Written By Phillip Mottaz
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 AC/DC's "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation," Beyonce's "Single Ladies," and Outkast's "Dracula's Wedding."
I want to start this one off by correcting myself twice. First off, for all his work and help on the column, I should have pimped out my friend's entertaining and insightful blog FilmChris.com. That's just politeness that I didn't do. And I'm doing all this because I'm going to riff (read "steal") on his idea again for this week. The notion that a song can marry a moment, and the two become one (now stealing from the Spice Girls) is the magic of music and that's what makes me love it.
This week focuses more on the actual moment that found the song, tempting me to change the title to "The Greatest MOMENT For a Song." I love "Shadowboxer" on its own, but the moment I'm describing was so weirdly perfect for the song to soundtrack that I can't treat the song with my usual repeat-ad-nauseum approach.
March 4, 2009. 8:19 AM. Raining. I've been up for almost two hours, which is typical but not exactly in this manner. I always get up with my wife, who is a high school art teacher in Pacoima, CA. She's even less of a morning person than I am, and since our schedules do not often line up, the early morning is a good time for some daily connection. I help her with breakfast, make her lunch and normally send her out the door alone while I stay home to check email, write columns people don't respond to and generally keep my hands warm.
This particular morning I was driving her to school because I needed the car later in the day (yes, we're trying to make a single-car family work in the most car-crazy city in the world). Mind you I was happy to do it, but not happy if you understand my meaning. I'll do it because I love my wife, and I'm happy to help her set up her classroom for the 35 minutes prior to school starting after we get there... but it's still early. Nobody's thrilled about being up early, but I did it, and I made it through and I'm a heroic husband for all of it.
After doing the short 20-minute drive there and back, I'm headed home and it's raining. This should be no kind of big event, but I live in Southern California where "Partly Cloudy" counts as a seasonal change. Traffic responds with appropriate panic and slowness, some of which is merited; after months and months of desert-dry driving, the highways seep in tons of oil and gunk that the rain sets loose, making driving conditions hazardous. So I'm tired, cold and in slight danger of being slowed down to death. The wipers are working, but nothing's right. I'm tired and getting grumpy and I'm prepping for my interview that I know I'm unqualified to nail.
I decide to go the "long" way, which means I'm going to stay on the highway longer rather than bailing at the Magnolia exit and taking side streets. It's not a landmark of a decision, but it's the the kind of decision that could result between sitting in more traffic in hopes of the slight chance at a great payoff in lesser driving ultimately, or fighting some lights. This does not, however, pan out. The rain has infested every driver's brain with a lead break pedal. As I barely manage to find my proper exit, the opening strains of "Shadowboxer" begin to play from my stereo.
As you can plainly see, this is not a story of monumental importance. It's not even really a story at all. It's average life crap that we all have to do that only helps to fill out the anecdotal portions of our psyches. But how many of these pointless non-adventures gain particular resonance when accompanied with the proper song at the proper time? That's a rhetorical question. I already know the answer: a billion of them. It's only sad that we don't pause to recognize them more often, because if we did, we'd probably all feel better about ourselves and would drive more productively because of it.
The funny things about my "Shadowboxer" experience are these:
1) I didn't know that song was the perfect song for that moment -- or vice versa -- until about three-quarters of the way through, as I was pulling into my garage.
And 2) Somehow I knew -- despite historically loving the song and being the kind of repeat-listener that I am -- that I shouldn't treat this song the same way I do other G.S.A.T.M. candidates. It was less about the song and more about the big picture I had found myself in at that instant. It's a complete cliche -- yet, I find most cliches of this sort are cliches because they're true -- but the world seemed to suddenly drift into a sleepy choreography as my car ran its rehearsed route into the parking spot. I became a player in a movie starring only me, and this was the perfectly chosen song for my slice-of-life scene as we see a semi-hard-working husband struggling to get home to prepare for that big interview at a temp agency, not knowing the simple tragedy of a cancellation that awaits him on the answering machine.
Like the song says, I keep swinging and missing. It was even more perfect than I realized. Even listening to it again as I check the video to attach, it sounds great, but my world isn't changing. Maybe that makes it even more special.
Fiona Apple - "Shadowboxer"