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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Not all that pumped up over a once-favorite tune

This column appeared in the March 17 edition.

“No whistling!”

A few days into my first job out of college, I sat at my desk in the middle of the newsroom in The Morning Journal in Lorain, writing a headline or re-writing a sentence in a story.

I probably was reacting to the silence in the room when I started to whistle. From all corners of the room came the screams.

“No whistling! It’s bad luck!”

“It is?”

“Yes, John says it’s bad luck.”

If John said it, I guess we were supposed to believe it.

John, in this case, was John Cole, editor of The Morning Journal. He was much like the editors you’ve seen in movies or on TV — stern, driven and decidedly in charge.

Because he thought it was bad luck, there was no whistling that happy tune, no matter how much we were enjoying our jobs.

Ever since then, when I hear someone whistling, whether it’s while walking down the street or in a song on the radio, I think back to John and his fear that a little music would take down the newsroom.

My response is usually a little chuckle, then I start to whistle along. I just wish I could do it a little better.

My form of whistling is a little backward from the usual form, which is to blow air out. Mine involves bringing air in. It’s not nearly as melodious as what you hear in popular songs, such as classics like “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding or “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles or even “The Stranger” by Billy Joel.

No, instead, I have whistle envy.

It popped up again when the song “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People became popular late last year. 

The melody is pretty peppy, and there’s a short whistling section in the bridge about 2:55 into the four-minute track.

I liked the song immediately. I’m not one who really pays attention to lyrics, or what they mean.

Then, after seeing the band perform on “Saturday Night Live” early this year, I decided to buy it for my iPod. Then, I figured I’d check out the lyrics to see exactly what they’re saying, so if I accidentally started singing it out loud, I’d at least be singing the right lyrics. 

Oh. Goodness. 

“All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun.
 All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”

It gets worse as the song rolls on. 

“Robert’s got a quick hand.
 He’ll look around the room, he won’t tell you his plan.
 He’s got a rolled cigarette, hanging out his mouth, he’s a cowboy kid.
 Yeah, he found a six shooter gun.
 In his dad’s closet hidden with a box of fun things, and I don’t even know what.
 But he’s coming for you, yeah he’s coming for you.”

Yes, the song is about what you think it is — a kid who is planning on shooting other kids.

When the song would come on the radio or I’d hear it somewhere, I’d cringe a little. 

Until Feb. 27.

When a gunman opened fire on students at Chardon High School, the song was a little too real.

A few days after the shooting, I tuned into a discussion of the local media’s coverage of the incident on Q104 radio. The morning hosts disagreed on how area media had been performing. Co-host Kathryn Boyd, formerly a reporter for WEWS-TV 5, said they were doing an admirable job and that the questions being asked were appropriate. Radio veteran Allen Fee disagreed, saying the coverage lacked sensitivity. 

I took it a little too personally and shot off a direct message to Fee on Twitter, asking if he still plays “Pumped Up Kicks” on his show. 

“It’s off my show for sure.”

Alrighty, then. If he’s not playing it, I won’t either.

Enough glamorizing violence against children. Enough glamorizing violence by children.

When the band, fronted by a guy from Northeast Ohio named Mark Foster, comes to Blossom in June, I won’t be buying a ticket. It’ll hurt a little because they’re on a double bill with The Beach Boys. 

But, I know they’ll be playing the song, since it’s their breakout hit. I just can’t hear it anymore.

Twitter: @Lauranh


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