Making Me Crazy
by Julia McCloy
I react inappropriately to Ryan Adams. In a completely unacceptable manner. He makes me want to hit things. More specifically: him. Right in the middle of his glasses.
When I am trapped in someone’s car and they swirl the dial on their iPod to the Cardinals, my neck muscles become tight and I grab the passenger seat with an intensity that I imagine to be akin to the kungfu grip of G.I. Joes. A grip that allowed the G.I. Joes to hold tight to the firecrackers that blew up their faces. Or at least melted their bodies.
There is something about Adams' posture and voice that turns me into the Chet from Weird Science. It makes me call people “buttwad” and “monkey dick.” Especially if people force me to listen to it in their car. And especially if there is no gun in the glove compartment that I can use to shoot myself in the face and end my suffering quickly.
Having said that, I love the song “Come Pick Me Up.” It falls in the category of songs that romanticize insanity, weirdness, and erratic behavior in women. I eat that stuff up with a spoon. And I have recently begun to wonder in my youth if I tried to be the type of woman that drove Mick Jagger wild in songs like "Dead Flowers" and "Ruby Tuesday," women who “change with every new day” or sent bad flowers not just once, but multiple times.
I didn’t see these songs as metaphorical or whimsy. I saw these songs as instructions. When the Ramones sang “Judy is a punk.” I thought,” Hey I could be a punk too.”
Plus my name starts with J -- the only thing I could tell from the song was necessary to be a punk. That and maybe something about the ice capades. All of it seemed doable.
It was the same when I listened to the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl.” If all I had to do was to “jump on a table and yell anarchy” in the most pedestrian of settings in order to impress Rodney Anonymous, then I would do it. Maybe even twice.
I am older now and I worry that in an effort to define myself as desirable I have cultivated odd and useless tendencies. Ones that I assumed appealed to talented artists. But who knows if they do or don’t. In my old age I am pretty sure the members of the Ramones would be horrible boyfriends anyway. Especially the dead ones.
I think that guy from the Counting Crows would be a horrible boyfriend as well. I spent a lot of time in 9th grade listening to August and Everything After, but was not prepared when I saw him in concert on PBS the other night. It was broadcast in gutwrenchingly pristine HD.
By his example I have learned the hard lesson that many artists do not have the skin necessary for high-definition. I think that if as a little girl I knew HD was coming my nightly prayer would have been, “Dear God please bless all the children and all the baby animals in the world and please kill Roy Orbison soon. So we won’t have to see his face in HD. Thank you and I love you.”
August and Everything After is song after song about women who are odd or troubled and do something so right that they make the lead singer grow some really bad dreads and constantly make a face like he accidentally flushed a kitten down a toilet. I listened to the album on repeat. None of my friends grew dreads. Or flushed kittens down toilets. As far as I knew.
Since 9th grade I have spent a good bit of time in dentists' offices. So I have become aware of the phenomenon that is Rob Thomas and the apparent under the table deal he must have with dental hygienists and easy listening stations that play his music constantly.
Rob Thomas fits into the category of songwriters who sing about crazy women. I don’t disqualify him from this category simply because when he says “she” he means “Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder” and when he says “her” he means “Tom Cruise in a loincloth in Legend.” His songs at least superficially sound like they are about women. Crazy ones. Maybe those crazy enough to be scientologists.
I learned to play the bass by listening to The Modern Lovers' self-titled album. Over and over again. Especially “I’m Straight” and “She Cracked.” From the hours of twelve to four in the morning. These songs again romanticize self-destructive behavior in women and maybe I thought by depriving myself of sleep I was acting them out. I don’t know.
What I do know is that my neighbors didn’t like it very much. My late night music playing seemed to distract them from the rest they required to play video games and sell drugs to college students all day. They made this clear by countering my Jonathan Richman with white-boy rap. Our music battled it out until they either passed out from an exhausting day of playing Halo and saying “dude, you are right I am TOTALLY kind” or I yelled,” I have blisters on me fingers.”
This experience endears Jonathan Richman to me and he holds a special place in my heart, but his songs are not the songs of this genre that shaped me the most. The ones that make my chest ache and my shoulders curl despite repeated listenings are those of the Velvet Underground.
Specifically “Stephanie Says” with its line about Stephanie being called “Alaska” and the reflection about it being “so cold in Alaska.” I lived for ten years in Montana and would sing that line over and over while I trudged to work in the snow and wiped the ice from my eyebrows. I would replace the state Alaska with Montana as I sang it. I loved living there, but it was cold. Very cold. “So cold” in fact. When friends from the south came to visit in the February and asked why I lived here, I would always answer “I lost a bet.”
This was obviously meant to be funny (are there any bets that require you to move to cold states? ) I think my answer was truthful in an odd way—or as truthful as I was able to be. I think I understood the Montana winters. They were so hard and so fucking miserable. But I understood them and I think I feel similarly about the crazy women in these songs. I understand them, or at least think I do. And that familiarity breeds a security. And just like I left Montana, I am not sure I want time with these women anymore.
Julia McCloy is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Memphis. She last wrote in these pages about medical experiments.
"New Teller" - Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers (mp3)
"Government Center" - Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers (mp3)
"Girl Friend" - Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers (mp3)
"Astral Plane" - Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers (mp3)
"I'm Straight" - Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Georgia hates cats.
Stand up comics we can tolerate.
Becca got knocked up.