in the elite 8
(6) omc, "how bizarre"
(4) the proclaimers, "i'll be (500 miles)"
and punches its ticket to the final four
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. The polls closed at 9am Arizona time on 3/24.
analysis by the march fadness selection committee
At last we get a real matchup between two actual one-hit wonders. As one of the brothers says in a lovely How We Made It article on "I'll Be (500 Miles" in The Guardian, "The band is nowhere near as famous as the song and we never will be. When they write our obituaries, whether in Scotland or Kazakhstan, they won’t mention much else." Ditto OMC's "How Bizarre." Both of these songs eliminated less one-hitty wonders in the previous round. The Proclaimers managed to take down the Tom Cochrane juggernaut, which is probably for the best since he's got a legendary career beyond that one bit hit, "Life is a Highway." OMC beat out Harvey Danger, a real 15-seed Cinderella here in the tourney. That was a real one hit wonder, sure, but it was never a huge hit like "How Bizarre" was. And the rest of their excellent discography and career were never quite as outshined by it as as a result. So this matchup pits them against against each other. We've become fonder of both of these songs as the tournament has gone on, something that we can definitely NOT say about much of the rest of the bracket. We took OMC's hit as kind of a knockoff Sugar Ray or Sublime song at first, but it's weirder in both its story and its execution. It's charming us, increasingly. You too? "I'll Be" came into this game after a hell of a fight against Cochrane, and though it's way overstrident, there's something totally winning about this song and its relentless romantic cheer. We think that's in part what's gotten it this far. Though the two good essays below help to illustrate some of the things we find most interesting about each song and their interaction with the one hit in one hit wonder. Which is more essential? More indelible? Less forgettable? Or just flat out most awesome or best? YOU DECIDE.
JUSTIN ST. GERMAIN ON "HOW BIZARRE"
The other day, I went to the National Gallery for the first time. I don’t know anything about art. I come from poor people who didn’t have the money or time for it, and I went to schools that didn’t teach it much, where I also didn’t seek it out. But I like to look at art, and have stumbled into seeing a lot of it: on one list of the top art museums in the world, I’d been to eight of ten.
It’s a strange thing, to have seen so much art as an ignorant. It makes you wonder about aesthetics. The hired guides walking groups around the gallery seemed to evaluate art mostly by context: historical movements, influences, contemporaries, career stages. Some talked more about technique, composition, and color. I mostly just like to stare at it for a while, and see if I can see the genius. Some are obvious: the big Pollock, the O’Keefes. Others seemed more esoteric; I was the only one spending much time with George Bellows.
I don’t know anything about music, either. Can’t play an instrument or sing a lick, and am often told I have bad taste. But I listen to a lot of it, and that’s all you really need to formulate some aesthetics for pop, especially the songs in this tournament; Warhol and Lichtenstein might have wound up in the National Gallery, but Harvey Danger sure as hell won’t.
A good way to evaluate a one-hit wonder is by how well it defines a moment. Quick: what does “How Bizarre” remind you of? Whatever you just remembered happened twenty years ago this summer, when the song played half a million times on the radio, the biggest reach platform in the US. It had already been a worldwide hit for a year by then, which means, for a few weeks in July and August of 1997, it was possibly the most-heard song in the world. If you were alive and sentient then, you remember doing something while “How Bizarre” played in the background. I’ve asked a few people my age, and it reminded them of what teenagers do while listening to the radio: working shitty jobs, riding in cars, drugs.
For me it’s the former. I turned sixteen that July, procured a pickup truck, and had to figure out a way to pay for gas. A family friend owned a restaurant in my hometown. The friend, whom I’ll call Rick, was a froglike guy with a bullhorn voice who drank Tanqueray for lunch and imported furniture from Mexico. Employees figured the restaurant was a drug front, which seemed like the only explanation for a place staffed by bunch as motley as we, ex-cons and dropouts and your correspondent, then a lanky sophomore virgin in JNCOs.
I had to work my way inside the restaurant; I started in the employee lot out back. Rick got a wild hair to grow the restaurant’s tomatoes himself, in an atavistic patch of crabgrass that had been a garden back when the restaurant had been a house. He needed someone to replace its dirt with soil from a garden across the street, behind a house whose owner Rick claimed to have permission from, but which sure seemed pretty vacant.
