Thursday, July 1, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Michael Sembello's "Maniac"

Dancing is our greatest form of cultural expression, without a doubt. For, as Neil Young duly notes, "When you dance," you can, indeed, "really love." This is most definitely a fact, because when I think of dancing, Neil Young is the first person that comes to mind. The popularity of musical theater, Dancing With the Stars, the Riverdance, and Michael Jackson's video for "Thriller" quantifiably prove my thesis. If this weren't proof enough, highly-trained biologists, several of whom have respectable college degrees, have noted that dancing is humanity's primary embodiment of the mating rituals of the animal kingdom, and that the way a person dances provides plenty of information to a prospective suitor about how they, ahem, mate. But is it possible to dance too hard? Can one dance so hard that they neglect their duties as a human and become a detriment to society? Well, yes, if we are to believe--and we should--Michael Sembello's legendary new wave dance epic "Maniac."

In 1983, when "Maniac" was released on the soundtrack album to the classic Adrian Lyne film Flashdance, most listeners had fairly preconceived notions about what a maniac was. Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, or that kid down the street who blew his summer savings playing the Tron video game at the nearby gas station for three straight days in a effort to get inside the game like they do in the movie ... these were maniacs. Michael Sembello changed all this with "Maniac." Previously a session guitar genius who made substantial contributions to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Sembello summoned all of his dynamic powers into the brutal force of nature that is "Maniac," including pulsating synths, decisive beats, and a searing guitar solo that would make Eddie Van Halen jealous, to communicate the tale of the lyric's female protagonist.

"Maniac" tells the tale of a "Steel Town girl on a Saturday night looking for the fight of her life." Clearly she is a maniac, because most people are simply looking for a good time on a Saturday night, not some epic battle with, like, say, the immortal, malfunctioning Mecha monster fueled by raw plutonium and the madcap ideas of competitive spirit practiced by the rogue scientist Dr. Headwound. Part of her charm is that "in the real-time world, no one sees her there." Despite being invisible to mortals, they still sense a priori that "she's crazy." So what's the source of her mania? Doy, it's the Love of the Dance! She dances so hard, in fact, that she enters a "danger zone"--and long before Kenny Loggins traveled on the highway there--where "a dancer becomes the dance." In other words, she has BECOME the dance, LITERALLY. Thank about that for a moment. What is your passion in life? Let's say, hypothetically, that it's fishing. Now imagine that you have fished the fuck out of the watering hole you are at and then you actually became a fish. At that point, not only would you be like Vardaman's mother in William Faulkner's tragicomic novel As I Lay Dying (1930), but you'd also, most definitely, be a maniac. You would also suddenly find yourself completely mesmerized by spinnerbait.

Michael Sembello's hit fundamentally reshaped our societal notions of the maniac. Where once this was the domain of serial killers, genocidal autocrats, and flesh-craving cannibals, now a veritable dance-floor of talented bodies fit comfortably into the category of the maniac. So when we say that Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Lady Gaga, Erin Andrews, and Napoleon Dynamite are maniacs, we don't mean that they are going to make human body suits out of the flesh of our siblings. We mean that they're dancing like they never danced before ...

quite possibly in a moonlighting gig at a strip club.

Here's the saucy video clip to "Maniac":

1 comment:

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