Illustration by Mitch Handsone
Genuine Gary dreamed he was coughing. Dreamed that he was lying nude on a conveyor belt at a Wal-Mart checkstand, belly up, with his hands clasped over his heart to conceal what he assumed, in the dream, to be a bar-code tattoo. He assumed this in part because to his left and right, as far as he could see, dozens of identical Garys lay in identical predicaments, and some of their chests were getting scanned in to the system. High above, one enormous ceiling-mounted monitor provided real-time video of overseas carnage, the latest welcome bouquets from Iraq.
Instead of bombs, though, it was shopping music that burst the Garys ears. As loud as loud can be, The Captain & Tennille performing Willis Alan Ramseys Muskrat Love. Like a station-ID watermark, a happy white sailboat appeared in the lower right corner of the monitor. Daryl The Captain Dragon took the tiller and Toni Tennille leaned against the boom, singing. Or not actually singing, but coughing, in a dimly melodic but mostly robotic way.
Now Genuine Gary found himself in the boat, between The Captain & Tennille, smiling and bobbing his head and coughing along to the music.
(And they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed Singin and jingin the jango Floatin like the heavens above It looks like muskrat love)
Down below, on the checkstand conveyors, all the naked, tattooed Garys began coughing along. Coughing along with Muskrat Love.
It was all too perfect to be real, Gary thought, and so he woke up, still coughing along with the clock-radio alarm.
Genuine Gary was a songwriter, and was used to integrating wake-up music with whatever he was dreaming. Usually the dream faded away too quickly to remember how the music fit in, but not this time. Gary took this as a sign and continued coughing along, just as hed done in the dream, using two distinct coughs: short hacks and long aHEMmns.
It occurred to him that the rhythm of his coughs, broken as they were into only short and long, with nothing in-between, was taking on a Morse codelike quality. The only Morse code hed remembered was S.O.S.: dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. He tried it out:
hack! hack! hack! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack!
It was Sunday. Gary had the morning to himself. He stopped coughing, got out of bed and went down to his studio. Looked up Morse code on the Internet and was pleased to find that it included not only letters and numbers but punctuation. Printed out a chart of Morse characters, and sat down at his G5 to compose.
As you might guess if you saw the number of platinum records hanging in his studio and the size of the house that surrounded it, Genuine Gary had made a fortune selling mindless bubblegum pop songs to drug-free, wannabe-Republican 14-year-olds (like, not into politics) since the late 80s. His were the songs sung on television by Top 40 bucketheads of all denominations, sold by the storeload to offspring of the overworked and inattentive, who gladly shoveled millions of dollars each year through their childrens purses and into Garys bank account. Gary knew well his real audience: Whatever would make their kids happy, right now (As long as its turned down after 9 p.m., kids!), Genuine Gary could write it.
It didnt take long for Gary to convert the chorus from his current work-in-progress (Oooh baby yeah thats what Im talkin about) into the traditional dashes and dots used by Samuel Morse back in 1838:
- - - .... -... .- -... -. -. . .- .... - .... .- - .. ... . .... .- - .. .. - .- .-.. -.- .. -. .. .- -... - ..- -
All that was left was to launch Pro Tools 6, set the sound input and cough into the microphone.
aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn!, aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! hack hack! hack! hack!
aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack! hack! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack! aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! aHEMmn!
aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack! hack!
Gary coughed up the thats what Im talkin about just as easily, and the chorus was done. Piece of cake. For verses, he converted random generic smarmsicles from the CNN Headline News crawl playing in the background; the music, of course, hed already written, many, many times before.
After six months of negotiations, the latest of the half-naked 16-year-old singers with boob jobs was coughing Garys new pop song, 2X Dick Jonez, on Saturday Night Live, and Hack Pop was born. Garys quarterly BMI check was enormous. Never bigger. He even called Kathy in accounting to make sure the decimal was in the right place.
Yes, Genuine Gary had written a cash cow. Kids all over the world learned Morse code, and as Hack Pops commerce grew, so did its scope of influence. Subversive Hack Pop songwriters wrote ever more sexually charged coughing fits, which American parents hadnt the time or patience to decode. The bluegrass band Pan-Fried Nixon performed a Hack Pop song on The Tonight Show that included the phrase . . .
hack! aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack!
aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack!
hack! hack! aHEMmn! aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! hack! aHEMmn! hack! hack! hack!
. . . and no one not even the Department of Homeland Security, which was certain that terrorists were using Hack Pop to expose American youth to subliminal recruitment messages took any notice. No notice at all.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!