So I became a soil thief. I spent most of an Arizona summer in a hat and a bandanna, sunburnt and salty, scooping dirt, listening to a staticky pop radio station from Tucson on a boombox I’d stolen from the dishwashers. (Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” which was mercifully left out of March Fadness, still makes me want to stab myself with a shovel.)
I worked at that restaurant for about a year, a period more or less parallel to OMC’s abrupt success. When I think of that time now, I remember it in moments: my dismay at scraping pork into scrap buckets for Rick’s friend, the pig farmer; cooks chopping rails of crank on the lid of the employee toilet; hearing during a dinner rush that Princess Diana had just died, prompting months of Elton John; picking a cockroach out of the hot line and wondering if this was all just some story to tell later, or if it would be my life, like it was for some of the others. Those moments have a soundtrack, and “How Bizarre” is on it, right after the Spice Girls and Hanson, before Puff Daddy and Usher and “Return of the Mack.” (So is White Town's "Your Woman," which would have been our second-round opponent, if there were any justice in the world.)
Of those songs, “How Bizarre” defines that time the best, at least for me. Forget the video—we just don’t have time—and listen to the song itself. Acoustic guitar, a trumpet, an accordion, what might be a drum machine. A catchy hook, a few talk-sung verses, a duet chorus. It apes hip-hop, acoustic rock, and mariachi, at least, but can only properly be called a pop song. The lyrics don’t make sense, nobody involved seems talented, but it’s just so goddamned catchy. You can hear how it became the worldwide sound of a summer—why, if you were alive twenty years ago, you still know at least some of “How Bizarre” by heart.
If you prefer your one-hit wonders to have a story, this one’s a humdinger. There may have never been a less likely pop star than Pauly Fuemana, who pretty much comprised OMC. Pauly was twenty-five when he recorded “How Bizarre,” the son of a Maori mother and a father from Niue, which if it were a fully independent country would be the second smallest in the world. A former gang member raised by grandparents and the system, Pauly lived in a musical hinterland that prided itself on producing one of the guys from Crowded House, and he wasn’t much of a musician: he couldn’t play any instrument well or sing in tune consistently. He probably never wrote an entire song himself, and he danced like me, which is to say poorly, and primarily with his face and forearms.
Pauly started off as part of Otara Millionaires Club, the forerunner of OMC, a hip-hop outfit named ironically after the poor Auckland suburb it came from, known for carrying machetes onstage. The band made two songs before splitting up. On one of them, “We R the OMC,” you can hear Pauly before the industry got hold of him: brash and angry, all bluster and snarl, a wannabe Tupac of the South Pacific. His lone verse is hostile, insipid, and homophobic, and the song didn’t even chart in New Zealand. But it did intrigue the owner of a local nightclub where Pauly had worked as a doorman, who fronted him five grand for studio time. A year later, he released the most successful pop song in the history of his country.
Pauly relied almost entirely on an Elvisish charisma, a vestige of his background: the confidence of having survived something, a smolder borne of his hip hop origins. The best surviving illustration of what I mean is a brief clip from Top of the Pops, filmed in August 1998. Pauly had been on two weeks before and bombed; he couldn't afford to do it again. And so, in the most important moment of his career, what did Pauly Fuemana do? This:
Maybe not a great performance, musically; the dude really couldn't sing. But he came onstage, in the country that colonized his, with a chain and a rope around his neck, and stopped just short of telling that whole island to fuck off. In three minutes, he made himself a star.
Popularity is an admittedly poor metric for art, and “How Bizarre” wasn’t released as a single in the US, making its success harder to gauge. But OMC’s only album sold roughly as many copies here as Beyonce’s Lemonade. The song hit #1 in five countries, including America, becoming the first song from New Zealand ever to do so. “How Bizarre” was such a phenomenon in its homeland that the ministry of history devotes a website page to it.
