When ecology went mainstream, Amoco had a TV ad that used a pseudo-folkie pseudo-protest singer to extol the virtues of its new "clean" unleaded gas. Wacko Jacko licensed The Beatles' "Revolution" to Nike, so they could hustle sweatshop-made athleticwear.
Geek Boy used "Start Me Up" in ads for his brand-new version of Visual DOS. Today, most North Americans hear their first electronica via car commercials.

The way I figure it, most Ally McBeal watchers can be pigeon-holed into a few categories: Women, their significant others, and Single men who like mini-skirts and wait on the edge of their sofa-beds for those few blissful moments when Ling smiles. I am not ashamed to say that I fall into the last of these three categories. Recently, however, I started watching the show with the volume on, thus giving me an insight into the plot, which, unlike shows like V.I.P., actually adds to the viewing experience.

The sexual tension between, well - everyone, is great, but in my opinion the saving grace of the show (aside from its inspired wardrobe department) is its attitude towards music.

Now, I'm not talking about Vonda-fication of every seventies pop song into some easy-listening-sitting-down-at-the-Elton-John chum. I'm talking about Ally hearing music in her head, and about Tracy Ullman urging her to find a theme song. Right on Simpsons-spawning sister! I mean, who hasn't been walking down the street, you've just found a great parking space, you're going to a bar to meet your best friends, you're dressed nice, you smell good, you got nothing in the world to worry about. You take a look at yourself in a shop window and realize your walk has turned to a strut. Oh yeah, you're feeling the flow.

That's when I hear it, sometimes with a blast of a full horn section, always with a low Chameleon-like bass line. Sometimes I throw in the jumping B-3 of Medeski Martin and Wood's Chub Sub. That's when you're not walking, you're not strutting, you're groovin'. You are Richard Roundtree.

That's what's great about this entire Volkswagon "Drivers wanted" campaign. "Da, da, da" melded perfectly an over-lighted, almost documentary filming style with an obscure '80's eclectro-pop song creating the perfect drab, happily bored reality.

They took it step further with a spot called "SyncroniCity" which features a thirty-something couple driving down a rainy New Orleans street who find that their windshield wipers, a guy sweeping the sidewalk, some box tossing young men, a dribbling basketball, their turn signal and well, everything is perfectly in sync with the music they are listening to. Brilliant. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have experienced the exact same sensation.

It's better than déjà vu.

When the bartender lays down a row of shots in front of you, you turn to your friends, toast, down 'em, then slowly turn around and Tom Petty's American Girl starts up on the juke box just as you see her walking down the stairs. When you walk into a room just as the first strains of any song George Clinton played a role in begins to throb from the speakers in the corner.

It is akin to cherry blossoms in a bath of recent rain.

Speaking of such things (arriving to music not floating flora), a friend once asked me which I would prefer, to live in a country whose national anthem was AC/DC's Thunderstruck or to have Darth Vader's theme from Star Wars play every time I enter a room.

Needless to say, I thought long and hard.

Imagine the Olympics, all the athletes filing in country by country. Countless God Save the Queen type songs play and then a piercing electric guitar rips through P.A. system and the crowd starts chanting "Thunder, na-na, na-na, na-na-na, na, Thunder..." Brings tears to the eyes don't it?

Now imagine your High School Graduation.

Then again, the thought of having a theme song play wherever I go is incredibly tempting, but something as sinister as Vader's music would definitely get me down after a while. All sorts of movies have made jokes about personal theme music - from Monty Python's Holy Grail to I'm Gonna Get You Sucka.

I'm convinced that the Ghetto Blaster craze of the eighties came from the same desire to make your presence know to all not merely by what you wear, say, or in some cases smell like, but by music. What if we all had our own personal whale song? Not really practical, but a fun thought.

But then again, a soundtrack can be very telling. I have never seen the movie Superfly, and part of me doesn't ever want to.

