' erasing clouds music essay: panic at the high school
erasing clouds

Panic! At The High School: Students Review Today's Top Hits

by matthew webber

RIVERTOWN, Mo. – Jordan Carraway and “Eggs” Benedict Parker, both 16, want you to know that you’re wrong. About everything.

“We hate emo,” said Jordan, despite his taupe (?) cardigan and his black-rimmed, rectangular glasses. “At least we do when we’re planning a dance. Then, we’re all about radio rap. Maybe the critics are right about that.”

He sipped his coffee – hot enough to steam up his glasses, for real – and set his mug on top of a “St. Louis Cardinals World Series Champions" coaster. The three of us were sitting in the Carraways’ kitchen. His mom was in the living room. His dad was at the hardware store. The Iowa border was half an hour away.

Soon, I’d play a few songs for the boys and give them their chance to be VH1-style pundits. I’d let “the kids” speak for themselves, for a change, instead of some journalist guessing what they like.

Not that the boys weren’t already critical. It’s just that no one had listened before – or recorded the interview and taken copious notes. But that’s what I did on a warm December day. Maybe next year, we’ll talk about global warming.

“Anyway,” continued Jordan, wiping his glasses on his brownish/grayish sleeve, “by ‘we,’ I mean the Student Council’s Dance Committee members, who tend to like the same five songs.”

“As the radio?” I asked him.

“As each other,” he said. “They play them on a loop. They don’t need iPods bigger than Nanos. It’s not like these ass clowns are trading songs like baseball cards.”

“I’ll trade you a Gwen for a Nelly Furtado,” said Eggs, also wearing glasses, but clad in a baggy, parachute-like sweatsuit. The way he was sitting, hunched in his seat, his sweatshirt was folded like a sharpei’s furry face. It was difficult to find, much less read, the scripted logo, so it could’ve read “Nike,” “Adidas,” or “Rocawear.” He chugged from a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew, tapping his feet to a caffeinated beat. “I’ll trade you a Hinder for a Nickelback and a Daughtry. You got any doubles of Panic! At The Disco?”

“It’s not like our classmates are downloading podcasts,” Jordan said. “Like, some of us are blogging, but not about the Shins.”

“I wouldn’t know the Shins if they bit me in the ankles,” Eggs said. “Unless they’re poppin’ caps and shit or rappin’ a ho in the mouth, I’m not really feelin’ the flava, fo shizzle.”

I jotted this down as a backup to my tape. The two sophomores laughed at my objective, unbiased cluelessness.

“See, Mr. Webber?” Jordan said. “Critics only hear what they think they want to hear.”

“Dude,” Eggs said. “I’m just playing. Play the songs.”

* * *

Gnarls Barkley: “Crazy”

Jordan Carraway: Oh! That’s “Crazy”! Gnarls Barkley! Cool. The first time I heard it, I loved it. A lot. The seventy-ninth time? A little bit less. One billion served? I kinda miss “Hey Ya.”

“Eggs” Benedict Parker: Whatever happened to Outkast? Are they done? Didn’t they make a movie this year?

Matthew Webber: A movie and an album, both of which were flops. I’m not sure why, ‘cause they were both pretty good. Kind of uneven, but no more so than Speakerboxxx... Maybe the movie didn’t come to town?

Jordan: No! The theater was filled with cartoons for a month. Six screens of talking, animated animals. I think that’s crazy. Do you think that’s crazy?

Eggs: And that was the one hundredth version of “Crazy.” (He pats his friend on the shoulder.) Congratulations!

Jordan: Your mom was the one hundredth version of “Crazy.”

Eggs: Remember when your mom asked us to download “Since U Been Gone”?

Jordan: Remember when your mom borrowed your cell phone so she could vote for American Idol?

Eggs: Remember when that dude at Wal-Mart said you looked like Clay Aiken?

* * *

Justin Timberlake, “Sexyback”

Mr. Webber: Moving on...

Eggs: I have to pretend to like this song if I ever want a date. Girls won’t talk about anything else. “Ooh! I love him! Justin’s so hot!” Remember his poodle hair? Anyone? Anyone?

Jordan: Remember when they stormed the floor and grinded on each other?

Eggs: Only in dreams, dude. I didn’t go to Homecoming.

Jordan: You read my story, though? Right? You read it? (Note: Jordan is the student editor of the Rivertown High School Rage.) The broken punch bowl? The hole in the floor? Charlotte Drew’s mom with her six-inch-long ruler? The top of Page One? With Franny’s shitty photo? (Eggs is one of two Rage photographers. Franny is the other.)

Eggs: Wait a minute. Did he just say he’ll be your slave? But Justin’s white! And Timbaland’s black! Why is no one talking about this?

Jordan: If you didn’t read it, no one did. Thanks.

Eggs: “Take it to the bridge.” And then jump off.

* * *

Pussycat Dolls, “Buttons”

Eggs: This is the Pussycat Dolls, right? Which song is this?

Mr. Webber: (He has to check his notes for the answer.) Um, “Buttons.”

Jordan: Oh, that’s the one where the one chick sings lead.

Eggs: Oh. Right. The one with the verse from the superstar rapper.

Jordan: The one where they’re looking all slutty in the video.

Eggs: I love that video. Especially on mute.

Jordan: You sure this isn’t “London Bridge”?

* * *

Fergie, “London Bridge”

Mr. Webber: No, um. This is “London Bridge.”

Jordan: Right! The song about her knickers!

Eggs: You said “knickers”! Is that what it’s about?

Jordan: It’s that, or, you know, the thing inside her “knickers”...

