Many summer breaks and vacations in my adolescence were spent in New Jersey, at the home of my favorite aunt and uncle, and my older cousin, Josh. Josh was my hero growing up. Three years my senior, Josh was the definition of cool. His influence left an imprint on many areas of my life, including my taste in music. On breaks, he would fill my ears with oodles of tunes I wouldn’t have heard coming from the cassette players of my grade school friends, or on the multi-colored airwaves of MTV. In the mid-90s mainstream world of Vanilla Ice, Pearl Jam, and the Second-Coming of Whitney Houston, I was instead gorged on compositions from The Sundays, The Cranes, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and other under-the-radar groups. For a pre-teen who was used to picking up on new music solely via FM radio, this was aural nirvana.
Driving home late at night from friends’ houses, Josh would throw in a mixtape and crank up the stereo of his hand-me-down station wagon. The music pumping and the streetlights through trees carving ghostly shadows on the pavement, I would forget all about my life back home, my awful bowl-cut, and the fact that I was not as world savvy as the lyrics of the songs often detailed. As we zigzagged through the hills and half-lit neighborhoods, I would close my eyes and let the music wash over me. Everything was better here, I would think.
One particular night, stereo blasting, a song came on that sent tiny explosions of happiness down my spine, and prompted me to ask Josh to hit the rewind button. Quirky and heavy-handed on the xylophone and synth, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. The intro was chaotic and zany, almost irritatingly so, with the song exploding into a frenzied clutter of programmed electronics, rambunctious guitar, and stuffy-nose lyrics. I was hooked. And felt a little like I belonged in a slapstick comedy or Warner Bros. cartoon. Who came up with this stuff?
The song, “Hey, Mr. DJ” by They Might Be Giants is still one hell of a catchy romp. To this day, the band brings back memories of fresh mountain air, winding roads, and the days when you felt invincible and free, as if the whole world was yours for the taking. You know what I’m talking about. Cheeseball or not, I love me some TMBG. What’s your song?