College towns are a frightening place. Look at who fills their landscapes: overworked, over-caffeinated, drunk, hungover and generally stressed out college students who all have some sort of deadline or dream to fulfill. Most of these individuals are concurrently exhausted and motivated, typically juggling heavy workloads and relatively dumb lifestyle choices. Everyone is pretty self-obsessed, thinking mostly about the next project, or upcoming homework assignment, or most recent drunken mistake, or the always impending future. Dangerous levels of ambition and solipsism fill these types of towns across the country. On the streets of Ann Arbor, one of the largest college towns in the country, this underlying state of constant stress is most clearly defined by the agitated relationship between cars, pedestrians and bikers.
Any newcomer to Ann Arbor doesn’t at first understand this supposed luxury. All pedestrians have the right of way, as do bikers and boarders. It’s as if no student at this university, despite the high scores and grades required to receive acceptance to it, understands that they are not omnipotent in front of a car. They cross the street when the light is red. As a large Blue Bus starts to turn a corner, they placidly pass it, assuming of course that the massive beast of machinery operates on the rules of the pedestrians instead of installed signals. Bikers allow themselves to occupy as much space as a car would. Skateboarders and mopeds are another story entirely, zooming in and out of the tiny crevices between cars. Everyone is trying to get to their next destination in the fastest fashion possible, operating under the supposition that no car would actually hit them or, as it can appear, even could. The self-obsessed, stressed students run the streets, and I am one of them.
Last Sunday, when crossing State Street in front of the Michigan Union, a car hit me. It was a relatively delicate hit, one that didn’t cause me to fall over completely but has caused the formation of a pretty impressive bruise on the side of my leg. The driver didn’t exit the vehicle, but instead remained perched in his Honda with an incredibly pissed off, frustrated look painted across his face. Flustered by the tapping of metal to flesh, I stepped back onto the curb and waited for my new enemy to pass. I readjusted one of my headphones, looked both ways this time, and crossed the streets successfully on my second try.
I’ve decided I cannot allow myself to be angry with the driver. Maybe I did have the right of way, and maybe it is always important to make sure someone is completely healthy after even just lightly thumping them with your car, but I was truly in the wrong. I had my headphones in and my head down with my mind fogged by the events of the weekend. I stepped out down from the sidewalk to the street with the wild assumption that a car already in motion would perceive any or all of my forthcoming, unthinking spontaneous movements. The driver presumed that I had the brain cells and cognitive ability to know when it is or isn’t appropriate to cross the street. Clearly they were too kind and giving in their assumptions.
I left the scene of mild trauma a little shaken up, a little disturbed by my inattention and, strangely enough, a little turned on. Pouring through my headphones at the moment of impact for my leg and the enemy Honda was The White Stripes’s “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues.” The Honda hit at about the two minute-mark of the song, a moment where Jack White’s electric guitar tears into the song like a hot, very sharp knife slicing through a medium-rare-song steak.
My imagination started to creatively deconstruct the situation. What if I had been hit and killed by the car? What if Jack White’s electric guitar solo was the last thing to pass through the space between my ears? Death is imminent: an inescapable element of life whose deadline for appearance is always indeterminable. I could go right now as I write this. You could go right now as you read this.
With this depressing existential crisis in mind, I propose the following scenario: If you were to die spontaneously but could organize a list of songs to go-out-for-good to, what would they be? Think of a frightening last moment of your life scenario if you can: What do you want playing for yourself, the only person who will be hearing it, in your last moments? Is this shaking you up emotionally? Are you a bit disturbed? Or are you a little turned on, too? I’m not afraid, and I’ve got the bruise on my leg to prove it. If I die a spontaneous death, here is a list of songs I hope play during and in the last moments leading up to my eternal passage.
Would you want the music to contrast with your tragic, sudden death? Or should the lyrics and sonic passages match it perfectly? Will the song crescendo into your death, or be part of its denouement? Here’s what I wouldn’t mind, and what I hope, to be hearing.