Thursday, November 10, 2005

To the teeth

I've been going to the dentist a lot lately--I'm up to my ninth visit for the same tooth. This time, it was a root canal (which will ultimately account for the final three trips, god willing). Needless to say, out came the MP3 player.

I can't conceive of dental work without music--and my choice of music, too, not the piped-in stuff. My dentist subscribes to some kind of muzak offshoot that changes genre every half hour, which explains how you can be listening to Billie Holiday one minute and "Kung Fu Fighting" the next. Evidently the idea is that everyone in the office will be happy some of the time and not-happy some of the time. Now, I can appreciate either of the two options I've just named, but the abrupt juxtaposition does sort of kill any sort of vibe one might be building in one's head. I say they need actual DJs on staff to rectify this situation. But in the meantime, I bring my own tunes.

For several years, all my dentistry was accompanied by a cassette of Everything But the Girl--their early, pre-dance-music-phase albums, which are perfect for calming the nerves without numbing the brain. But then the inevitable happened, and I began to associate EBTG with going to the dentist, which pretty much killed my fondness for this wonderful duo. (Well, that and the aforementioned dance-music phase, which is not so bad but just so much less interesting than what they used to do.)

Now that I can play MP3s on my superduperphone, a whole new world has opened up to me. I can't fit as many songs on it as you could an iPod, but then I don't actually need 4000 selections for a simple cleaning. I haven't reached the point of actually programming a dentistry-specific playlist; it's purely a matter of what's already on there, which is typically whatever odds and ends I've assembled in advance of a cross-country flight several months earlier. This tends to be a mix of stuff I already know I like and completely random songs off albums I haven't really listened to in much detail, plus podcasts of Coverville and On the Media (so far I have not turned to those in the dentist's office).

And I must say I've ended up with a pretty good root-canal-worthy mix this time: Bebel Gilberto, Vinicius Cantuaria, and the latest American Music Club all have a lush, languid quality perfectly suited to long periods of squirming while someone sticks a drill in your mouth. (Less effective: The Decemberists, whom I normally like a lot--the sound is just too thin and angular, both vocally and instrumentally, to do the trick.)

I also had a minor epiphany while listening to a track from Petra Haden's amazing a capella cover of the entire Who Sell Out album. I'd always assumed the song "I Can See for Miles" was your basic acid trip reference, or at least some variety of drug talk a la Puff, Lucy, and "Eight Miles High." But the root canal gave me a nice opportunity to focus on the lyrics--as a distraction from the drill, y'know--and I realized for the first time ever that the narrator (Mr. Townsend/Ms. Haden) is addressing a lover who has been cheating; it's basically a variation on the "Every breath you take, I"ll be watching you" threat. Whodathunkit?

It's not always a wise idea to pay attention to lyrics in the dentist's chair, however, as I discovered when a very gentle, soothing, otherwise ideal-for-dentistry song by Deadman popped up in the queue. I don't remember how I first heard of this band, several months ago; must have been through eMusic, or maybe some internet radio station. Anyway, I really like the one EP I've heard, In the Heart of Mankind. The band name might lead you to think goth or hardcore, but nothing could be farther from the truth; the general tone is very School of Daniel Lanois, and if you go for his dreamy, float-y sound, you should check these guys out.

But not under the influence of novocaine. I'm sitting there, trying not to think about what's going on inside my mouth, when I start listening to what singer/songwriter Steven Collins is singing over the mellowest of musical beds:

I try, but I can't move forward
My arms and legs are sticking down
I wanna scream, but I cannot use my voice
Just when I think I can't go on
All this blood
Moves within me
All this blood
Moves inside of me...

Pain can't last forever
And rivers always run to the sea
And just like a river
I can't hold
All this blood
That moves inside of me...

Now, I can't stress enough how gorgeous the song ("Blood Moves") sounds--or how little I want to be visualizing rivers of blood (the phrase is repeated about seventy times) while Dr. B is discovering a fourth root and reporting on a larger than usual amount of bleeding. I begin to find the irony perversely hilarious and start to giggle; later, when I try to explain what's so funny, I get that weird look you too will get should you ever report that you're listening to a band called Deadman.

Just a warning. Okay, anyone else care to name some favorite tunes for unpleasant situations?

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