There are few things in life more satisfying than having bad taste redeemed. Such redemption is rare because the label “bad taste” usually applies to pop culture, and once we label something as bad taste, the label is permanent. There are exceptions, of course, mostly outside of pop culture—Nabokov’s _Lolita _was considered in bad taste but only by the uptight literati whom no one pays much attention to anyway, unless you buy your clothes from J. Peterman and refuse to watch television and scoff at things like Bruce Willis movies.
Pop culture sets the bar low. But low doesn’t necessarily mean “terrible,” except 90% of the time. So when we look back and rediscover the joy of bad taste…damn if it isn’t satisfying. And thus we are brought to this week’s column, a tasty blend of 80’s hair metal band Winger, really bad mix tapes, and the worst break-up of my college days.
Ah, Winger. The smiling, spastic drummer, the twirling frontman, the incongruous purple filter:
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I insist “Seventeen” is not a terrible song, even if the bad taste label is plastered all over this group. Plastered all over Kip Winger’s gleaming teeth and ripped t-shirt, plastered all over the annoying drummer’s face, plastered to the back of Kip’s tight jeans, and even plastered around the legs of that raven-haired model who claims to be seventeen but just might be in her early thirties and looking for some pedophilic rock star to give her eight minutes of pleasure and a treatable STD.
Why is “Seventeen” not terrible? Because it still rocks. The solo by Winger guitarist Red Beach blisters and the composition is decent. It’s the kind of song you turn down when paying a toll—why do we care what toll collectors think about our music?—but then you drive away, roll up the window, and blast it. Back in 1988 we all realized Winger was Van Halen-lite, even as their debut album _Winger _sprinted up the charts and Kip Winger appeared in Playgirl. I was a high school freshman and my friends and I hung out at my locker and sang “Seventeen” because we knew it was ridiculous. But we secretly liked it. Admit it—you did too.
(Yes, we understood irony, even back then. Two years later grunge exploited irony by injecting over-earnestness into rock, as a backlash against the “good times and great hair” vibe of 80’s metal. Of course Chris Cornell had great hair, but his Timberland shitkickers made up for it because Timberland shitkickers are earnest and Seattle-types needed them for climbing over the mounds of homeless people while trekking their way to a “Stop Eating Veal!” rally.)
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Anyway. Back to Winger. I used Winger in a mix tape my sophomore year of college. The song: “Headed for a Heartbreak.” A classic power ballad, complete with overwhelming keyboards and the overwhelming line “I had too soon forgotten it was you that set me free.”
Pay attention to the unexpected key shift at 3:45:
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My girlfriend at the time was Jessica, and she was only seventeen. So I tossed in a Winger song, hoping she would appreciate the humor—and confirm my superior status as a proto-hipster—but I don’t think she got it. Why? Because Jessica liked Candlebox. This Candlebox:
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My mixtape lineup included “Headed for a Heartbreak” (Winger), “Far Behind” (Candlebox), “Fields of Gold” (Sting), “Snail Shell” (They Might Be Giants), “Sweet Jane” (Cowboy Junkies), and “Good Ole Hype Shit” (Jungle Brothers).
Is it any wonder Jessica dumped me? I subjected her to the dross of They Might Be Giants. If Weird Al Yankovic wrote his own original compositions, his songs would sound like They Might Be Giants. How annoying is They Might Be Giants? You tell me:
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Anyway. Back to mixtapes and break-ups. Jessica and I dated for nine months, then she dumped me and we played that not-quite-getting-back-together-but-still-having-sex game. I made mixtape after mixtape in a desperate attempt to win back Jessica. I included Seal, Peter Gabriel, more Sting, and Prince. Old Prince, before his apocalyptic obsession and purple fetish, back when he was 100% sleazy and singing about having sex with his sister.
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But my onslaught of lousy mixtapes was a Band-Aid on a sliced throat because Jessica’s mom didn’t like me. Fair enough. I didn’t like her either. She bragged about her diamond rings and served tiny dishes of tiny food in imitation of Gourmet Magazine’s recipe of the month. Dinner at Jessica’s house was white linens on the table and Tony Bennett playing in the background, Jessica’s dad getting drunk on vodka martinis and saying something quasi-racist, and Jessica’s mom laughing. It was something out of a Richard Yates novel, only without the whimsy.
So Jessica and I kept seeing each other, struggling through the death throes of a relationship way past its expiration date, until her mom showed up outside my apartment, dragged Jessica down the sidewalk, and they got into a fight. Jessica’s mom slapped Jessica’s face and clawed her left shoulder. Jessica screamed and shoved her mom. And all the while I huddled for safety in my living room, peering between the miniblinds, while the people living upstairs from me—a trio of cute college girls—watched from their porch. Afterwards the girls invited me upstairs and we played a drinking game while recounting the drama.
Two weeks later I slept with Carrie, one of those college girls. It’s true what they say…a sad story gets you a seat on the bus faster than a joke. I made a mixtape for Carrie, and I included Winger’s “Seventeen” and Candlebox’s “Far Behind.” She hated them both.
Which brings me to this week’s question: What is the worst mixtape you ever made and/or received?