Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
A condom company has given me a computer-generated (and therefore presumably infallible) suggestion of the best song to play while making sweet monkey love to my special lady friend. It’s “I’ll Make Love To You” by Boyz II Men. Which is incorrect on so many levels, I shouldn’t even have to argue it. Boyz II Men do not make me want to make sweet monkey love to my lady. They remind me that I’m old enough to remember when substituting a “z” for an “s” was still considered on the periphery of cool. And that just reminds me that I’m way too old to be having sex without a fistful of beta blockers.
The terrible sex soundtrack idea was given to me by Durex, a condom brand you might recognize as the one you buy when the convenience store is out of Trojans and you’re in a hurry. They recently unveiled a Facebook app called the Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator, where you and your consensual sex partner answer a few vague questions — “What kind of day are you at your best? How would you describe your routine? What is your energy level?” — and then they spit out a song that will purportedly put you and your inamorata in an irresistibly handsy mood.
I take their test again, just to be sure. And, full disclosure, I don’t take the Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator quiz with my regular Facebook account. (I have a “fake” account for doing things I wouldn’t want my mom or easily offended relatives to know about.) I do this because taking the Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator quiz requires you to “like” the Durex USA condom page, which features such riveting status updates as “4% of people have used their iPhone during sex — have you?” I’m promised that the results of my Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator quiz won’t be shared on Facebook, but if I’ve learned nothing else from my time on this planet, it’s that the Internet is full of shit. Every time some Facebook app tells me “This information won’t be shared,” all I see is Mark Zuckerberg’s face grimaced in ecstasy, muttering “I’ll pull out, I promise.”
The results of my second Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator quiz aren’t any better. They recommend Color Me Badd’s “I Want to Sex You Up.”
Come on, really? Does Durex think I’m an adult who has sex with other adults, in which both parties have day jobs, and homes that aren’t shared with multiple roommates, and a sense of dignity and self-worth? Or do they assume all my sexual experiences involve getting dry-humped through acid-wash jeans in my parents’ basement?
The problem might be the questions. You want to know what a person likes to hear while they’re fucking, you need to ask something more specific than, “How loud is your personality?” We all know what you’re really asking, but it’s an annoyingly roundabout way of doing it. Just come right out and say what you mean. “Do your orgasms sound like Chris Cornell with his nuts in a vice?” There’s a question you can work with. Or how about this: “When you have sex, do you like to be reminded of high school, when life wasn’t as crushingly nihilistic, and just seeing another person naked felt like a victory?” There’s some soul searching you could build a sex soundtrack around.
It’s been a long time since I’ve compiled a mix of songs specifically for sex. My brain just doesn’t work that way anymore. When I was younger, in my late teens and 20s and into my early 30s, every song was judged by how well it could facilitate or discourage fornication. I could tell you right now, off the top of my head, which Soul Coughing or Blues Explosion songs provide the perfect aural backdrop for carnal hydraulics. I could do a Master’s thesis on why Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” is the most ironically titled song in music history. I could tell you why spontaneously hearing Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” on the radio while you are, in fact, makin’ love is the most hilariously stupid thing that can happen to two naked human beings. But then I’d have to explain what “radio” is, and honestly, if you don’t already know, do you really care? Similarly, you probably aren’t interested in the sublime awkwardness of being in a really intense sexual moment and then, as if by divine intervention, hearing the opening chords of Randy Newman’s “Short People” or Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is,” which are so unsexy that they almost make sex sexier. Having sex to a Bruce Hornsby song is like trying to fuck in a Cinnabon. But again, none of that would mean anything unless you understood a world in which music entered your ear hole at random, without your having personally selected it. The world before you existed was chaos!
“In theory, Iron & Wine and Bon Iver seem like the perfect love balladeers for emotionally mature adults doing the genital smash. But in reality, it’s like taking a Tylenol PM with a bourbon chaser. “
When you get to be my age, the soundtrack to sex isn’t as important anymore. It’s enough that sex is happening at all. Every time I’ve tried to curate a soundtrack in advance, it’s ended badly. In theory, Iron & Wine and Bon Iver seem like the perfect love balladeers for emotionally mature adults doing the genital smash. But in reality, it’s like taking a Tylenol PM with a bourbon chaser. Just weeks ago, I thought it’d be clever to put on Fiona Apple’s new album, The Idler Wheel …, while having dirty good times with my wife. It was, it seemed at the time, brilliant multi-tasking. I needed to hear the album, to see if there was something worth writing about. And I’d get some libidinal encouragement from the bony ex-girlfriend of the guy who directed Boogie Nights. But the lyrics didn’t really have my back. “I’m a hot knife,” Apple sings at one point. “He’s a pat of butter.” You know what a guy in his early 40s doesn’t need while he’s trying to create something resembling an erection? Butter metaphors.
I try the Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator one more time. Because I am, if nothing else, an optimist. This time, I don’t even let my wife answer any of the questions. She’s ruining the curve, I think. I need a song that’s only about me and my needs. Something that gets at the dirty core of how my sex drive works.
