular code-cracking geniuses admit they can't figure out what's being backwardly said and write - I'm not kidding - "(Mumble mumble) on mars they are wise...." Seriously? "(Mumble mumble)?" You're entire theory is based on cracking "(Mumble mumble)" and you just write it in? Unfortunately, I still don't smoke, nor do I want to go to mars, nor do I mumble mumble, so the backwards-message angle feels like a dead end in solving the mystery of "Timebomb."
It feels like the true subliminal message of the song is in its simple popness, and I know I use that excuse a lot, but it's often the truth. There's really only so many ways you can make chocolate cake, and if you stick to the recipe it usually comes out pretty good anyway. There's a crunchy drum beat and a persistent (almost boring) electronic beep holding things in check. It's got repeatable lyrics which allow for easy singing back, as evidenced at Outside Lands. I hadn't heard the song more than four times, and it had been a few years. But I can pick it up pretty quick when you keep repeating "We got a time bomb" and "Na-nuh-na-nah" for a majority of the tune. The checkmate of the whole mix for me remains the cheerleader-style backing vocals, lending the kind of "join in" vibe we all remember from pep rallies.
And join in I do. Again and again. And as I've illustrated, others around the world have experienced this same strange compulsion, either by subliminal message, idle hands, or through some level of close encounter. Somehow this song about time bombs--not the dismantling or setting of time bombs, but just time bombs in general--compels as well as attracts. That's what art's supposed to do, and that's why it always scares those who don't understand it. They don't understand that none of us really understand it. We just seem cooler with watching videos of kids dressed in cardboard boxes dismantling actively-phoney time bombs than other people are.
NOTE: I'm not including the "official" video for the song, if there even is one. Instead I'm linking by far the most popular "homemade" video, which looks like paper cut-outs from someone named Hamcane. It's adorable and wonderful as it takes us through the many, many Becks we've experienced over the years, with my personal favorite being Midnite Vultures-era Beck doing the splits.
Written By Phillip Mottaz