Song Of The Day 8/19/2013: Alvin 'Red' Tyler - "Peanut Vendor"

So my wife and I are just now getting into Breaking Bad via entertainment procrastinators' best friend, Netflix. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to start. If you have seen it, please don't contact me until we're done with the series. I mean, you can wave "hi" to me out in the street. You can nod to me at the café. Our kids can still play together, though I'll just drop 'em off on the curb. But I need to avoid spoilers until we're done. B-Day, if you will. I've already spoiled myself on some plot points for The Walking Dead that I once had the mental discipline to fight shy of, but no longer do apparently. I'm only halfway through Season 2 of Breaking Bad and I'm already sure it's going to zoom towards the top of the list of my all-time favorite shows by the end of the run.

Basic plot: Brilliant but underachieving chemistry teacher Walter White gets terminal lung cancer, quits a moonlighting job at the car wash, and links up with one of his least promising, drug-dealing former students, Jesse Pinkman, to make and sell meth. Because he's a chemistry scholar, he knows how to make the best meth in Albuquerque. Jesse is connected with the drug world. What could possibly go wrong? 

Anyway, there was an episode in Season 2 called "Breakage." I will not spoil it for you, but I will describe a certain scene that doesn't spoil anything. Walter and Jesse have recently, somewhat messily stopped doing business with a local distributor. They decide to control distribution by taking on three of Jesse's friends to sell the meth on the street. After that, there's a montage depicting all the distributors (and Jesse) making sales and drop-offs to random interested parties. Exchanging money, putting the product in secret locations only the distributors know about, dealing with the crème de la crème of the Albuquerque meth community. Humorous side note: The montage ends with Jesse being robbed at knifepoint by two methheads who've tricked him into their lair. It's not all glamor and gleam, Ice-T once said, though I think he was talking about something else.

Today's Song Of The Day, from New Orleans legend Alvin "Red" Tyler, plays over this montage, and it's one of the most brilliant choices ever. "Peanut Vendor" is, according to the notably stable minds at Wikipedia, "possibly the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician." It was also credited with starting the rhumba craze in America.

About halfway through the Breaking Bad sequence, I informed my wife that I absolutely had to find out what this song was. I found it in about two minutes. It's very light-hearted, with sugary hints of the pop Latin styles of Perez Prado. (Who recorded "Peanut Vendor" himself at one point. A bunch of people did.) It's a celebratory song played out over a pitch-black scene. "Peanut Vendor" simulates the joy of a budding business and gives a stark, ironic commentary on the degradation of Walt's and Jesse's enterprise. It is a prime, concise example of how Breaking Bad fucks with your head as standard operating procedure. It also makes meth look like no fun whatsoever. Well, there go my plans for the weekend.


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