Monday, December 31, 2007

a guide to cooking MCs like a pound of bacon

To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle
- Rob van Winkle


Pop culture is like a row of crackers or a bag of those cheesy chips. You scarf it down and forget about it the instant it's over. But at some point later in the day, you glance down and see that your shirt and lap are covered with crumbs. Most of the crumbs are small specks that can be dislodged with a brush of the hand, but a few get mashed into the fabric, and select larger crumbs - well damn, that's good eating, if nobody's looking.

One of the most stubborn crumbs, for some reason, is Vanilla Ice's debut stew of rhyming bluster Ice Ice Baby. David Bowie and Queen came up with that bass line, but after Vanilla Ice sampled it, that dum-dum-dum-da-da-dum-dum passed irrevocably from a pair of British rock gods to Rob van Winkle, that sad one-hit pretender. The song is mostly braggadocio, supplemented by an implausible account of Ice and his DJ pal Shay running away from a drive-by shooting. According to Ice the gunshots "rang out like a bell," suggesting to me that he's never heard actual gunshots, which are more bang than clang.

The most memorable lyric from the song - at least for me - is the smooth couplet "To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal/ Light up a room, wax a chump like a candle". I have a feeling that, in the coming decades, as one by one we lose our minds to prions and Alzheimer's and zombie plagues, those lines will still be shifting around in a drawer in my brain, even as I forget my family, friends and Vanilla Ice himself. But what do those lines actually mean?

TO THE EXTREME

Let's look at the adverbial phrase that kicks it all off: To the extreme. Even though this will bring horrible memories of the early '90s for most of us, when goldfish crackers and skateboarders and CEOs alike were living on the edge, 'to the extreme' carries some degree of power and efficiency in the context of the lyrics. It handily modifies all of the actions cited by Mr. van Winkle: mic-rocking, stage-lighting and chump-waxing. The meaning of 'to the extreme' in this case can best be attributed to the sense of 'performing a task to the utmost degree of intensity,' which would scan relatively poorly. The OED also cites a musical form of 'extreme' as 'the distance between intervals,' but we can be confident that van Winkle did not have music in mind when he wrote the lyrics.

I ROCK A MIC

That's settled then. So what does it mean to 'rock a mic'? 'Mic' stands for microphone, I'm assuming, but I can't help but wonder what van Winkle means when he claims to 'rock' it. It may be that he likes to move microphones gently back and forth, but I doubt that he'd bother mentioning it in a song. I'm going to guess that he's laying claim to an unusual degree of proficiency with using a microphone - you know, something beyond knowing how to switch it on, avoid feedback, etcetera. It's likely that he can remove it from a stand and replace it without getting all tangled up in the cord and such, all while reciting his rhymes. To the extreme.

LIKE A VANDAL

I know what you're thinking - but Mr. Palinode, sir, he doesn't just use a microphone with proficiency, he does it like a vandal! Well played, reader. But as the old man said, it depends on what vandal means. There are a number of possible meanings, ranging from the streets of Rome in classical times to the boulevards of present day Los Angeles. The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe who mixed it up with the Roman Empire in the 5th century. They invaded North Africa, sacked Rome and ended up getting their vandalous butts kicked by the Byzantine Empire.

I have trouble imagining what a Vandal would do with a microphone. He would likely find it puzzling at first, assume it to be of some value and take it home to his North African villa as a souvenir. If the microphone were turned on, though, there's a chance that the Vandal might make a stray remark in its presence, only to have his words reverberating throughout the hall. The barbarian would probably assume that The Lord or some evil spirit was bellowing along with him, and would run screaming. Or maybe he'd bring a priest to exorcise/negotiate with the entity that mocked people with their own words. Hard to say.

It's more likely that Vanilla Ice is using one of the more modern senses of the word, such as the blanket term for people who destroy public property for the sake of destruction. Someone like that would likely 'rock a mic' by stealing or defacing it. A third possible use of vandal refers to anyone of African descent. A person of African descent would probably speak into the microphone. A small subset of the African diaspora would sing or rap into the mic, but most would probably be thanking a group of conventioneers or shareholders for showing up, and could they all hold on a moment while the tech guy works out an issue with the PowerPoint? Thanks.

Fucking PowerPoint.

LIGHT UP A STAGE

Let's review: so far, we've determined that Vanilla Ice is so good at using a microphone that he does it like a black person. Who would have thought he'd bring race into the equation? I'm pretty sure that he isn't worried about measuring up to other races when it comes to 'lighting up a stage,' though. This one seems pretty straightforward: he's letting us know that when he walks onstage, he makes sure to switch on a light. Of course, he does it 'to the extreme,' so it can be fairly assumed that he goes around switching on all the lights. He may even bring in extra lighting to really amp up the brightness in whatever area he chooses to enter. And of course, he'll put on a sequined outfit to reflect as much light as he can.