We all know what’s coming, so I’ll skip ahead. If you have three minutes, you can hear Pauly’s career end. Go find OMC’s last major-label song, “I Love L.A.,” recorded that same summer of 1997, while “How Bizarre” was climbing the American charts. By then, Pauly was rich and fame-drunk and rootless, obsessed with becoming a rock star, even though the dental surgery he’d had to fix his teeth had ruined his trademark choked-off voice. OMC needed a second American single, and his label didn’t like any of the album’s other tracks. For some mystifying reason, they asked Pauly to cover a song about loving a city he’d never even seen until the year before. It gets worse. The song was for a soundtrack; the movie was Bean. And they didn’t use it—the original plays instead. That’s right: OMC’s last single was so bad it got cut from the Mr. Bean movie and replaced by Randy Newman.
Pauly’s attempts at another hit—including sessions with White Town, where they spent their studio time smoking weed—failed, and Polygram dropped him after he assaulted one of its employees. He returned to Auckland and sank into debt. His reunion with the producer of “How Bizarre” was a disaster. (At one point, Pauly thought his next hit would be a song called “Planet Phat,” in which he called an overweight lover “my hippopotamus.”)
OMC released one more song, a duet with fellow Kiwi Lucy Lawless—aka Xena the Warrior Princess—called “4 All of Us.” A treacly ballad about unity, it was a one-off single for a human rights charity; Pauly, dead broke by then, still did the song for free. The accompanying video, in which he gauntly whispers lyrics about leaving, prompted concerns about his health. His behavior grew erratic, he fell out of touch with friends, and in 2010 the news broke: Pauly Fuemana had died at 40 of a rare neurological disease.
So OMC wins on popularity and pathos. But maybe the best measure of art is how it ages. So, if you’re still debating how to vote, I’ll leave you with this: “How Bizarre” begins with a cop pulling over a car full of dark-skinned people who’ve done nothing wrong, followed by an incoherent circus which prominently involves the press and military, until soon everyone wants to escape. The rest of the song repeats a chorus in which an unspeakable evil makes the singer insane. Every time I look around, it’s in my face.
Twenty years after its release, can you imagine a song more relevant now?
(Note: much of the information here is from a book by Simon Grigg, How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World. )
Justin St. Germain is the author of the memoir Son of a Gun. His essays have recently appeared in Barrelhouse and Territory, and are forthcoming in DIAGRAM and Tin House. He grew up in Tombstone, Arizona, and now lives in Oregon.
NICOLE WALKER ON "I'M GONNA BE (500 MILES)"
When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next you
When I go out, yeah I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you
If I get drunk, well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you
And if I haver up, yeah I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door
Dear Craig and Charlie,
You are further from me now than you were in 1993 when your song became a big hit. In 1993, I was in Portland, Oregon. You were in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. Four thousand, five hundred and forty-one miles away. I am now in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is four thousand, eight hundred and twenty miles away. You were further away from me then too because I was listening to Tori Amos and Bongwater in 1993. Benny and Joon made the song a US hit. In 1993, Bill Clinton was president. We could relax a little. In 1993, we watched the Simpsons. We went to see Richard Thompson at The Aladdin. I probably forced my friends to watch Mad About You. Here is the question: would Jamie, Helen Hunt’s character walk 500 miles to get to Paul, Paul Reiser’s character? Would Paul walk that far to get to Jamie? Would Rachel walk that far to get to Ross? Chandler to Monica? Joey to…not Phoebe. No, Phoebe and Joey no. They know better. Don’t even pretend to say you’re going to walk that far. It sounds sweet and romantic but really, someone will call you on your hyperbolic nature. Some day, someone will hold you accountable for the lack of wear on your walking shoes.
My sisters and I grew up singing Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “500 Miles” in the car on the drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon. “Not a shirt on my back/not a penny to my name/Lord I can’t keep on going this away./Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’m three, Lord I’m four, Lord I’m 500 miles from my home.
My sisters are twins like you two. Salt Lake City is 500 miles away from where I now live. My sisters and I grew up watching What Is Eating Gilbert Grape and Benny and Joon. Now we live apart from each other and when it’s really lonely here in Flagstaff, I sing the Peter Paul and Mary “500 Miles” to them, imagining the words riding train tracks to Page, over to Kanab, then Orderville, then Mt. Carmel, up through Panguitch and Nephi, and finally into the Rio Grande train station where my sisters will pick up my words, and thusly, pick me up.