Eggs: You said “the thing”!

Jordan: Fine. (He blushes.) Her, um, pussycat doll. I don’t think it matters, as long as it’s sexual.

Eggs: Which it totally is. I’d totally mute her.

Jordan: What’s the dude yelling? It sounds like “full stop.”

Eggs: “Full stop!” “Full stop!” Yeah. What does it mean?

Jordan: I think its what comes at the end of a telegram. Like, Fergie Ferg’s asking for money or something.

Eggs: Well, she does let us know she’s a ho in this song. Which is totally cool with me, by the way.

Jordan: “Dear Sirs. Stop. Come around to my London Bridge tonight. Stop. I want you to go down on me. Full stop.”

Eggs: You’re bringing nerdy back.

* * *

Hinder, “Lips of an Angel”

Jordan: Ah, yes. The soundtrack to our high school parking lot. Good times.

Eggs: Is this Nickelback?

Jordan: We've already been over this. It’s Hinder. They just want to be Nickelback.

Eggs: Good God, man! Why?!

Jordan: So they can sell records.

Eggs: And play state fairs.

Jordan: And have sex with all of our female classmates.

Eggs: Now I get it.

Jordan: I hate how he sings the word “lips.” He kinda growls it. Listen. (“...coming from the LIPS of an angel...”) Of all the words to emphasize.

Eggs: I would’ve growled on “coming.”

* * *

James Blunt, “You’re Beautiful”

Eggs: I like how he can’t decide when to start singing.

Jordan: I like how he thinks he’s brilliant, even though his plan sucks.

Eggs: What, his plan to bag chicks even though he’s goofy-looking? I don’t know what you’re smoking, dude, ‘cause that plan worked out perfectly.

Jordan: No. Listen. Right here. (“But I won’t lose no sleep on that, ‘cause I’ve got a plan.”) He says he’s got a plan, right? But he never says what it is. And he certainly doesn’t do anything about it. All he does is watch this “angel” on the subway and tell her she’s beautiful. And then she leaves. He sounds like a stalker.

Eggs: He sounds like your last date.

Jordan: Funny.

Eggs: Except you never had a date.

Jordan: You’re pitiful.

* * *

Weird Al, “White and Nerdy”

Mr. Webber: Speaking of Weird Al (Note: Weird Al parodied “You’re Beautiful” as “You’re Pitiful.”), how about this?

Eggs: Awesome!

Jordan: It’s kind of his theme song.

Eggs: Shh! I’m trying to concentrate. (Jordan and the reporter remain silent while Eggs raps the entire song.)

* * *

Panic! At The Disco, “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”

Jordan: Most. Pretentious. Title. Ever.

Mr. Webber: What? The band name or the song title?

Jordan: Both.

Eggs: Your mom doesn’t even wear that much mascara.

Jordan: Your mom should close the goddamn door when she pees.

Eggs: The only thing I like about these guys is the fact that they have beef with the Killers.

Jordan: But they have beef with everybody.

Eggs: Maybe they’ll shoot each other like Tupac and Biggie!

Jordan: We can only hope.

Mr. Webber: Seriously, guys, what do you think of this song? You two guys are pretty much the target audience for this band.

Jordan: Why, ‘cause we’re young and smart and sensitive and stuff?

Mr. Webber: I guess.

Eggs: And you always cry at weddings.

Jordan: Okay. I’m gonna ignore that. Well, the chorus is catchy, but the rest of it is kinda baroque for my tastes.

Eggs: That’s just what I was saying! Stop with the goddamn clavicle already!

Jordan: “Clavinet,” perhaps? Not that it was out before the twentieth century or anything, but still.

Eggs: Neither were you. Oh, snap!

Jordan: Anyway, the lyrics are kind of, ah, what's the word, misogynistic? That's something else no one's talking about at all. I mean, he straight up calls the “groom’s bride” or whatever she is a whore, but we never get to hear her side of the story.

Eggs: I think she joined the Pussycat Dolls.

Jordan: Or maybe it’s Nelly Furtado.

Mr. Webber: So you don’t like it?

Jordan and Eggs in unison: No.

* * *

Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous”

Mr. Webber: Okay, guys. Last song. Nelly Furtado it is then. “Promiscuous.”

Jordan: First Tim McGraw, and now this? Nelly just keeps getting wussier and wussier.

Eggs: Blah blah blah. “Promiscuous girl.” Now this is a message a guy can get behind.

Jordan: Honestly, though, I liked her a lot better when she had banjos in her music.

Eggs: “I’m ‘Eggs’ Benedict, and I support this message.”

Jordan: I guess nobody else did, though.

Eggs: Why don’t we know any chicks like this? Jesus.

Jordan: Probably ‘cause we don’t know any chicks.

Eggs: True story. We’re too busy crying into our emo records.

Jordan: It’s cyclical. We cry into our emo records because chicks don’t talk to us, but chicks don’t talk to us because we cry into our emo records.

Eggs: Who listens to records anymore? Downloaded files, baby!

Jordan: Who listens to emo?

Eggs: College kids who cry a lot. You in three years.

Jordan: Whatever. You think if we hooked up with Timbaland, we could write a better song than this? You think we could get on the radio?

Eggs: Probably. It worked for Magoo.

Jordan: Who?

Mr. Webber: Hey, it’s 2006 now, guys.

Eggs: It worked for Justin Timberlake.

(Note: Jordan Carraway and “Eggs” Benedict Parker are characters from the author's novel.)

For more writings or information, visit Matthew Webber's website.

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