22. “Kiss the Sky” by Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra feat. Nino Mochella (2006)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

The very first time I heard “Kiss the Sky” by Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra, it was featured in a trailer for a movie called Capers in Dry Brine, made by my friend Marc Leverette, who, and I say this with the utmost sincerity and affection, is one of the weirdest dudes I have ever known. The reason neither that trailer nor that movie are linked here is because I’ve spent the last 25 minutes trying to find them anywhere online to no avail.

I haven’t spoken to Marc in real life or through messenger or anything in more than 4 years. I suspect he sought to more or less completely erase his digital presence for reasons unknown to me. The most recent photo I’ve seen of him was this:

His wife took this over the holidays, and that’s him in the middle. I scribbled out the dude on the left because I don’t know him, and he didn’t ask to be in this. Frankly, neither did Marc, but whatever, here we are. It’s a shame for me personally because his Facebook game was strong and included bizarre non-sequiturs like a cartoon of Tupac rawdogging Biggie in the ass while firing a gun in the air and a photo of Hulk Hogan holding a guitar with the caption, “Anyway brother, here’s Wonderwall.” 

Capers in Dry Brine was one of those “film a little bit of your life every day for a year” projects that clocked in at about 3 hours in length. I had him on my show on the last day of the project. He invited me to watch it after he cut it together, and it was bizarrely captivating. I wrote him an extremely long note about it, which included some of the following feedback:

I think what you’ve captured is a visual representation of memory… I never know what’s coming next, and while that’s disorienting, I kind of like it. And there are moments that stand out for me, for sure… that static shot of you buying paper (I think) on the internet and asking “What THE FUCK is the difference?” got a huge belly laugh from me, that guy talking about how Doug has two (I’m going to spell this phonetically) “chil-eye-dren”, everyone singing Jingle Bells, and others. What’s most striking is how this is a perfect snapshot of depression, which is one reason I think I’m reacting so strongly to it. Viewed from the outside, you appear to have a lively, stimulating, interesting, and fulfilling life. Most of the shots are of you with friends, seeing musical acts, gallivanting with punctuated points of your wife saying “I love you.”

This looks like a fun life. And then there come points where you’re like “Today was rough… hope tomorrow’s better.” or “Can I just have one good day? Is that too much to ask?” Despite all outward appearances, darkness always lurks, and that’s something I struggle with that you’ve – perhaps without realizing it – given life to. It’s remarkable to watch.

That trailer was damned incredible and I couldn’t get this song out of my head. It’s just so haunting. That hypnotic sitar. Nino Mochella’s pained delivery. The elegant and lightly subdued string section. The song is a vibe unto itself and it made me desperately want to watch Capers in Dry Brine, which makes it wildly successful when judged by the criteria of what a trailer is supposed to do.

A lesson I learned from hanging out with Marc was to just make whatever the fuck you want to make. Don’t ask anyone’s permission, just make what you want to make and then maybe an audience will find your work or maybe it won’t, but at least made what you wanted to make. People talk to me literally all the time about how they’ve always thought about starting a podcast or some other creative endeavor, but haven’t for whatever reason. Lord only knows what any of them are waiting for. My advice to them is always to just start creating. How many of them ultimately do, I have no idea.

I was reminded of this when I heard Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island recently on Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out podcast. When they made “Lazy Sunday,” they knew the concept would die in the writers’ room because it’s too complicated to explain, so they procured a video camera and just filmed the thing so everyone could simply see what was in their heads. They didn’t pitch all their dumb shit like “Laser Cats” (whose origin story is Taccone picking up his own cat, and racking it like a shotgun while pointing it at his wife), they just did it and then showed it to Lorne Michaels and whoever the other decisionmakers were.

That’s a fucking baller of way of creating shit. Marc was like that, too. Probably still is, I just haven’t talked to him in forever. And that’s more or less how I’ve been handling things around here, especially since I left Happy Friday. I’ll be back to interviewing guests soon enough, but for now, I felt like creating a 50 Song Countdown that is probably one of the most self-involved things I’ve ever done. Are you enjoying it? I sincerely hope so, and any of you who have said something kind to me about it up to this point have my deepest appreciation and have sincerely touched my heart. Thank you.

But in keeping with the spirit of doing exactly what you want to do without asking anyone’s permission, I’m plowing ahead with or without you. May you have the same drive and determination in your own life. Keep your head held high, kiss your fist and touch the sky.

Up next: The Man in Black.

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