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June 15, 2006

Wag the Dog

All of this legitimate race blogging has got me itching to talk about something mindless. So if you’re in the mood for a good workout report or details of a scenic run, well…this would be a good time to click over to someone else’s blog.

Because I saw something the other day that puzzled me so much it made me stop in my tracks and cock my head sideways to think it over, like a dog who falls for the fake ball-throwing trick. I kept chewing on the thought for the better part of an entire day. (Again, not unlike a dog. As far as intellectual comparisons go, I don’t set a real high bar for myself.)

Now, it’s not exactly remarkable that I would get so easily discombobulated. What’s noteworthy is the cause of my confusion: Mary J. Blige and U2.

Let me re-phrase that. It wasn’t just Mary J. Blige and U2. It was Mary J. Blige featuring U2. In a video that’s been getting heavy airplay on VH1 lately.

The video is for the song “One,” perhaps the most distinctive and recognizable U2 song ever. There wasn’t anyone alive in 1992 who doesn’t remember the popularity and poignancy of this tune. Over the past year the song has reemerged into the mainstream as the theme for Bono’s “One Campaign” to end global poverty and the AIDS crisis.

In other words, the song is classically, definitively U2.

So I found it disturbing that the song and video credit is listed as “Mary J. Blige featuring U2.” Because for all these years, I thought I had a clear understanding of the word “featuring”, as popularized by countless hip-hop practitioners. Yes, I think about these things.

The word “featuring” is typically used when:

1. A well-known artist collaborates with a lesser known artist on a song, with the intent of increasing the lesser-known artist’s exposure among well-known artist’s fan base. For example, the Ludacris song “Pimpin’ All Over the World” featured a relatively unknown dude named Bobby Valentino who sang part of the chorus along with the rap star. Or…

2. A well-known artist collaborates with another well-known artist who performs a small role in a song written by the primary artist. It’s not as confusing as it sounds: just think of Mariah Carey’s latest video “Say Somethin’”, which features Snoop Dogg rapping during one verse. (Actually, this video is almost worthy of a whole separate post. And hopefully I’ll be the guy to write that post someday.) It’s Mariah’s song. Snoop’s just there to help out, and to kick it with Mariah in her bikini lingerie - I’m sure he thought about 2 seconds before agreeing to that one.

That’s it. That’s the list. Or so I thought. But now we have Mary J. Blige featuring U2, and that’s what froze me to the floor with the tricked-dog look on my face.

U2 is not an unknown act. They’re not contributing to a song Mary wrote. The collaboration is 98% U2’s doing. It all just seems backwards to me.

Mary J. Blige featuring U2 is like me racing on the front of a tandem bike featuring Lance Armstrong. Putting my name first and giving me credit for the ride is insulting to the real driving force. Let’s say we’re in a world-class race, like Paris-to-Roubaix. The standings might look something like this:

1. Ivan Basso
2. Floyd Landis
3. Donald B. featuring Lance Armstrong
4. Jan Ullrich

Wouldn’t that stand out as odd? Doesn’t one of those names look glaringly out of place? Everybody in the world would know who did the legwork in that race, just as (hopefully) everybody knows who is responsible for the song “One.”

(And notice, that although we wouldn’t win, we’d still find a way to beat Ullrich. Was there ever a more one-sided rivalry in professional sports than Lance vs Jan? For goodness sake, even the Red Sox finally beat the Yankees once. Does Jan get flashbacks every time he sees a yellow bracelet? Do you think Lance ever calls Jan and says, “You know, I’ve been thinking it over…and I think I’m going to go ahead and race again,” just to mess with him? I’m really going to miss that rivalry.)

My point is, I always feel credit should go where credit is due. I suppose I fear that people who don’t remember the song from 14 years ago (like almost all of Mary’s fan base) might not give proper credit to the band that deserves it.

And maybe feeling this way is just an indication that I’m getting older. Which in some select cases (like a certain trail race in Marin County) is a good thing, but generally it’s just a bummer.

