In the 80’s there was a brief media to-do about backmasking, the encoding of evil messages in heavy metal records, accessible by playing certain albums backward. If only they’d known about the coded messages of De La Soul. If America’s parents in 1989 had any idea what “Jimbrowski must wear a cap, just in case the girl likes to clap” really meant, they’d be more afraid of De La than Judas Priest.
For any small-town kid in, say, Arkansas, listening to a De La record might as well have been a starter course in cryptography. In addition to the usual hip-hop slang, De La went further to fashion their own inside references and characters: “Jenny,” “buddy,” “Derwin,” “chestnuts.” Factor in Prince Paul’s curatorial approach to sampling, and you’ve got the makings of an album that rewards repeated listening across decades. Every time I catch up to a DJ like Prince Paul by discovering the source of a cut, or untangle the rhymes of MCs like Dave and Pos, I feel like I’m slowly graduating to their level of awareness.
But it’s not all knotty linguistics or DJ science on this tune. This one ain’t about bragging or sticking it to the ever-present threat of sucka MCs. This is the band stepping back and letting their friends Q-Tip, Monie Love, and the Jungle Brothers join the fun, and the effect is something like stepping into a summer barbecue in a Long Island of the mind. So maybe it’s fine that the parents don’t know who Jimmy is or why he needs a hat.
OK enough with the quietly introspective songsmithery; it’s time for some adrenaline-soaked, mach-10-with-your-hair-on-fire, sonic bombast rock and roll. If this song doesn’t make you want to get in a car and drive fast with the windows down, then an important part of you is missing and needs to be recovered from maturity’s dustbin. Or maybe you have no use for boisterous immaturity, maybe you don’t still enjoy yelling into the wind every so often. That’s OK; you’re a better adult than I am.
“Addicted to That Rush” is, to my mind, the single greatest audio approximation of what it means to be 14 years old. There were plenty of things wrong with hair metal – the boneheaded lyrics, the posing, the lifestyle excesses – but the one thing it did exceptionally well was provide high-energy fun. I’ve said my piece on this before (on the blog David Slade and I started but never got around to maintaining) but I’ll continue to speak up for the joys of vulgarian exhilaration that loud, fast music provides.
There is a helium-inflated flotilla of rock critics and indie rock hipsters out there who will tell you that fast guitar solos = soulless masturbation. This metaphor, while occasionally accurate, misses an important point about music: it doesn’t have to be art. It can be whatever its audience wants it to be. It can be sports – a viscerally exhilarating contest of physical feats. It can be speech – a means of simple communication. Can a sporting event be said to have a soul? Are the Olympics inherently masturbatory? Of course musicians should aspire to be more than athletes, but the performance of a truly great athlete is still worth experiencing, and that’s what we have here in Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan of Mr. Big.
Music contains multitudes. I’ve heard people say music is a language, but it’s actually something that sits in parallel to language, and is roughly the same size because it contains within it all the various forms and dialects of what individual cultures consider music to be. Humans are often as guarded and belligerent with each other about their music as they are about their religion. We need individual religions and languages to have discrete boundaries and rules, but there are no rules on Music itself, just musical genres. Nor, really, are there rules about Language and Religion – you can make up your own language or religion today if you want. It’s yours for the taking.
All of this is far more mileage than I ever expected to get out of the hair metal shredfest that is “Addicted to That Rush.” My attempts at philosophizing will always fall short of expressing the sensation that this song gives me. It gets me energized; it provokes a significant physical and emotional response. Isn’t that what the best songs do?