43. “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite (1990)

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.

My favorite thing about watching people get to know my wife is that when she gets into a story, this new person truly has no idea where this story is going. I say that because I was once in their shoes, and I cannot express to you the severe left turns some of her stories take. You see, Kristin has a fair amount of familial trauma in her history that she’s managed to absorb, deal with, and move forward from with remarkable good cheer.

So you think you’re getting a funny little story about a fajita recipe, but little do you know the twist is that her dad died that very night before writing it down, and the trick to what were apparently really great fajitas was lost with him forever. No one – and I mean NO ONE – is ever ready for that twist. But with enough emotional distance from that undeniably traumatic night, Kristin tells the story with great relish and a high degree of amusement. Nervous laughter is about the standard response from the person hearing the story.

Since I’ve been locked into these stories for nearly 20 years, I’m now this guy when one of them starts up. It’s great fun.

I bring this up because one of the most remarkable things about my wife is that she does not let her trauma define her, nor does she let setbacks hold her down for very long. She could have turned into some dorky goth dipshit and spent her whole life lamenting, resenting, and carrying the burden of the amount of unfair shit that befell her as a child. As a grownup professional, I’ve watched her slog uphill since I met her in grad school, and she’s finally, after all this fucking time, getting the flowers she deserves. Yet none of that strife gets to decide who she is or how she moves through the world.

How does she do this? Ask her to name what her personal theme song would be, and she’ll tell you herself: “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite. If that ain’t a joyous anthem of self-possession, then what is? Shit, carry a groove in your heart, and no matter how vicious or malicious the world is, you’ll still find it mostly lovely and delicious!

“Groove Is in the Heart” feels like one of those songs that’s impossible to hate. It’s catchy but not annoying. Upbeat, but not cloying. Optimistic, but not tone deaf or toxic. If you have a good groove in your heart, a lot of this shit will simply work itself out eventually.  

The very first time we did Music Video Theatre, when the list ended, YouTube fired up its autoplay magic and selected the video for this song as the obvious next video we’d want to watch next. I mean, duh. Great choice, algorithm! It wasn’t until Volume 10 that this video was actually selected for official inclusion by Kristin herself. I had a wild hair a few times to include it on one of my lists a bit earlier, but no way am I stepping on my lady’s theme song. This belongs in her canon.

The video is, of course, awesome. Brightly colored, populated with weirdos dancing unselfconsciously, lots of effects, Q-Tip from Tribe is there and drops a few killer bars… it’s simply a mainline of fun. Need a quick dopamine hit? Just feast your eyes on this video for five minutes and leave smiling.

Something I’ve realized recently is that as a professional podcast producer, I spend all day listening to people talk. A weird side effect of my vocation is that by virtue of quietly consuming this much conversation without participating, I am highly attuned to people’s vocal patterns and rhythms. The unfortunate part of this is that I’ve gotten really good at predicting what people are going to say next and since most people are boring as shit, many real life conversations have become as dully predictable as an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. I’ve learned that my favorite people are the ones with whom I have no idea what they’re going to say next. It’s genuinely thrilling to be with people like this. My best friends Stephen and Jason are like this.

My wife is the apotheosis of this. We’ve been together for nearly 20 years at this point, and I still honestly have no idea what’s going to come out of her mouth at any given moment. She’ll certainly tell you the same thing about me, like the other night when I referred to my own tiny hands as “bitch mittens.”

Of course “Groove Is in the Heart” is her theme song. Like her, it’s a mainline of fun. Like her, it’s delightfully weird. And like her, it’s hard to classify neatly as one thing. I sorta don’t know what the hell to do with it. All I know is that, like her, I’m just happy it’s in my life and that I get to experience its joys over and over again.

Even when shit gets weirdly and hilariously dark.

Up next: Iconic rock ‘n roll from a band you’ve never heard of.

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