A Moment of Truth About "Week Of Lies"

Let’s post-mortem now, everybody’s learning how! I can’t get Chris Hardwick on such late notice so I’m gonna have to run my own after-show about what the hell happened this past week.

Week Of Lies was originally supposed to go in November. The objective was, as the majority of my most piercing thoughts are, very simple: Throw seven songs up on the blog and don’t say anything truthful about any of them. Lie for a whole week.

I don’t know where the idea came from. It might have been a reaction to the extensive research I actually do for Song Of The Day; I figured I’d just make shit up because it sounded easier. Because life is a heaping pile of hot stinking irony I probably worked harder on Week Of Lies than any other theme week I’ve done. Also, since the internet is such an explosive marketplace of ideas and scandals, not all of which are exactly, you know, accurate, I wanted to join in on the fun.

The more I thought about Week Of Lies the more excited I was to do it, so I bumped it up the schedule to the first week in August. This decision was made, oh, about five days before launch. It’s usually not a big deal when I switch theme weeks around because most of the time I already know what songs are going to be part of the week. That was not the case this time. Two days before deadline I had zero songs finalized, so I was going to have to come up with seven songs and figure out how I was going to lie about them. That meant the blog was going to return to the good old days when I hurriedly picked and wrote about the SOTD in the late hours before midnight.

I also broke my cardinal rule of Song Of The Day, which is to avoid putting recordings up that were, or remain, commercially or historically popular. I suppose I could have told some whoppers about, oh, John Zorn’s Naked City or Hunters & Collectors, but where’s the humor in that? I needed popularly accepted constructs off which to bounce my bullshit. So I had to go for big, fat hits, at the risk of evaporating whatever curatorial potency this blog has over the other 51 weeks of the year.

Maybe next time.
To that end I went through a whole virtual stack of Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from 1971 to 2014. These lists rank the most popular singles of the year just ended. I came up with about 90 possibilities and whittled them down to seven. Some songs that were long-listed but passed over: “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Strawberry Letter 23,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Who’s Holding Donna Now,” “My Own Prison,” “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone,” “Sex and Candy,” “Sk8er Boi,” “Thrift Shop.” Maybe I’ll do them next time I do Week Of Lies. (There will likely be another one, maybe same time next year. I don’t know what you guys think passes for entertainment but the ratings were up, up, up this week. You may send requests if you like.)

So the seven I picked, which we’ll discuss below, were penciled in. The running order was not set in advance; I picked what I was going to do at some point the afternoon before. With the sudden switch I had zero time to do my usual pre-production (loading the HTML, image selection). Since I hadn’t figured out the scenarios, and had to commence upon my usual 40-hour work week, putting the kids to bed, eating dinner and what-not, the only time I had to write was my old standby time zone: between 8:30 and 11:45pm. (Except Thursday, when I had to finish at 11pm to watch the final Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which I intended to memorialize this week but didn’t because I was, you know, lying.) So almost every piece you read last week was written pretty late in the game and published as little as fifteen minutes after I’d stopped typing.

I thought you might enjoy knowing what my rationale, ideas and execution plans were like for these last seven days. This is why I make the big personal-blogging bucks.

Sunday: Sammy Johns – “Chevy Van.” The original song is a very ingratiating portrait of the freewheeling, free-lovin’ fantasy of the idyllic hippie as seen through the eyes of American Top 40. Times were crazy back then and milk was cheaper. Anyway, the song’s about a guy who picks up a hot hitchhiker, they have sex in his van, he drops her off and never sees her again. I thought that instead of just a random road trip, why don’t we have this guy doing an extended safety/scenario test for Chevy in the ’70s? This was part of his job, including the sex. Deep undercover, if you catch my drift.

Monday: Paul Simon – “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” My wife Kate was sort of the spark behind my decision to do this one. I showed her the list of songs I was considering and this one stood out to her. She said as a kid it always frustrated her that this song did not contain all 50 ways – it only has seven, really. (Six if you don’t count “Get yourself free.” I counted that one.) So the task was simple: What were the other 43 ways? I sort of reverse-engineered this story: I got on a rhyming dictionary site and entered names, found words that rhymed with the names, fit ‘em into the concept. Voilá: a nice shiny new listicle! My favorite was “Develop a case of syphilis, Willis.” Whatcoo talkin’ ’bout, indeed.