I bought the album after hearing a band cover Pusherman with such gusto and rhythmic intensity that I ran to the soundboard after the show and badgered the people there about "that pusherman song" until I someone told me it was a cover of a Curtis Mayfield tune from some movie. The next day I went out, found the Curtis Mayfield section of the record store and bought the Superfly soundtrack. I have since listened to it countless times. Curtis Mayfield's work on this album is superb. Through this music I know the plot of the entire movie, or at least I know a plot of some movie. I know about the martyrdom of Freddie and about Superfly's self doubt and eventual triumph. I got it all from the music.


I remember a phone call I participated in a few years back. I had called a friend I hadn't talked to in a few months to see how he was doing. He answered the phone and the defeat in his voice was apparent. After a quick recounting of recent adventures I asked him.

"So, how ya' doin'?"
"Man, it's the same scene every day, just different music."
"Could be worse."

Now is when you typically would hear a that's-when-it-hit-me. You know, like "there I was hacking through the field of sugarcane when it hit me" or "He was in her thirty-fifth minute of non-stop rambling when in hit me." Well, I'd like to say that talking on the phone to my friend that time was when it hit me, but it's not. It didn't hit me till right now.

I had set out to write about how we'd be so much better off we all had a theme song, or at least a soundtrack. Well, now is when it hit me - the two are vastly different.

The way I look at it, a theme song just stays the same. It will always define its subject and the two will be like Siamese twins joined at the waist, independent yet always connected. Darth Vader's music, Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme from the late Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), Apocalypse Now and The End - you can't hear one without thinking of the other.

A soundtrack, on the other hand, can be part theme song, but mostly it's just the incidental stuff - the swell of music between scenes. When I'm walking down the street feeling so good you can see it, I here my sound track. When the party just isn't going that well then someone changes the CD and suddenly the place is jumping - there's your soundtrack.

Whether we like it or not, music makes us feel stuff we don't always want to feel. Sometimes, though, what we are feeling and seeing and doing and what we listen to match up in such sublime unison that we can't help but take notice. That's your soundtrack.

So pay close attention to your what hits your ears. Next time you're staring at the rain hitting a window, throw in Tortoise's TNT. Like the rain, it warbles between similar rhythms, driving on and dripping gently down, inches from your face.

Okay, here's the moral of the story.

Someone once said that the Buddha's smile is one of recognition.
It is a grin of knowing or seeing, the grin of a sculptor in a quarry. It is the smile that comes from understanding or noticing a connection that wasn't there before. It is a student understanding fractions for the first time.

Those moments when we can see the web connecting our surroundings and our mood make up the smile of the Buddha. These are moments we can merely notice, but we can also align ourselves so as to create them.

Just listen.

Whenever we watch a movie or television show, music suddenly is played to underscore the emotional events. Sometimes, it is music from nowhere that only we, the audience can hear. At other times, the music is part of the scene - a radio in a car or guy playing guitar on the park bench or a jukebox.

The music playing often helps us get just a bit more into the head of the character - does the music make us feel happy or sad? It is strange that we - our emotions - can be manipulated so much more easily with music than with words.

So much has this idea of music somewhere that helps people around you feel the emotions that you are feeling that at times we can almost hear it ourselves - why can't they hear it too?

Even more so, there is a relationship that we build with the music we listen to. There are songs that when I hear bring me back to a specific time in my life - whether I want to or not. I can still see the pages turning of a book I was reading ages ago when I listen to Travelers & Thieves (Blues Traveler), and I the song Yesterday (Beatles) takes me back to standing in front of the Hard Rock Cafe, wondering what had went wrong.

Everyone has heard the words to Bittersweet Symphony at one time or another - and almost everyone who listens can identify with it. Popular music permeates the radio and television and we can't help but hear it at times - it may be from a car radio in the next lane, the music of a too loud party next door, or standing in the elevator... and sometimes something clicks when we hear the music and our state of mind at the time. This is by no means a trait that popular music has a monopoly upon - it is safe to say that every piece of music has at least one person who can identify with it.

If a man does not keep peace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music he hears,
however measured or far away.
--Henry David Thoreau

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