One of my favorite bands of all time is Ben Folds Five. There was always a certain nerdiness that went along with listening to them that I never really could explain away. The one song that resonated with me longer than any other during early high school was “underground.”
It is a song about not fitting in as well as about finding a niche somewhere within which to be happy. While I no longer feel the need to seek out the underground of life in order to be accepted, there is a part of the song that continues to intrigue me. At the beginning of the song, Ben Folds does some spoken word magic to tell the audience about how he was never cool in school. In the studio version of the song, everything goes swimmingly and the song begins on cue. However, in the live version on Naked Baby Photos, there is an incredibly inarticulate heckler that screams out reactions to Ben’s statements. Things like, “who the ______ are you” are given their own time and space on the record. They are paid as much respect as the song itself, in fact they have mostly changed the song for me in that I can’t even play the studio version without his harsh words making their way into my mind. It makes me even more uncomfortable each of the times I have seen them live when they play this song. Other folks have tried to mimic this character hundreds of times, and I can’t imagine just how annoying it has all become for Ben.
And that is why I wonder who the person is that is willing to ruin a song and an experience for millions of people. I wonder just who is able to put themselves out there on the side of forgettable discourse. I wonder who is even thinking about placing themselves in fronton the world just to tell everyone that their worth can be summed up in leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
And ye tit is this very phenomenon that is stilting our ability to go on the record for much of anything. It is the fact that we know that almost everything is being taped for posterity that makes us not want to yell out at all. We don’t want to be put into the meeting minutes as having a contrary opinion. We don’t want to be recorded in a webinar as going against what is being officially proposed. Conference calls are even worse because the action items almost never resemble exactly how harsh or interesting the actual recording would have been.
We don’t shout out loud anymore knowing that we could be influencing the mixing of information for years to come. We find satisfaction in an approximation of what we said or worse still, in self-censorship. The gag reflex kicks in way too early for everything that we do now that being a part of a lasting record doesn’t really seem like an option.
Our options have been whittled down to staying silent or becoming q chorus of similar voices. We become the audience for a cult of personality, instead of leading our own performances that may conflict with the stated purpose of the event.
Now I am not sanctioning heckling or yelling out profanity at those who are willing to be up in front of others, what I am simply suggesting is that it should be possible for us to scream out valid critiques of what is going on. Not only possible, but necessary. And, I am not talking about Twitter. You can yell out profanity in that microblogging service easier than broadcasting it any other way, but there is very little chance of it being mixed down into the final version of those events as you have stated it.
Rather, I am talking about yelling out in person. I think that it is all about push back. It is all about going on the record as asking questions and providing solutions. It is about being loud about your reservations for the topic at hand.
Because at the end of the day, you don’t want anyone to be able to think about the events you shared without hearing your reaction to them in their head. That is the real stickiness: to be remembered in the context of important work.
While the heckler in “Underground” has ruined the beginning of the song for me forever, It gave me the opportunity to question just what I believe about the words being said. Because of him, I may have figured out just how unimportant underground ideas really are (at least ones that stay there).
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