Durex gives me “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler.
It seems like a bad joke at first. Like Durex is saying, “You know what, old man? If you have anything resembling intercourse anymore, just be happy and shut up about it. Whatever happens in your groin region is like the Special Olympics. You get an award just for showing up.”
There’s a pretty good possibility that Durex is making fun of me. There’s nothing intrinsically sexy about “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Except, weirdly, if you’re me. Every time I hear that song, I’m reminded of the summer of 1988, when I didn’t get laid by Florence Henderson.
In 1988, I was an acting apprentice at a summer stock theater in Traverse City, Michigan called the Cherry County Playhouse. (It was owned by the late comic Pat Paulsen.) Every few weeks, they featured a new play starring a B or C-list celebrity like Steve Landesberg, Don Knotts or Gavin MacLeod. The apprentices did things like hand out programs and paint the sets and help the actors into their pants backstage. When Florence Henderson did a two-week run, with a song revue tailor-made for a Midwestern audience, my job was to sit just off stage and hold her microphone cord, feeding it to her as she needed and pulling back the excess when she didn’t. Every night, she’d dedicate “Wind Beneath My Wings” to the theater staff. And because I was the only theater staff within pointing distance, I became part of her act. When she got to the line, “So I was the one with all the glory, while you were the one with all the strength,” she’d walk over to me, the unforgiving spotlight illuminating us both, and run a hand through my hair. Every night! It was part of her stage schtick.
When you’re 18 years old, getting your head stroked by Carol Brady, the woman (fictional and otherwise) who some could argue single-handedly invented the MILF acronym, it’s the dictionary definition of “boner-inducing.” I’m sure she meant it in an innocuous, motherly way, but it always gave me goosebumps. And, lest you mistake my enthusiasm for hyperbole, it also gave me a boner.
At some point during her run, I started hearing ugly rumors. Florence was allegedly having backstage sexcapades with some of the male apprentices. Maybe one or two, maybe all of them, it depended on who you talked to. “She is amazing in the sack,” one of the older apprentices (i.e. still not drinking age, but close) bragged to me. “Like a gymnast. She’ll break your pelvic bone if you’re not careful. But you probably already know that.”
“I haven’t done anything with her,” I told him, my voice trembling with anxiety. “I barely even talk to her when she’s not onstage.”
He looked at me disbelievingly. “She gives you a headjob every night during her show, and you still haven’t had sex with her? Dude, that’s like foreplay. How have you not closed that deal?”
I spent the rest of the summer feeling sorry for myself. Why had Florence Henderson not found me worthy of a Mrs. Robinson seduction? What did I do to repel her? When she ran her fingers through my hair, did her nails get clogged with lice? Did I not seem corruptible? Because I was totally corruptible. I wouldn’t have put up a fight at all. And I knew how to keep my mouth shut. Not to my guy friends, obviously, but certainly the people signing her checks. But maybe she just wasn’t interested. Maybe that nightly head-stroking was the equivalent of a pity fuck.
“Technology isn’t what it should be in 2012, especially when it comes to computer-generated sex mixes. Nine times out of ten, the Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator coughs up songs that are blandly generic and about as erotic as a Katherine Heigl rom-com preview.”
A few decades later, after reuniting with some old Cherry County Playhouse vets, I learned that Florence’s reputation for debauching underage Michigan boys was wildly exaggerated. “Oh, that was a total lie,” one of her former “lovers” confessed. “I heard everybody else talking about getting freaky with Mrs. Brady, and I didn’t want to be left out. But I’m pretty sure they were lying, too. It was all horseshit.”
My ego felt less bruised by this news, but it hasn’t changed the way I feel about “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I don’t hear the song that often, thank god, but when I do, I can still feel Florence Henderson’s long fingers drifting suggestively through my close-cropped teenage hair, lingering a little too long, or just long enough for me to think her hesitation is loaded with significance. On some nights, I’d lean into her, pushing my head into her fingers like a cat encouraging an ear scratching. I was sending frantic signals to her: “Please, please, don’t make me the only guy in northern Michigan who didn’t have a torrid and statutory rapey affair with the Brady Bunch mom. I’ll take anything. A handjob during intermission, whatever you have time for. Help a guy out!”
How the hell did Durex know that?
Technology isn’t what it should be in 2012, especially when it comes to computer-generated sex mixes. Nine times out of ten, the Durex Performax Intense In-Sync Song Generator coughs up songs that are blandly generic and about as erotic as a Katherine Heigl rom-com preview. But that tenth time, I don’t know if it’s a lucky guess or a HAL 9000-type situation, but it feels like my subconscious has been tomb-raided. Give it a few years and there may be a program that gives you a uniquely perfect song for any situation, no matter how repressed the memory. “Durex Song Generator, I’m looking for music that forces me to examine my conflicting feelings about my father. And then something for a dinner party. We’re serving salmon.”
Now, if I can just figure out a way to “accidentally” play the Beaches soundtrack during my next date night with my wife.