Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Yo, CDC, there are far cooler pieces of music to time your hand-washing with than "Happy Birthday to You"

Writer's block is a problem I've been afflicted with since the days when I had to churn out college term papers, and it took me 17 years to realize that film and TV score albums--the kind of album I sometimes listened to as term paper writing music, as well as the kind of radio format I dabbled in for the past 18 years--are ineffective as a solution to writer's block. They're far from a solution. They're the cause of the problem.

Score albums are really shitty as music that helps me to concentrate on writing. In 2013, I wrote, "As study music, score albums were especially effective because... they often don't contain words, so they don't distract you too much from whatever you're reading." But when I'm not reading and I'm trying to write a blog post, score albums distract me, especially when a grandiose-sounding action movie score cue starts blasting in my headphones. That kind of music often wrecks my attempt to concentrate on filling a blank space with a paragraph and causes me to start thinking about the action sequence the cue was written for, followed by all the camerawork that went into it and then how excellent the action sequence choreography was. And then my brain starts to shout, "Yeaaaah, go, Iko Uwais!," or "Yeaaaah, throw that shovel hook, Michael B.!," and my concentration is completely destroyed.

Classical music and instrumental hip-hop don't come with that kind of baggage, which is why a few years ago, I switched to listening to those two genres while trying to write, and they've helped immensely. Having the Bay Area classical music station KDFC in my headphones helped me to finish writing a long post about David Bowie and Labyrinth and a longer post about The Grinder. But the classical music hasn't been working for me while I've been trying to get started on a post I've been wanting to write since December about Creed, Ludwig Goransson's catchy score from that film and Ryan Coogler's sublime use of 2Pac's "Hail Mary" as Donnie Creed's ring entrance music. I don't know why KDFC has failed to prevent writer's block in that instance, and it's made me notice one thing about KDFC: why is Hoyt Smith weirdly obsessed with germs? Every time I've awoken to Smith's program being broadcast in my headphones, it seems like his idea of morning-show levity is to intersperse the classical music suites with either disgusting studies about pillows that contain bacteria or studies about hand-washing. When did Adrian Monk find the time to become a classical music DJ? Because Monk as a classical music DJ is oddly awesome.

Smith mentioned something about hand-washing I was never aware of: people use "Happy Birthday to You" to time their hand-washing. So I Googled "Happy Birthday to You" together with "hand-washing" to see if this is actually a thing, and I found out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that you should "scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds," and if you need to time yourself, "hum the 'Happy Birthday' song from beginning to end twice."

Uh, "Happy Birthday to You"? I have enough trouble trying to power through that ditty when I have to join in singing it to a person I dislike, and now I'm being told I ought to hum that song to nobody, while I'm washing my hands? Nah, B, I'll pass. "Happy Birthday to You" should only be hummed or sung above a birthday cake. Above a bathroom sink is just weird. Also, "Happy Birthday to You" is expensive to clear, and I might get sued.

There are much more effective--and much less awkwardness-inducing--20-to-40-second pieces of music than "Happy Birthday to You" to time your hand-washing with, and in keeping with my ban on listicles because the AFOS blog is a listicle-free zone, I'm going to replace the CDC's choice of "Happy Birthday to You" with any one of those pieces of music, without inanely organizing them into a list. A KDFC listener suggested to Smith that a snippet of Mozart's take on "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" would work like gangbusters as a hand-washing timer from the classical music world, but if you're a film score music nerd, you don't want to hear "Twinkle, Twinkle" or "Happy Birthday to You" while you're bathing your hands. You want your hand-washing to be soundtracked by the 1997 Men in Black trailer music, a.k.a. Elliot Goldenthal's 32-second "Confronting the Chief" from Demolition Man, the bizarre 1993 sci-fi flick that's either a reflection of Sylvester Stallone's right-leaning politics (many interpret the film as a conservative parody of Clinton's America) or a liberal's satirical nightmare about a conservative's idea of utopia (Sandra Bullock lives in a future where people get fined for swearing and anti-abortionists won out in the abortion debate) or is possibly intended to be both things at the same time.

I use my phone mainly as a music player, and I fill it with hip-hop mixes or singles. I don't have it inside my phone right now, but if it were inside my phone and my headphones were plugged in to my phone while washing my hands, I would put on as a hand-washing timer DJ Shadow's 41-second "Why Hip-Hop Sucks in '96."

Why wash my hands like a brain-dead zombie when I can both wash my hands and think about the greed of the copyright industry and its crippling effect on creativity in hip-hop at the same time? People hate on Sacramento all the time, but if it weren't for Sacramento, we wouldn't have Shadow or the succinct genius of "Why Hip-Hop Sucks in '96."

But if you're a white person with OCD, go with "Kashmir."

And if you're a person of color with OCD? Kanye's "Last Call."

See, CDC? That's what happens while you're busy trying to protect the world from Chipotle. Your Spotify playlist comes off as if it's frozen in 1893. There's a whole world of beautiful music out there besides the song that keeps the pockets of Warner/Chappell's copyright lawyers fat and makes world-weary waiters and waitresses want to shove some cake into the faces of annoying customers who demand that they sing it to them.

The Creed score, the score that will make you frequently say, "Yeaaaah, hit him with the quickness, Michael B.," is the penultimate score to be added to the AFOS playlists. The final score that's been added to the playlists is John Williams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens score. Both scores are currently being streamed on AFOS until the station goes off the air for good on January 31.

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