Because they are twins, they are even closer. They don’t even have 500 miles between them and if they did, they wouldn’t because they would call each other every day. Maybe twice a day. Paige would sing Cat Stevens to Val and Val would sing songs from the movie Beaches to Paige and they would giggle in this gooey, popsicle stick way that would be impossible to get in on and impossible to pry apart. I’m only slightly jealous of their bond.
They go back and forth between being political. Paige used to be majorly political. Meat is Murder, civil rights advocate, history-knowing, environmental science teacher political. Although she teaches AP Biology now, she taught 8th graders for a little while and they bummed her out. A combination of “yeah” and “so what,” you can only take for so long. Valerie is much more spiritual. She takes the “it will work out if you believe” approach. She also has some friends who are Republicans which is what happens if you’re sanguine about how the future will go and if you work in advertising. Valerie knows marketing. She knows you have a bigger reach if you coat everything with honey.
On Facebook, Valerie post life-affirming aphorisms like this: “Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. Humans are like this too.”
To which Paige responds:
Paige Walker Ehler IS that a STING song?
Paige Walker Ehler Also, can they see other butterfly wings? Are they constantly playing that game where they ask people to guess the name of a movie star taped on their back. "DO my wings look symmetrical?" "Seriously tell me if the blue is more indigo or teal"
Valerie concedes victory but then makes the image of the butterfly with aphorism her cover photo. Valerie is nice but there’s a jabby part. She’ll tell you what she really thinks like the time she saw my bra when I was changing in her hotel room. “Holes” she said. “Do you ever wash it?” She asked. “You have to wash your bras?” I asked her. She shook her head at me and told me ‘no’ and then went to Nordstrom Rack to buy me a new bra.
Paige, on the other hand, reminds me that I didn’t even wear a bra through most of my twenties and that she and Val called me frogger boobs behind my back. Also to my face, apparently.
The Proclaimers’ song became a big hit in 1993 when Benny and Joon came out, the song was officially released in 1988. In 1988, you were in Auchtermuchty, Fife, Scotland recording the song. In 1988, I was in Salt Lake City, Utah where I spent considerably more time listening to music from the UK like CRASS’s “Banned from the Roxy, well OK. I didn’t much like playing there any way.” And, “Jesus Died for His Own Sins Not Mine.” and “Sheepfarming in the Faulklands, re-arming in the Fucklands” You don’t get far in the music business by telling Maggie Thatcher to fuck off. Or that Jesus and Buddha suck/fuck:
Do you really believe in Marx? Marx fucks.
Do you really believe in Thatcher? Maggie sucks.
Do you really believe in the system? Well o.k.
I BELIEVE IN ANARCHY IN THE U.K.
Or by telling the Clash that they suck:
Movements are systems and systems kill.
Movements are expressions of the public will.
Punk became a movement cos we all felt lost,
But the leaders sold out and now we all pay the cost.
Punk narcissism was social napalm,
Steve Jones started doing real harm.
Preaching revolution, anarchy and change
As he sucked from the system that had given him his name.
But the Proclaimers, although maybe in 1993, when we had been saved from Reagan and the less-evil but still unpleasant George HW Bush, were best aligned with Mad About You, didn’t stay unpolitical. In 2007, they vocally support Independence. They campaigned to free Kenny Richey, a Scot on death row in Ohio, and leant their song to Comic Relief in an adapted version that advocated for people in wheelchairs. Benny and Joon featured a main character struggling with mental illness. You wouldn’t think mental illness was a political issue but ask Ronald Reagan why so many homeless people are dying on the streets (psychiatric hospitals closed or privatized on his watch, Medicare funding slashed) or why so many Gun Rights activists immediately blame mental illness when 23 people are shot dead with machine guns.
Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser weren’t political on Mad About You unless you count the scene where Jamie comes out of the bathroom with a roll of toilet paper and the toilet roll holder, looks at Paul, and, pantomimes how one inserts the toilet roll holder into the roll of toilet paper, (all toilet paper instructionals should be silent) to show how political gender relationships are and forever and the hours I’ll never get back from inserting so many toilet roll holders into toilet rolls which is why this essay will be shorter than most men’s. But in real life, Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser are pretty liberal. According to the website Hollow Verse, Helen Hunt is a “true Hollywood Liberal” who writes, “#serenity” when tweeting about how much she loves Obama. Paul Reiser is also somewhat active, donating money to democrats. The Friends people? I think they too fall on the side of “True Hollywood Liberals.” The Simpsons modeled Montgomery Burns on Donald Trump. Or possibly Donald Trump modeled himself Montgomery Burns. Still, politics.
