Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta: A Pop-Culture Mix Tape
Pajiba's Guide to What's Good for You / Dustin Rowles
Guides | October 17, 2006 | Comments ()
As a strangely proud Gen-X’er (everything is relative), I’m probably at the tail end of the very last generation of the true mix-tape. Before the introduction of compact discs and later iTunes, we reveled in spending five or six hours poring over a pile of cassettes, hitting stop and record on a tape deck at just the right moment, and then spending another four or five hours listening to the radio awaiting that one final song to complete the mix — and, for good or bad, those days disappeared around the time that the Coreys started making soft porn. Now that it’s just a simple click-and-drag, playlists are traded faster than a Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan STD-swap — and the payoff, I imagine, is about as gratifying. Without a mix-tape that’s supposed to take a half-day to compile, what the hell are you supposed to give your girlfriend in between the second and third date to demonstrate what kind of guy you are? It’s a goddamn wonder anyone still manages to procreate.
And we all know there are scenes in movies and television that are inextricably linked to a piece of music — you can’t hear Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” for instance, without picturing Ratso Rizzo slumped over in his seat on a bus; the Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup,” without re-conjuring the There’s Something About Mary end credits; or … umm … Kelis’ “Milkshake,” without picturing a 300-pound Alyson Hannigan doing her best Shakira impression in Date Movie. Since Pajiba is a site that hews pretty closely to television and film, I thought it’d be amusing to compile a mix-tape of scenes from TV and movies that — at least in my mind — are tied to the memory of a specific song. The list, naturally, is subjective and not at all meant to represent the best movie songs (AFI, in its infinite, balding, musical-loving, middle-aged wisdom has already covered that); the following is just an unabashedly self-indulgent compilation of scenes that have stuck with me because of the associated music. Where possible, I’ve included links the YouTube video of the scene in question, some of which I uploaded myself and others of which are of dubious quality.
So, without further ado, hit your play buttons.
1. Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta, Geto Boys. Office Space
Nick Hornby wrote of mix-tapes that you’ve got to start off with a “corker,” and the Geto Boys provide the perfect mix-tape introduction. For pure comedic value, watching the guys take a baseball bat to the Xerox machine to the tune of “Still” (“Die muthafuckas/Die muthafuckas”) can’t be beaten. But the “Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta” montage, in which Peter (Ron Livingston) knocks out his cubicle wall and guts a fish at his desk, provides the film’s thematic core, brilliantly capturing the whole rebellious office-culture zeitgeist. For the cubicle-monkeys out there, “Damn, It Feels Good to be a Gangsta,” is the ideal way to start off a day in corporate America, particularly if sabotage is on the brain.
2. Don’t You (Forget about Me), Simple Minds. The Breakfast Club
For the second entry, I’ve already broken one of Hornby’s cardinal rules — not to follow black music with white music — but it’d be ridiculous to create a pop-culture mix-tape without including the definitive tune of the John Hughes oeuvre, the one song that may be the most identifiably linked with the entire high-school film subgenre. The Simple Minds song doesn’t even arrive in the movie until its final seconds, and then plays over the credits, but it will forever be associated with Judd Nelson’s fist to the sky. And it may just be the most purely nostalgic song of my generation.
3.These Days, Nico. The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson ties music to a scene as well as anyone, and he’s got a plethora of scenes from which to pull. But no matter how many times I watch The Royal Tenenbaums, the one scene that always sticks out in my mind is Gwyneth Paltrow stepping off that Green Line bus with her vacant stare and floating toward Luke Wilson while Nico’s “These Days” plays. It absolutely floors me. And as a guy who actually likes Jackson Browne (but wouldn’t deign to introduce one of his songs on the pages of Pajiba for fear of abject humiliation), it’s nice to know that one of his better ballads was given such an elegiac cover.
