There are many versions of this song and I won’t bore you with the history. The Kylie Minogue version is the only one you need to know. This is what I refer to as a “serial killer song,” because, as non-violent as you may be, if you listen to it enough times, especially on repeat, you will start to see how easy it might be for anyone to suddenly snap.
Serial killer songs are those that are wildly catchy, but bore into your brain with a mild, yet steadily elevating, irritation. Coincidentally, this brain-category of mine includes mostly wedding songs: Stayin’ Alive, We Are Family, Funky Town.…these songs all share an optimism so manic that it is nearly sinister. This kind of tempo, much less this kind of lyrical message, does not exist in the world I have come to know today. Locomotion is one of these such songs. I need directions. I want instruction. I would like a guide for what I am supposed to be doing and how I am supposed to be feeling.
Everyone can do it. But wait, there’s more! It even makes you happy when you’re feeling blue. How could you pass that up?
No matter how many times I listen to this song I feel it distinctly “pumps me up,” and “gets me going,” phrases that I would never ever use in any other circumstance. I am never pumped up, and I am never getting going. But when I listen to Locomotion by Kylie Minogue, something comes over me. It’s not that uncontrollable, otherworldly toe-tapping made famous in the day-o scene from Beetlejuice, but something happens.
Kylie Minogue, as far as I know, is objectively good. She’s a gay icon. She had cancer!! I think she is Canadian. Or maybe she is from New Zealand. I need no extra information. Actually, I did just look it up and she is from Australia, but it doesn’t matter.
This version of Locomotion seems to have been specifically engineered to hit every single serotonin receptor in my brain. Slightly undulating, high-pitched, with that tinny dancehall quality of late 80’s pop.
Last summer was the height of this song’s popularity — for me, personally. I don’t think it has “topped the charts” for well over a decade. My impulse when I hit peak depression is to travel, and it was my first time visiting Los Angeles. I do not feel equipped to summarize what Los Angeles is or is not, its character or landscape, and I want to avoid debunking any misconceptions about either, but I do know that when I spent three weeks of my summer there, it felt like a promise of better days ahead. And it was mostly due to the palm trees. For three weeks I laughed out loud every single time I saw a palm tree. Even better when there was a short one next to a tall one. The jokes — they write themselves.
Whether it was my natural proclivity to personify inanimate objects or a desperate need to laugh in the face of absolute bleakness, I found myself seeking out symbols of pure, simple joy. I became obsessed with smiley faces. I watched endless hours of cartoons. I earnestly googled “adult mobile,” thinking it would be nice to have one circling over my bed. Now that I write it all down, I guess you could say I was regressing.
Any place can feel like a small town if you live there long enough. Here is a metaphor: Pittsburgh is like a church organ. Everyone is connected, part of the same machine making the same sound. Also, they are charitable and community-oriented. After a while, though, you get sick of the low, droning, organ sounds, and you think that maybe you could pick up a new instrument. Although I did say I was not equipped to make any statements about LA, I am wildly confident in my metaphor-making. If Pittsburgh is an organ, then Los Angeles is an orchestra. There is a distinction between string people and wind instruments and the percussion section, but everyone wants to be the conductor.
I have a habit that my therapist calls “letting my moods rule my behavior,” instead of the emotionally healthy alternative, which is to gesture to your behaviors and say, “oh no, after you!” What you’re supposed to do, you see, is go to the gym when you don’t feel like it, see friends when you’d rather be alone, eat a full meal instead of chewing on a piece of gum in the hopes that your headache just goes away. On the Wikipedia page for “Loco-Motion” (the original song), there is a subcategory called “The Loco-Motion Myth.” A total sucker for conspiracies and popular untruths, I scrolled down to find that the dance came after the song, and not the other way around. Whether this has anything to do with what my therapist told me or not, I decide that it definitely, absolutely does, and I decide this with such a certainty that I find it almost pre-ordained, a divine folly in the greater universe of myths. The Locomotion I am sure now, is exactly, precisely, what I have been needing. And so I listen to it, on repeat, for days. I am trying to exorcise myself. Rid myself of dread, fear, and the occasional bout of spontaneous, uncontrollable crying.
The other day I walked past an ice cream truck. That particular jingle has a morbid quality to it, too. No matter the melody, its sound always has the effect of slowly being beat down by the heat, of a record being warped, tangled tape prolapsed out of cassettes. The music shuts off, the driver leans his head onto the steering wheel, and no kids come.
The Locomotion, in contrast, has the auditory quality of revival, of hope, of newness, of Kylie Minogue, hero of the gays and cancer survivor, of staying alive, even when it seems so easy to just snap.