I remember Tom Waits saying in an interview many years ago, "A lot of music sounds better when you're hearing it on a shitty speaker from several blocks away."
This is one of those songs. It's a song that's followed me throughout my life. A number of times over the years I've heard it off in the distance while it was pumping at some party from a block (or two, or three...) away. You know it as soon as you hear it, because it can't be mistaken for any other tune. The beat and the voice -- that voice -- always carry strongly. What usually doesn't carry is the dubbed-in party chatter that undergirds the track, which doesn't matter because the song usually generates its own party noise whenever it's played -- the sort that travels clearly with the rhythm in nighttime air. Each time I hear it, it prompts the same immediate compulsion -- to leave my apartment or the low-key party I'm attending, follow the groove to its source, and see if the dancefloor at the gathering in question has the same come-one-come-all policy that the song compels. As you'd expect, this usually happens in the middle of the night or in the earliest hours of the morning.
And I mention it now, because it happened again last night.
At any rate, perhaps the weirdest time this ever happened was about four or five years ago. It was about 11 AM and I was standing on an El platform on the south side of Chicago, catching a northbound train to make the 60-block commute to work downtown. And there it was -- that song, bumping away somewhere nearby. Actually, it was a house remix of the tune -- a remix that managed to build on the quasi-Latin groove that fueled the original (rather than, y'know, squashing it). The song caused a few of us on the platform to turn in its direction, quickly tracing its source to an aged three-story townhouse located about a block away, where it sounded like a party was going on.
Broad fucking daytime. Not even noontime, yet. On a weekday. Who knows how long that party had been going on. An hour? Maybe ten? Whatever the case, the song soon ended and another began, at which point a pair of police cruisers came rolling up in front of the place with their blue lights blazing atop. From our elevated vantage point, we saw the back door to the place fly open and a number of the party's attendees -- all young and able-bodied -- come scrambling out into the rear alleyway, taking flight in every direction. Those of us on the platform who'd watched the whole thing transpire turned to look at each other, exchanging variations on the same slightly bemused, arched-eyebrow expression. Each of us had turned to look, to follow the sound. Maybe we'd each had the same urge upon hearing it. No matter, our existence dictated that we had other places to be. And even if we'd gone with that impulse, it was clear that we'd have arrived too late.