Tuesday: Bryan Adams – “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman.” I got the story idea on Monday morning when I was driving to work. I just got a new phone – Samsung Galaxy S5 if you’re into that stuff – that has very exceptional speech-to-text capabilities. So during a 2pm break at work I dictated the ideas I was having into my phone using the Evernote app. Then it would sync with the Evernote program on my laptop at home and I wouldn’t have to do all that typing later! Didn’t quite work out that way, but it sure seemed I’d stumbled upon a method to jot down my ideas in real time. The main idea of the story – sentimentality being unable to reconcile with business and industry – isn’t a new one at all. It’s practically a trope. It’s what Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was about, partially. But it was an easy theme to work from.

By the way, fun fact about the main character, Hugh Hyerlaw: I didn’t make up the name because it’s a homophone for “Higher Law.” I’m not that deep. Rather, his name was an acronym: Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman. It’s a happy coincidence that the acronym was pronounceable. But you can believe the “Higher Law” business if you want; certainly won’t hurt my career. I’m sure that idea fits with the story in some way if you want to work hard to figure out how.

Wednesday: Styx – “Mr. Roboto.” By this point I was pretty emboldened from the Bryan Adams piece, as I’m sure happens often with Bryan Adams. Before that it hadn’t occurred to me that I could “lie” simply by writing fiction, since fiction by definition is a lie. Always looking for technicalities. Anyway, I thought for this I’d just do a character sketch. The human narrator can’t stand his best friend sometimes because his attitudes and philosophies change with whatever time he’s in. Roboto uses data to determine how he’s going to act, because duh, he’s a walking data machine. It’s about the logical extension of adaptive technology. It’s kind of like the movie Her, which is a masterpiece. My own piece was brief.

Thursday: Carrie Underwood – “Jesus Take the Wheel.” The direction is obvious, I think. Originally it was just going to be about Jesus being the ultimate, and therefore most annoying, back seat driver. But then the scene with the coolant and water came into my head and I knew it’d have to be different. So I changed it to Jesus riding shotgun, basically just doing Jesus things. I didn’t want to offend Christians so I made Jesus a sort of benign prankster. I find it difficult to fathom that your Lord and Savior was on earth for 33 years and never once cracked a joke.

Friday: Kyper – “Tic Tac Toe.” Yeah, well… this one went astray. I can accept six out of seven as a good success rate. I actually had never heard “Tic Tac Toe” before last week, but according to my Billboard research it was the No. 100 song of 1990. After I heard the song, which in my opinion is staggeringly awkward, I thought it was something I could ransack in short order. Again, the conceit’s not too hard to figure out. When it started veering away from McSweeney’s and more towards pre-Internet Cracked, that’s when I had to end the whole piece with the special effects and cameo appearance you see at the end. Something about Gary Busey just popping up in the middle of a lot of blank space just, well, really appealed to me.

Saturday: Phil Collins – “Sussudio.” The first couple of lines are a revision of the first paragraph in Vladimir “That Book By” Nabokov’s Lolita. It was too difficult to resist doing that. But the rest of the story I had in mind wasn’t at all like the story of Lolita, except for the flowery language in which the narrator indulges. So I consciously switched gears and made it about suburban courtship in the ’80s. The setting’s based on a real place: Citrus Heights, California, around 1986–87. I grew up nearby. The narrator over-dramatizes common events to give his suburban existence some zing. But he’s not completely disconnected from reality, he just likes to over-narrate it like a young adult can. The girl, who I guess is “Sussudio,” was based on comic actress Aubrey Plaza (pictured on the right), who I’d just seen on Comedy Central's @midnight. She deflects all of his bad overacting, although I hope it’s clear it’s all taking place in his head. And it’s as happy an ending as the mean streets of Citrus Heights will allow.
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