A few years ago, I scored some tickets to go see Larry David’s Broadway show, Fish In The Dark, essentially an episode of Seinfeld or Curb, except actually performed live in front of an audience.1 Don’t let that curt summary of the performance fool you, I love David’s work, and I loved his play. When it started its run, LD himself was playing the main role, which would have been a sight to behold; alas, I showed up too late in its run, and David was presumably working on other things, and anyway, he doesn’t seem like the type who would be content playing the same part day in and day out. This was only kind of a bummer, though, because his replacement was famous for playing a fictionalized version of Larry David. I’m talking of course about George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander.
All of this was amazing. I got to see one of the most iconic comedic actors of the last thirty years from the fifth row of a Broadway theater. But if you ask me what happened in the play, I’ll tell you to look it up, because I have no memory of it. What I will always remember from that night is, sitting in front of me was Patrick Warburton, who played David Puddy on Seinfeld, disguised in a plain black t-shirt and an unmarked black baseball cap. He didn’t want to be noticed, and I felt bad for blowing his cover, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity to talk to someone who worked on one of my comic hero’s iconic shows.
This may not mean much to you, dear reader, but I grew up on Seinfeld. I was starstruck, and Warburton was sweet to me. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to be a doctor. I asked him what it was like to work with Morgan Freeman. He gave me an unremarkable and noncommittal response, as you’d expect. We even took a picture together after the show (that’s me on the left):
Now, I consider myself to be a rational and analytical human being, and reason says that Warburton is just a normal person with a cool job that I shouldn’t have treated differently than anyone else. But I was a mess. Here’s a guy whose work I’ve enjoyed immensely, a guy worked with the greatest Comic Genius of our generation, and I asked him about Ted 2, a movie I have never seen.
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Obviously, the road to Major League Baseball is a treacherous one. Prospects spend their whole lives cultivating these hyper-specific skills in order to become the very best at the sport, risking injury or failure while making barely enough money to exist on. And, even when arriving in the Major Leagues, the salary system is broken enough that the best players often make less money than they merit, relative to average league salaries. What drives these young men to reach for the Majors? A desire for greatness? Wealth, perhaps? Those things may have provided some secondary motivation, but I doubt I would need it. No, the primary motivation of getting to choose my own walk-up music would be enough for me.
In baseball, you have discrete performance opportunities. Picture this: you’re standing in the on-deck circle, biding your time before it’s your turn to bat. You’re about to begin a battle of diametrically opposing forces. The man standing 60.5 feet in front of you, the guy holding the ball, his entire livelihood is based on his special ability to get you to attempt and fail to hit the ball. You, on the other hand, have succeeded at hitting that ball your entire life—he’s a footnote in your biography. The difference between success and failure is going to come down to one millisecond, and the pressure’s on. The guy batting before you just whiffed at a 100 MPH fastball, and looked like a fool doing it. You’re up.
Then, as your strolling to your place of business, the batter’s box, an energy reverberates through the grandstand and into the ears of you and your opponent. You’re reminded that you’re in your zone, this is why everyone is here, to watch you. With that renewed confidence, you park the first pitch you see into the left-center field bleachers, and then in approximately one hour, everything repeats itself.
Walk-up music is a tone setter. Have you been too aggressive at the plate recently? Perhaps you want Kacey Musgraves to remind you that it’s a “Slow Burn” or Kendrick Lamar to reassure you that you’re in your “ELEMENT.” Feel like you’ve just been going through the motions lately? Why not have Arcade Fire tell you to “Wake Up” or Mick Jagger encourage you to “Let It Loose”.
The walk-up music can also be an intimidator. You don’t have to tell the pitcher that you’re going to “Poke It Out” if Playboy Carti tells him for you. Or, you could have Flying Lotus and Kendrick remind the pitcher that he’ll “Never Catch Me.”
Most importantly, walk-up music is a thesis statement for how you want the next few minutes to go. It’s a personal choice that everyone in the stadium gets to hear. There’s nothing else quite like it, and that’s kind of sad. Imagine if an oral surgeon blasted polka music before administering an anesthetic to her patient, or a bank teller played “Make It Rain” by Fat Joe while cashing a check. It’s unfair that major league baseball players get to curate their life with musical accompaniment while the rest of us high school flameouts are stuck with earbuds. So, in order to rectify this, below are my five walk-up songs, perfect for aiding various mundane parts of my day with musical encouragement.
Okay, this one is actually a real thing. The selection of appropriate alarm music is a subtle art. Something too energetic clashes with the listless semi-consciousness of the early morning, and makes arousal seem unattainable. Something too calm, however, may not wake someone up in the first place, or worse, act as a lullaby. Moreover, this problem cannot be solved with a simple trial-and-error: even a favorite song may sour after a few days as an alarm song. The optimal choice is something with a beat or a groove, pleasant vocals, and no sounds too harsh. Enter Spoon’s “Inside Out.” The synth fade-in and crunchy beats to begin the jam perfectly bridge my slumber into consciousness so perfectly that even after years of using this song to wake up, I still enjoy it in all contexts, not just at 8:30 AM (or 8:39 the after snooze button).
I’m not even sure I have to explain this one. When I’m getting ready for the day in the morning, I want, nay, need the confidence that Kurt Vile imbues within “Pretty Pimpin,” in which Kurt looks so baller in his bathroom mirror that he doesn’t even recognize himself. My only regret is that my enemies don’t get to see how pimpin’ I look.
Okay, okay, I know I’m mixing concepts here. Montages aren’t a thing that exist in real life. But, at the end of the day, the walk-up music is just about contextualizing what’s happening, and “Hobo Blues” is the perfect backdrop to anything whimsical you may want to do. Just imagine all the stupidest parts of your day, happening one after another. You’re going to want Hobo Blues to be playing in the background for maximum comical effect.
This song is unadulterated optimism for what’s going to happen. When Drake sings “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” he’s obviously thinking about the love of his life, and seeing her for the first time in ages. His excitement is palpable. That goes double for me, arriving home after a long day of whimsical montages. Nobody has ever articulated the excitement coursing through my veins as I’m rolling up my driveway, eager to take my belt off. Thank you Drake.
Finally, the cycle repeats. Do you want to just be tired and let that be it, or do you want to commiserate with Lennon (not that Lennon)? That’s what I thought. And don’t tell me that this is some euphemism for drugs because it definitely is and I don’t care.
That’s just five of many, many fantastic options that none of us will ever get to experience because society has decided baseball players are the only people that deserve walk-up music. Imagine how much more productive each member of society would be if he could contextualize his behaviors musically.
On second thought, half of the world couldn’t get enough of Psy’s Gangnam Style—maybe we’re all better off with earbuds.