This past week, I’ve been listening through the No Doubt discography. Up next, I’ll move on to Gwen Stefani. It’s a fairly natural progression, I think. You may ask yourself why I’m listening through these discographies. That’s only fair.
The answer is simple.
I’m John Trammell. That’s what I do.
When I played video games as a kid, I never used the cheat codes or the Warp Whistles (ok, sure, I did it once, but afterward I felt cheap). I got a Game Genie for my birthday one year. I tried out some of the more outrageous codes on my games, making Mario jump high into the air, or making Donatello invincible to the attacks of the Foot, and soon discarded it. You see, I didn’t just play games to win. I played to conquer them. Skipping entire worlds? For shame! I had to beat every level, find every star, explore every passage, accomplish every quest. Even today, when I play mobile games, like Angry Birds, or Candy Crush, I don’t let myself move on to the next level until I’ve achieved 3 stars for the one I’m on.
I have never been a comic book reader. I don’t know why. If you knew me, it’s something you would expect that I would be into. However, I was never exposed to them when I was young. When I was 29, I tried to get into Batman. I read Batman Black and White, the dark one-off mini-series, and loved it, but then when it came to reading the comic, I couldn’t do anything but start with Detective Comics #27. I had to start from the beginning, and I didn’t get very far.
So, when I first got Spotify, I wasn’t sure where to start. I was, at first, overwhelmed with the Paradox of Choice, but soon found that the best strategy was just to dive in. So I started with New Releases, and Spotify generated playlists, like Stomp & Holler, Happy Folk, and Coffee Table Jazz, but it didn’t take long for me to begin to build my own playlists. Before I could begin to populate playlists, though, I needed a naming schema. That’s just how I am. I primarily utilize two (no stealing). Broad genres are named with an “-ify” at the end, for example Rockify, Folkify, Jazzify, and Hip-hopify. Other types of playlists also use this suffix, like Studify, Intensify, and Chantify (for those times when you just need some Gregorian chant). It was fairly obvious how to categorize songs into these playlists, except for minor quandaries – for example should Something Corporate go into Rockify, or get it’s own specific pop punk playlist? Or is John Cougar Mellancamp folk, or rock, or americana? And isn’t americana just a sub-genre of folk? So Cougar goes into Folkify, and Blink-182 goes into Rockify. No sense in categorizing ad absurdium. Not yet anyway.
The second naming convention I use is a play on words involving the word playlist itself. For example, summery songs go into Endlist Summer, while songs that make me feel happy when I hear them go into The Pursuit of Happylist. Aren’t I clever?
Once I had the naming schemes in mind for my playlists, I needed to populate them. I was fairly quickly able to add the hits from some of my favorite artists. However, it wasn’t long before I realized that while I liked Red Hot Chili Peppers songs like By The Way, and C’mon Girl, I had never listened to all of their music, and therefore didn’t know if there were perhaps more songs within their catalogue that I might like just as much, but which didn’t receive the same kind of radio play. The only logical answer was to listen to their entire discography front to back. (Side note: the Chili Peppers discography goes back to a self-titled album that came out when I was 4 years old, and while their music was light years ahead of it’s time, or so it seemed to me as a 4 year old in Texas, it’s weird. And not very good.) I’ve done this with dozens of artists by this time, and I continue to find new material to delve into. Sometimes, I find a lot of music that I like, but never knew about (The Plain White T’s). Other times, I go through an entire discography, and only end up liking the radio hits (Chevelle).
Which brings me back to No Doubt.
Tragic Kingdom was one of the first CDs I owned – right behind Jagged Little Pill, Crash, and Garth Brooks’ Fresh Horses – it was Texas in the 90s. Garth was obligatory, and I am unashamed to say that I still love his music. Anyway, I listened to Tragic Kingdom over and over and over again. It was my favorite. To this day, I know every word to every track on the album. I used to sit in my room, playing Sonic Spinball with the sound on silent, while listening to Tragic Kingdom, and – no lie – fantasizing about one day happening upon the band on tour. They were panicking. They had a huge show that night, but Gwen had lost her voice, and couldn’t sing. Where would they find someone with similar talent, vocal range, and full knowledge of all the lyrics? Who could step up to the mic and perform for the evening. Boldly, and heroically, I would inform them that even though I’m a dude, I believed that I could oblige. So they grabbed their instruments, and gave me an audition – the climactic track The Climb, easily the most vocally challenging song on the album, and surely enough (because this was a Spinball induced fantasy-trance, remember?) I did not disappoint. The show was a wild success, and their fans loved me. From that time on, I toured (in my mind) with the band, sharing the vocal responsibilities with Ms. Stefani.
This is a story that I’m not as proud of. It’s embarrassing. However, I tell you this, so that you understand – I knew that album.
However, there was a detail that I had forgotten until listening to it again last week.
And when I heard it, it was shocking.
In fact, my original idea for this piece, was a much shorter article, with a clickbait title, like 20 Years Ago, They Recorded a Hit Album. When You Listen to it Now – Shocking! But I can’t help it. I’m a blogger, not a journalist. I can’t not write introspectively. In fact, I’m writing introspectively about the fact that I can’t help but write introspectively.
What was the shocking detail?
Well, the album ends with the dark carnivalesque ska-infused title-track, Tragic Kingdom, a song about the horde of Disney devotees, blindly pilgrimaging en masse to the southern California theme park that was once the crowning achievement of its innovative namesake, but has now become a monument to consumerism and excess, devoid of its original wonder, and a promulgator of manufactured “magic”. As the track draws to a close, the carnival begins to spin and whirl and breakdown into a cacophonous discord. This goes on for a few seconds until everything begins to calm, as if those making the noise, perpetrating the violence were growing tired. Then, out of the quieting mess rises the sound of a soulful saxaphone – one person who has perhaps retained their sanity throughout the breakdown we’ve experienced. What is he playing?
The Main Title from Star Wars.
As it turns out, the members of No Doubt, especially bassist, Tony Kanal, are big Star Wars fans. They were even once invited to the set of The Phantom Menace, by Lucas himself (whose daughter is a No Doubt fan), to watch the filming of one of the light saber battles. With that knowledge in-hand, it’s no surprise that there might be a Star Wars easter egg on the album. After all, the horn players in ska bands will often incorporate pop culture references into their songs just for fun, and what bigger pop culture reference could there be?
But why this song? Why not during one of the others?
I see it as eerily prophetic. As the song about the decline of Disney, comes to a close, a song which speaks of the frozen tears dripping from Walt’s cryogenically frozen eyes, they unexpectedly incorporate a Star Wars reference. Decades later, Disney buys Lucasfilm, and releases Star Wars VII exactly 20 years after No Doubt released Tragic Kingdom.
I think not.
But I do think that I’ll listen to the Save Ferris discography next.
I mean, this is the 30-year anniversary of the release date of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.