You Better Get Your Shit Together
When I realize that I am, once again, lying in bed, chewing on my shroud, a rap song often comes into my mind with a chorus that goes something like this:
5 o’clock in the morning, where you gonna be
(male voices, sullenly:) Out on the corner
You better get yourself together
While you’re wasting all your time
Right along with your mind…
In my admittedly poor memory, I have been remembering this as 4 o’clock in the morning, where you gonna be? (out on the corner) You better get your shit together.
And I just keep saying to myself, You better get your shit together. Over and over again.
I was going to write about where I first heard this song but, to be honest, I can’t remember when I first heard it. In my memory, I heard it, along with Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend,” on a tinny radio in the receiving (stock) room of the bookstore I was managing. I remember stopping at Tower Records on the way home from work to pick up cassingles of both of them. (A cassingle, for those who are too old or too young to remember this fad, was a cassette tape that featured two songs, one on each side.)
But it can’t be right because “Just a Friend” came out in 1989 – which would have been when I was hanging out regularly in stock rooms – but 5 O’Clock wasn’t released until 1996. By 1996, I was wearing suits and sitting at a desk in an office with a lot of other desks, my exposure to diverse music had waned. Also, CDs had taken over and Tower Records was in bankruptcy. So I guess we’ll never solve that mystery.
Maybe I just associated it with a dark time in my life because it is a dark song and 1989 was one of the worst years of my life, the pinnacle of which was having a gun stuck in my ribs. I admired Nonchalant’s ability to tell her son/husband/father/brother/lover/nephew/friend exactly what she thought of him. Instead of lying in bed worrying about him and chewing on her shroud, she tells him to get himself together.
I also remembered Nonchalant’s name as Nocturne.
You better get your shit together.
Another song that has been running through my brain – a completely different kind of song – is Tracy Bonham’s Mother Mother. I heard this song for the first time – and this time I know I’m right – on the car radio, while waiting for our food in a McDonald’s drive thru in the Outer Banks, with my friend Cindy, her then-husband Tom, my husband, and maybe my friend Dan. It was the summer after Jagged Little Pill and, the way I remember it, the radio station played something Alanis first, then followed it up with this song. It was, again, 1996. It was a beautiful May day, although I’m sure we weren’t driving a convertible, it felt like one. We must have had the windows down, ocean breezes were blowing, the sound of gulls. We felt tired and a little lazy, in that way you get around the beach.
When the song hit the chorus, we all sat up as if we had received an electric shock. Then it went into the next verse and we listened intently. When the chorus came around again, we burst into laughter because it was so true! We quickly jotted down the name of the song on a napkin or something and made a note to find a copy of the CD.
This song, if you have never heard it, is a young woman’s side of a telephone conversation with her mother. The woman has moved away from home to the big city and is trying to make it on her own. She calls home and has the typical shallow conversation with her mom – How’s the weather? How’s my father? – in that tone of voice which says, “nothing going on here, don’t listen to me, don’t ask me any questions” interspersed with dismissal of her mother’s questions: Am I lonely? Heavens no!
All very innocuous and normal. A daughter calming down her mother’s anxious and unnecessary fears.
Until the chorus hits in a screaming rage worthy of 80s punk:
I’m losing my mind
I’m bleeding to death
And then the next chorus goes back to reassuring platitudes: Yeah I’m working making money…Sure I’m sober, sure I’m sane. Life is perfect, never better. Still your daughter, still the same…
Followed by another chorus of soul-tearing honesty, the inner monologue that the daughter isn’t saying to her mother.
My husband made this song the ring-tone for his parents. I sometimes put it on auto-repeat and sing along until I’m hoarse.
It’s the things we’re not saying to our mothers. To our fathers. To my CEO, when she asks me, “How are you doing? No really, how are you doing?”
Everything’s fine, I say through gritted teeth.