4. Mad World, Michael Andrews, Gary Jules. Donnie Darko
As fantastic as Donnie Darko was, I very much doubt it would’ve developed as successful a cult-DVD following were it not for Michael Andrews and Gary Jules haunting, piano-based rendition of Tears for Fears “Mad World.” Richard Kelly couldn’t have found a more fitting number to play over the final scenes than this song, which sticks with you long after the credits have rolled.
5. If You Want to Sing Out, Cat Stevens. Harold and Maude
After Maude is gone, and Harold has run his hearse off a cliff, Harold and Maude could’ve ended on a decidedly downbeat note. But Cat Stevens’ “If You Want to Sing Out,” which plays as Harold walks off with his banjo, manages to encapsulate the entire spirit of the film, leaving the viewer with a warm, bittersweet feeling as the credits roll. It hurts a little, but it imbues Maude’s death with the same sense of hopefulness that she injected into Harold’s life. (The scene itself isn’t available on YouTube, but there is a nice trailer spliced together with the song.)
6. My Hero, Foo Fighters. Varsity Blues
Though it managed to steal absolutely everything from Buzz Bissinger’s account of the 1998 season of Texas’ Permian high school football team long before Friday Night Lights was made into a film, Varsity Blues is still one of the greatest guilty pleasures out there for football fans. It’s both embarrassingly bad and uber-fantastic, thanks in large part to James Van Der Beeks’ godawful Southern accent (“I. Don’t Want. Yore Life.”) Played over the final drive, the Foo Fighter’s “My Hero” is the defining song of the movie, thanks to Van Der Beeks’ “inspirational” half-time speech: “Let’s go be heroes.” And no one since AC/DC has struck a power chord better than the Foo, so it’s a motherfucking wonder to me why NBC decided to go with Pink, instead of the Foo Fighters, for its new Sunday Night Football anthem.
7. Where is My Mind, The Pixies. Fight Club
Though the Dust Brothers scored most of Fight Club, the final scene shakes it up a bit with the absolute perfect song for a man who has just realized that he is literally of two minds, while skyscrapers crumble in a shockingly prescient scene. “Where is My Mind,” indeed.
8. How to Save a Life, The Fray. “Scrubs”
The idea for this piece initially came to me on a long drive across upstate New York while listening to “How to Save a Life” on the radio. Though it’s already been hijacked by virtually everyone else (HBO and “Grey’s Anatomy,” to name a couple), I can’t hear the song without thinking of the scene in “Scrubs” when Dr. Cox loses three patients to botched transplants. I can hear the song a hundred times, and the image of Dr. Cox walking out of the hospital is still the one thing that sticks with me. Bill Lawrence is a master of finding the appropriate song for each of his “Scrubs” episodes, but this is the absolute best — and I still get a little verklempt each time I see Dr. Cox break down.
9. Kick out the Jams, Bad Brains. Pump Up the Volume
If this were a cassette, I’d introduce the second side with this song from the Henry Rollins’-fronted Bad Brains. Unfortunately, this is another scene that can’t be found on YouTube, but it’s the turning point in Pump Up the Volume, after Hard-On Harry has apologized for his role in the suicide of a fellow student, and has launched into the film’s central salvo: “I’m sick of being ashamed. I don’t mind feeling dejected and rejected, but I’m not going to feel ashamed about it.” And I don’t know how many times — as a 17-year-old — that I mimed, in my shitty Christian Slater voice, the line that leads into “Kick out the Jams”: “Doesn’t this blend of blindness and blandness make you want to do something crazy?! Then why not do something crazy. It makes a helluva lot more sense than blowing your fucking brains out.” It’s a goddamn shame that the current generation of high-school students doesn’t have a Pump up the Volume to fuel them through their awkward teenage years — and I don’t think John Tucker Must Die cuts it.
