Under Pressure, Vanilla Ice, David Foster Wallace, and Finding Freedom

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Thanks to the Hooligan, I listened to Under Pressure about thirty-six times in a row yesterday. Like all good hooligans, he is a huge fan of Queen. When we have to be in the car for a long time, he plays deejay for us. Well, actually it's more like he plays the repeat caller on an all-request radio show and I play deejay. We sing along and we dance at red lights and we repeat the same songs over and over because he likes to know when to snap in the right parts or to get all the lyrics down so that he can sing them at preschool or at church and astound people with both his singing ability and my lax parenting.

[Small digression: A while back, both of my monkeys memorized this version of Welcome To The Jungle and sang it whenever possible. The first time the Chief Lou heard their rendition, he almost went off the road from laughing so hard. It would seem, though, that some people do not find that as amusing as we do. In my defense, they have also memorized a great many hymns and sing those, too. That's a transcendent experience in and of itself - my little monkey angel choir of two - but it's not nearly as funny.]

Has there ever been a more sublime, fantastic, glitter-encrusted musical pairing than Freddy Mercury and David Bowie? I think not. It's so sublime, in fact, that even Vanilla Ice couldn't ruin their song by co-opting its magnificent opening riff for his Ice Ice Baby.

[Another small digression: If you are one of the Ford Escort people, you cannot sit there with a straight face and tell me that there was not at least one summer that you loved that song.]


Regardless of how you feel about the music of either Freddy Mercury or David Bowie - not everyone can be a Hooligan -  you have to admit to a certain genius in both of their work. Perhaps more than the music itself, it is the genius that attracts me. Even if you don't like what you're hearing, from a creative perspective, you can sit back and think: Wow. Where did that come from? How did they think to create that? As these things happen when you are driving with a small Hooligan in a driving rain, listening to Queen and contemplating creative genius, thoughts drift toward David Foster Wallace.

[tiny digression: you knew I was going there, didn't you?]

In his commencement address to Kenyon College's class of 2005, three years before he died, Wallace said this:

But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things...[T]here are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I was reminded of this particular speech while Freddy Mercury and David Bowie sang this to me at least thirty-six times:

 'Cause love's such an old fashioned word.And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night.And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.This is our last dance.This is our last chance.This is ourselves, under pressure.

These words, written by complicated men who lived complicated lives and died complicated deaths (except David Bowie who seems to have the same cosmic connections as Keith Richards) resonate. These were men of particular genius. Men who burned brightly and vividly and tapped into the deepest of the collective sub-conscious. They were men who were able to take that wild madness that inhabits us all and give it voice - through literature, through performance, through music, through words. It's a voice that frightens at times, confounds and disgusts, but also uplifts and understands. Ultimately, the life that they seemed to grasp in such elemental terms, got the better of them. But it would seem that at some point, they understood what lay at the bottom of it - that "same force that lit the stars", that "old fashioned word" - love. 







Jan 05, 1979; Holland, Netherlands; Freddy Mercury of 'Queen.' Courtesy of Zuma Press. 

It is the currency of our time to be Under Pressure. Invisible forces from both without and within bear down on us from every direction. Whether it is controllable, or self-imposed, or situational, we all feel it. Sometimes the tendency is to lie down and allow ourselves to get smooshed, to give in to the irritability, the exhaustion, the "constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing". But "this is our last dance." The beauty of our existence is the ability to choose, to take those dares that love offers, to accept that "real freedom" of remaining connected. To love. To love in whatever ways are present for us. To see our connection to the whole of humanity and realize our burdens, our pressures, are not ours alone. 

The Hooligan likes a steady beat he can dance to, but maybe he was onto something when he made me listen to Under Pressure thrity-six times.

I wouldn't place Vanilla Ice in the pantheon of creative genius, but perhaps he was onto something when he told us over the top of Freddy and David's riff: "Stop. Collaborate. And listen."



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