WAX A CHUMP

I'd say the best description for a chump is a 'punk-ass bitch' or 'loser'. Or really, anyone who'd stand still for a waxing. To be 'waxed' has a whole range of connotations, none of which are pleasant, but let's assume that Mr. Van Winkle is being literal in this case. That is, he has the will and ability to cover a loser in wax. Naturally he'd need to buy a lot of wax and have a heat source to melt it, so this looks like a boast about his finances. It may be that in the savage wasteland where van Winkle grew up (suburban Dallas), a man's worth was determined by his store of wax. A person rich enough to cover another in the substance would probably be the King of Carollton.

Or maybe Vanilla Ice is an esthetician by day. Imagine getting a Brazilian from that guy. He'd probably call it The Ice Waxxx.

LIKE A CANDLE

I'll be blunt: there is no formulation that permits this phrase to make sense. He covers people in wax in the same manner as he covers a candle in wax? Why would you put wax on a candle? It's already made of wax. Does he intend to say that he covers a chump in sufficient wax to to turn said chump into a candle? Is the body of the chump supposed to serve as a wick of some kind? Wait a minute - is this what Vanilla Ice means when he says that he lights up a room to the extreme? By burning a wax-coated unfortunate? That's disgusting.

From what I can tell, Vanilla Ice, the Wax King of Carollton, illuminates his mansion by the agonizing light of human sacrifice, all the while speaking into the microphone like someone with African roots. Looked at this way, Cool As Ice seems like an entirely different movie.

YouTube - Cool as Ice ending

No chumps were waxed in the making of this video.

13 comments:

p-man said...

I find that very few lyrics withstand scrutiny. But these ones do.

mnuez said...

It astonishes me that the Powers that be have allowed me to live despite not having visited your blog in a while. It truly does. By God, you could give Twain a run for his money - and likely take that money.

mnuez

i am the diva said...

most enjoyable good sir. Most enjoyabe indeed.

fatboyfat said...

You see, I'd always heard the lyric in question as "To the extreme I rock a mic like a banjo".

I thought there was some bluegrass fusion thing going on.

Now it all makes sense.

lotus07 said...

There is something to be said about taking a minuscule portion of life's minutia and expanding on it in the form of an essay. Well written and thought provoking, but now the song will bounce around inside my head all the way home....Ice, Ice, Baby.....Ice, Ice, Baby......(curse you)

commis chef said...

That was wicked. I can't wait for your deconstruction of Snow's 1993 'classic,' 'Informer.'

palinode said...

p-man - Indeed. Tell Paul Simon and Paul McCartney to go rock a mic like a vandal. I've no doubt they'll get waxed, candle style.

mnuez - The Powers have kept you from my site as part of a vast and nefarious scheme. If Barack and Huckabee win the Iowa primaries, then you'll know there's a vast conspiracy afoot.

diva - Glad to oblige.

fatboyfat - I'd like to see Vanilla Ice do a white trash duelling banjo thing.

lotus07 - If I can provoke just one person to curse me, then I feel as if my work on earth had been accomplished.

commis chef - If I could make out the lyrics to Informer, I'd write about them. Informah - beedootsalladafahaykomifikayah - bedootseehayahfah etc.

Abigail Road said...

One of my many talents, is knowing all the lyrics to Ice, Ice Baby, as well as Baby Got Back.

Gemini6Ice said...

Despite the word order, I believe that "like a candle" is meant to modify the verb "wax" rather than the object "chump." That is, I believe he would cover the chump in wax just as a candle could (because it melts the wax!), but to the EXTREME.

palinode said...

Gemini6ice - You're probably right, but I hate that kind of sloppy sentence structure so much that I refused to consider it.

maarmie said...

That white boy sho' can dance. I loves me some 'nilla.

BarbaraCA said...

DAMMIT!

When I read this the first time, I caught the virus right in my sad, rattling brain pan. The thumping "Ice ice baby..." bit stuck in my head on a continuous loop for some 4 hours. Now, days later, I come back, enjoying the hideousness that is the pork cutlet sandwich, and I scrolled down! WHY? Why did I scroll down? Now "Ice ice baby," with the thumping bass line, is back in my head.

It's like an infection, but not as cuddly.

palinode said...

maarmie - He dances like a mofo on fire.

barbaraCA - Sorry. I take no pleasure in your pain.