“Hey Soul Sister”/”Bad Romance” (2011)

For three years, visiting my father in the nursing home where he lived, I would drive across the Bay Bridge from Berkeley to San Francisco and back again, twenty or twenty-five minutes over, twenty or twenty-five minutes back. In the spring of 2010 I made an interesting discovery: in those forty or fifty minutes, switching stations to find something I wanted to hear, cutting from 98.5 to 104.5 to 103.7 to 107.7 to 90.7 as soon as a song I liked was over, sometimes catching signals floating in and out, half a tune before it broke up or was drowned out by something else, I was all but guaranteed to hear all or part of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” at least three times, and Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” at least twice. This was not a sur­prise; those were the big hits of the season, and both were wonderful—bottomless, each in its own way. With “Hey, Soul Sister,” there was the delirium of the guy dancing in his bed­room as he watched his favorite video on his computer screen, over and over just as people all over the world were now listen­ing to him. The song changed in its emotional meter from one nonsense verse to the next, from the impassioned chorus to the way a banjo isolated the singer in his little drama, the way the band crashing down on the same phrase a stanza later brought him into a greater drama, just one of a million people dream­ing the same dream. With “Bad Romance” there was first the delirium of the production, what seemed like thousands of lit­tle pieces all spun by some all-seeing, thousand-eared over-mind into a Busby Berkeley chorus line of sounds instead of legs. There was the cruelty of the singer, mocking whoever the you in the song was, sneering, turning her back, looking back over her shoulder with a look that killed, shouting at him or her on the street so everyone can hear: “‘Cause I’m a freak, baby“—the last word squeezed in the sound, the b and the y cut off just slightly at the beginning and then at the end, so that it’s less a word than a spew of pure disgust. And then, with about a minute left on the record, everything changes. “I don’t wanna be friends”: a desperation invades the performance, trivializes, erases, everything that’s come before it, and pushes on, a completely different person now telling a completely different story, tearing at her hair, her clothes, scratching out her own eyes, then with her dada chant cutting it all off like someone breaking through the last frame of a film to shout “THE END!” I loved them both; I got lost in them each time.

In a way, each record contained its own surprise every time it came on—but the real surprise was something else. As cer­tain as it was that I’d hear “Bad Romance” “Bad Romance” “Hey, Soul Sister” “Bad Romance” “Hey Soul Sister,” it was close to a sure thing that I’d hear the Doors twice, three times, even four times…


Excerpt from The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years, Public Affairs, 2011

The Doors

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