So do me this favor: when you see Mary J Blige singing “One,” just picture me on the front of a tandem bike with Lance, and remember that it’s U2’s song. That will make me feel better.

(And the next time you see a puzzled dog, think of me and all the crazy stuff that bounces around my head all day long.)

12 comments:

backofpack 6/15/06, 10:37 AM  

Donald, how do you do it? I thought I had a random, ever-changing thought pattern (what was that game you referred to? Plinko? Think pinball.) But you, you take the cake. You win, hands down. And I love it!

Not to mention you came up with yet another song I've not heard. However, I have not only seen, but heard Mary K. Blige (Thank you American Idol, and by the way, I wasn't too impressed with her) and U2. I've actually heard U2's songs, it's even possible I've hear "One" and am just not recognizing the title. Now, you wanna talk songs? (And getting old?) Check out today's post on my blog!

Cliff 6/15/06, 11:10 AM  

Interesting..i see your point Donald..

but if u are racing featuring Lanec Armstrong..will u shave your legs :)

matt 6/15/06, 12:02 PM  

isn't it just the same as the athletes that "write" autobiographies through other writers..."as told to"?

i think i just want to farm out my blog to you, donald.

i love the tandem bike imagery and analogy. you have mad skills, boy!!

stronger 6/15/06, 12:59 PM  

Your standings list made me blurt out a big laugh. The next Nike commercial is going to have Lance calling up Jan.

Helen 6/15/06, 1:06 PM  

Finally somebody else who is annoyed by this! I don't understand why anybody would even want to cover such a big song -- she's just fine but she's no Bono.

jeff 6/15/06, 1:49 PM  

okay, not to get too technical here, but jan doesn't typically race paris-roubaix. he's all fat and still trying to get in shape from the winter during that time of the year. so, it'd be more likely that you'd be on the podium (featuring lance armstrong) than jan ulrich.

but, see, that's me being an anal cycling geek. and trying to be funny. and failing.

Anne 6/15/06, 5:14 PM  

It's always possible Bono is just being generous and it's also possible the record label wanted it that way. I also found it annoying that the band behind the song plays second fiddle. I don't even think it sounds good as a duet. But I'm a huge U2 fan and not into Mary J. Blige, though I'm told she's got a decent set of pipes.

robtherunner 6/15/06, 5:18 PM  

I'm more of a Mary J Blige fan and not a huge U2 fan. In fact, I am not even sure of what song you are talking about. I imagine if I heard it I would know, but I am not a huge music fan and I grew up listening to Rap and Metal.

Mike 6/15/06, 11:59 PM  

Great post Donald!:-) I'd have to agree with you 100% on the song there...Bono must have been feeling generous!

Thomas 6/16/06, 1:39 AM  

Despite being naturalised Irish, I'm not that hot on U2 (sacrilege!), but I agree with you. I don't get the point of Mary J Blige involvement in that song at all. I thought everyone would know it's a U2 song anyway (probably showing my age here).

Btw, I don't know how I never noticed your blog before. It's hilarious!

Deene 6/16/06, 10:45 AM  

ha! excellent analogy. i'm not a big fan of either and have seen the video so now i'll give it a second thought next time i see it.

angie's pink fuzzy 6/16/06, 7:17 PM  

okay, so I have to go against the grain. I saw some random awards show this year, when the song was first released. I had heard she was doing a cover of it. U2 launched into the music, and suddenly, MJB came out and started singing. By the end of the song, I was in tears (the good kind). I don't like MJB, but when she sang that song live, it put goosebumps on my skin. Fanstastic.

And it IS her, featuring U2, because she's covering it, it's on HER album (not U2s most recent), and Bono just sings along sometimes. I think it was not Bono being generous, but rather, being greedy and not letting her just cover the song! He's making sure he's still involved.

And you can have bigger names featured. How many songs was Sean "Puffy" Combs featured in, when the main person was someone you've never heard of? Too many to count!

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