Arbitrary Arpeggios: Surrendering to “Shuffle”

Shuffle is awesome. Just something about that option; that every time we pick up our mp3 players, we lend our mood to musical fate. I don’t even make playlists anymore. I enjoy the spontaneity of the shuffle feature. What’s crazy, is when a song comes on that eerily relates to whatever is going on in your life. This happens in movies A LOT. Cynics and trolls will roll their eyes every time a piece of media playing in the background (radio, film clip, news reel) directly relates to and affects our main character. It happens so often in film and TV. It’s even been perfectly spoofed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone in this scene from “BASEketball”.  [Warning (and no surprise) a bit of vulgarity toward the end.]

This scene is spot on in its attempt to make fun of how convenient diegetic music in movies can be and how obvious it is. But we take for granted how often this actually happens in our daily lives. It happened to me a little while ago.

Back in March, I had an obscenely difficult job working on a music video. Extensive overtime hours of mentally and physically exhausting work. One day, I worked at least 19 hours (there’s 24 hours in a calendar day–just for perspective). When I hopped in my car to head back to the hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before the next day’s work, cold and tired, frustrated and a tad angry, I furiously hit the shuffle button on my mp3 player in my car, searching for a tune that I could emote to (or with?). Perhaps the heavy bass tones and scratchy guitar effects of Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine, I thought. Or an angry Nas song, whose lyrics I could yell with, could fulfill my emotional needs. Even some Iron Maiden or Motley Crue would suffice. My thumb on the steering wheel controls of my car skipped from song to song until an incredibly appropriate song was dealt from the musical cherubs of shuffle heaven. It wasn’t an angry tune, or a heavy song—it didn’t have the lyrics I thought I needed or the energy I wanted to exert, it was quite the opposite. And I found that it was the song that I needed the most. The song was a song by Paul Simon. Not one of his most famous songs; Post-garfunkel but pre-Graceland. Certainly not his best song. It doesn’t carry the weight lyrically, like most of his do, and it isn’t the most musical of his songs. But I’m convinced there’s no better song to listen to after a tough day.

Paul Simon Graceland 1986 LP Front Cover 14463
One of the greatest albums ever happened because Princess Leia broke up with Paul Simon

Music is really an incredible thing. It can transport us—take us from one moment to the next at the snap of a finger. And in many ways, it does this even more effectively than movies do. The effect of music is emotional, portable and instantaneous in a way that almost no other medium is. So often we cling to certain genres and bands because of the way said music effected us during our childhoods. I’ve always loved The Muppets. Truly have. The puppetry, the puns. Jim, Frank and the gang could just put a smile on anyone’s face. When I was going into sophomore year of high school, I didn’t really have a lot to do that summer. I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have a license. Being 14, 15 is really an annoying time. It’s like you’re so close to being an adult and everyone wants you to start being one, but no one will let you be one at the same time.

Anyway, during that summer, I was forced to wake up before noon every day for a few weeks in order to go to driver’s training. Every day, I’d get back from class and have a lot of the day ahead of me–as most of my friends weren’t going to wake up for another hour or two. So I had to kill time. I decided to go through my mom and dad’s box full of what were once blank VHS’s. It seems in the early 90s, when times were tougher and my parents were cheaper, instead of going out and buying a flick for homeviewing, my parents would wait for an HBO free trial week and just record every movie that was on TV. The 90’s version of Pirate Bay. As an aside, these are the same parents that would later on in their lives yell at their sons for downloading music instead of paying for it. Anywho, for whatever reason, my mother kept all of those tapes. She kept her own media diary, I suppose. Which I’m grateful for, because it kept me entertained for those couple weeks of driver’s ed.

This was when YouTube was small and there wasn’t really a lot on there. There was so little on youtube that a video of me singing Barry Manilow to myself had thousands of views (before said youtube account got pulled for copyright infringement).

Where am I going with this? Oh yes, Paul Simon. The Muppets. Long Days.

One of the tapes was a two-for deal: a comemoration to the late Sammy Davis, Jr. and the 1990 (year I was born) Muppet tribute to the then recently deceased Jim Henson. I watched both. Liked the Sammy Davis tribute, but re-fell in love with Jim Henson and the Muppets. I mean, I don’t know what it was about that epsiode (you should watch it), but watching The Muppet gang get together and try to figure out how to pay tribute to one of the greatest television and film minds of all time, just tore me to pieces. Literally, I cried! Yes! 14 year old Kale sat in that basement, watched puppets give a eulogy about a guy who died 14 years earlier, and I cried! It was then that I was re-hooked on Muppetry. I went online, opened WinMX and downloaded every episode of The Muppet Show that I could find.

An episode that stood out to me was the Paul Simon episode of The Muppet Show. This is the only Muppet Show ep in history where the Muppets and company perform songs written by one person: Paul Simon. There’s this scene in the middle where Pops goes up to Paul and requests a song. It’s called “Long, Long Day”. It’s just perfect; the way Paul sings effortlessly at the company of arpeggio’d chords that turn into a waltz’d bridge. And the way the what-should-be-emotionless-concoctions-of-thread-and-human-hands, that are Muppets, express their tenderness and heartfelt appreciation for the performance they are witnessing—it’s just Jim Henson magic with Paul Simon serenity.

Couldn’t believe how perfect it was to hear this song come up on shuffle. I was transported after a rigorous day. And somehow—somehow everything was better again.

About Kale

Kale is a proud MSU Detroiter with filmmaking and social media aspirations. Currently in Production Assisting Purgatory, Kale has two goals in life: (1) Have a million followers on twitter and (2) Never pay a mortgage. So help Kale reach one of those goals, follow him @kaledavidoff
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