Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Daniel Powter's "Bad Day"

Has there ever been a pop hit that anybody could relate to more than Daniel Powter's chart-topping 2005 masterpiece "Bad Day"? I mean, how many times have you opened your Facebook page and read the following update status from one of your friends?: "I forgot to set the alarm and now I'm stuck in traffic. Already having a bad day." These minor setbacks at the beginning of the day--though hilarious to read on Facebook--really can affect the way each one of us proceeds through the next new day. The more embarrassing bad days are never made Facebook Official though: waking up to discover that one is out of clean underwear and will have to go the whole day with that "not-so-fresh feeling" of walking around in public in yesterday's smelly knickers; accidentally bad-mouthing your prospective employer's product during a job interview; or getting a promotion at work only to find out, after being plied with martinis by your bosses and co-workers, that your spouse waited for you to get home to tell you he or she got laid 0ff. Now these sorts of bad days reflect the sort possible only in developed countries. In some parts of the world, a bad day means another day without water or food, having more severe pains in your distended belly, or losing three limbs and being the only survivor in your family of an armed attack by a ruthless state-sponsored militia. Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" reminds us that all of these things are possible with an empathy recalling Walt Whitman's line from "Song of Myself" (1855): "I am the man...I suffered...I was there."

More impressive is that several of the rather ambiguous lines in the verses allude to some of the worst "bad days" in the history of mankind. When Powter sings, "You kick up the leaves and the magic is lost," he is clearly alluding to the Biblical fall of man, when Adam ate the forbidden fruit and became ashamed of his own nakedness. A bad day indeed. "You're faking a smile with a coffee to go," though topically referring to our contemporary culture's NEED for gourmet coffees, obliquely refers to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain having to tell his wife Anne, in the early hours of September 30, 1938, that he had signed the Munich Pact to appease Adolf Hitler and his forces. Easily one of the worst days of the 20th Century. Powter's intertextual brilliance is even more apparent during the chorus, in which he repeats the phrase "bad day" 529126 times, recalling the monotonous ending to The Beatles' "Hey Jude." In that song, Paul McCartney sings, "Hey Jude, don't make it bad / Take a sad song and make it better." Powter pays homage to the ultimate "gets-stuck-in-your-head" song by similarly singing, "You sing a sad song just to turn it around." Powter's grasp of the universality of the "bad day" and the proper way to cope with one--the art of post-modern meditation or chant through repetition in verse--reveals an artistic depth rarely matched in the post-World War II era. While a few of the song's cynical naysayers would have you believe that Powter's utterance of the phrase "bad day" 529126 times inevitably gets stuck in the listener's head--subliminally suggesting that they will indeed have a bad day each time they hear the song--Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" is a testament to and acknowledgment of these kinds of moments in our lives. It also provides us access to the closure we need to get past these "bad days." Oh, and one more thing: bad day.

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