10. Good Vibrations, The Beach Boys. Vanilla Sky
Like him or hate him, most folks would admit that Cameron Crowe mixes music with film better than almost any other director. So unsurprisingly, he’s created a number of memorable scenes, including Tom Cruise’s “Free Falling” moment in Jerry Maguire, the “Tiny Dancer” bus scene from Almost Famous, and, of course, one of the most indelible moments in film history, John Cusack holding his boom box below Diane Court’s window in Say Anything. But I think my favorite music moment from Cameron Crowe is from a film that few people liked and a scene that hardly anyone would recognize. It comes near the end of Vanilla Sky, when a histrionic Tom Cruise finally realizes that his current life is only a dream, removes his prosthetic mask, and then completely loses his shit. I think the obvious choice for the scene might have been the aforementioned “Where is My Mind,” or even Seal’s “Crazy.” But there is something surreal and inspired about Crowe’s counterintuitive choice, in no small part because of its association with Brian Wilson, who had had his own mental breakdown. Personally, I just think the choice is plain fucking genius and that it made Vanilla Sky — for all its failures — totally worth the two hours.
11. She Will Have Her Way, Neil Finn. “Sports Night”
This is my most self-indulgent choice, because it’s probably not all that memorable for most fans of “Sports Night.” But it does involve one of my favorite artists and one of my favorite television shows, so I couldn’t resist adding it. The song actually opens season two of the show, but it reappears in the fourth episode, in one of my favorite Dana/Casey moments, involving a pair of panties. The song’s sentiment fits Dana’s remark to Sam (real-life husband William H. Macy) so incredibly well: “You don’t control my world.” And “She Will Have Her Way,” is magical in its ability to musically express Dana’s new sense of (commando) freedom.
12. Afternoon Delight, Starland Vocal Band. “Arrested Development”
For pure comedic value, nothing could approach arguably the best all-time episode of one of the greatest sitcoms of the decade. In this scene of”Arrested Development,” — during an office karaoke session — Michael (uncle) and Maebe (niece) start singing “Afternoon Delight,” only to realize several bars into the song, as Ron Howard’s narration notes: “That ‘Afternoon Delight’ is more adult-themed than its innocent melody would have you believe.” And it only gets funnier later in the episode when Lindsey (aunt) and George Michael (nephew) sing the same duet, while a deaf and oblivious Tobias stands offstage and remarks to a bystander, “That’s my wife and my nephew. We have an open relationship.”
13. Wise Up, Aimee Mann. Magnolia
Hornby wrote that putting together a mix-tape is a bit like writing a letter, and there’s a lot of truth to that statement — I have no idea how many hours I spent trying to parse the lyrics of the Judybats, Van Morrison, or Ani DiFranco (dear God - there was always an Ani DiFranco track, wasn’t there?). And though I’ve never sent the same mix-tape to two women (like Klostermann), I have come awfully close to asking for a tape back after the break up. “Wise Up,” likewise, is the letter in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, containing the film’s central message and theme. The entire film, of course, was inspired by Aimee Mann’s lyrics, so the integration of “Wise Up,” (also used to good effect in Jerry Maguire) into this sing-along montage is unbelievably natural, even in the way it clears the third wall but never quite breaks through the fourth. I suspect it doesn’t work for everyone but, for me, it was the most effective scene of the film.
14. Let’s Get it On, Jack Black. High Fidelity
Honestly, I would’ve preferred to end the mix-tape with Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe When I Fall in Love” from High Fidelity, only because it comes during the final scene of the film and provides the appropriate ending for a piece inspired, in part, by Nick Hornby. But it’s not on YouTube and, even if it were, most of it would be rolling credits anyway. So, despite my distaste for Jack Black — who hasn’t made too much of himself since High Fidelity — I include his version of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.” I’ll admit that it works incredibly well in the context of the film, and I’ll further admit that, in the years following the release of High Fidelity, I couldn’t make a mix-tape without including it. So I suppose it does befit the ending of this piece but, for anyone who returns to the DVD to watch this scene, stick around for the next one — that Stevie Wonder song is pretty unbelievable.
A final note: Like any of the other lists we do here at Pajiba, half the fun is in what we miss. So, if you have a favorite scene defined by its soundtrack, feel free to add to the mix-tape in the comments section below.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.