In 1993, Paige and Val were both still in college. Valerie had stopped watching Beaches. She became a pseudo-lesbian instead. Paige started eating meat again but also started her crusade to teach 8th graders about brine shrimp and evolution. In 1993, they made friends and more friends and came to visit me in Portland. We had crawdad races on the tile floor. Portland welcomed my sisters. In 1993, none of us were wearing any bras. Pro-choice, pro-legalization, pro-tree, pro-salmon. Portland is the one place where everyone agrees and everyone expects you to agree.
We started marking 500 miles between us. I moved home but Paige moved to Baltimore where she became an activist for her black students. Val had a baby and joined the Jewish Community Center and advocated for the arts. I went to grad school and wrote letters about banning cougars. Where you live and where you work changes whom you can make on impression on. I have tenure. I can complain about the government. Paige works for public schools. She has to be careful what she says to her kids. She still says what she thinks but couches it in a lesson: “And what happens if we dump mercury into the Great Salt Lake and all the brine shrimp die?” She asks her students. They sit silently. “All the birds that feed on those brine shrimp die. Did you ever smell a dead bird?” Valerie works in advertising. She knows people with money. She still tells them what’s what, but she serves her what with a little bit of honey.
To be famous, or even one hitty famous, you have to be two-faced. To your big popular audience, you have to appear to be non-partisan. You have to be in-love and loving your woman and willing to walk 1000 miles for her. You have to want to drink with her and sleep with her and remember being twenty with her. You have to promise her all your pennies. But your other face, your twin face, can be your private, political face. The one that speaks out behind but only in whispers. The kind that sends money to Planned Parenthood and Amnesty International but doesn’t sing about rape or torture because that’s discomfiting. Or maybe it’s just because it doesn’t rhyme. But you want a big audience so maybe your big voice can be heard. Maybe you can tuck your message into a song. Maybe you don’t have to be as blatant as CRASS and sing “Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do.” Instead, maybe your original face can meet with your other face and you can rework some of your lyrics to read: “I’m going to Roll 500 Miles as part of the 500 Mile Wheelchair Challenge. Or perhaps you’ll play it as the finale at Edinburgh 50,000—The Final Push at Murrayfield Stadium on 6 July 2005, the final concert of Live 8, to symbolise the conclusion of "The Long Walk to Justice".
Perhaps you and your twin, his Craig to your Charlie, his Charlie to your Craig, having spent your lives together writing music, that you will have one way to draw in the crowd, singing I would walk 500 miles, even though no one really walks that long, but it sounds so romantic and then turn it to say, maybe after many years, maybe because even a one hit wonder song still resides in our bones and so that now when you sing it, lo these fifteen years later, attach it to real walks that actually were long: the Navajo walk the many miles they walk from sacred mountain in Arizona to sacred mountain in New Mexico, to Colorado, to Utah. That huge swaths of people who walked across the country from Missouri to Utah and then to Oregon, from Selma to Montgomery,
The twin sides of a twin song. Sing for the people. Then sing for the people. Then walk the whole 500 miles to find your twin who checks out the wings coming out of your back and tells you they are beautiful and check out this buyer who said he voted for that man but now regrets it because his son and maybe his daughter will be drafted into the Syrian war and she said she was sorry with a lot of honey and then walks him the 500 miles from his one kind of voting booth to the other where she tells him he can make a difference, even though he will wear down the soles of his shoes, even though he still sells gas-guzzling vehicles that do not get 500 miles to the gallon.
NICOLE WALKER is the author of three forthcoming books: Sustainability: A Love Story, Microcosm, and Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse. Her previous books include Egg, Micrograms, Quench Your Thirst with Salt, and This Noisy Egg. She also edited Bending Genre with Margot Singer. She’s nonfiction editor at DIAGRAM and Associate Professor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona where it rains like the Pacific Northwest, but only in July.