Song of the Day #1,123: ‘DLZ’ – TV On the Radio

Often I’ll check out a song I like on YouTube, considering it for a blog post or just giving it a listen at work, and I’ll see a bunch of comments along these lines:

“Who’s here because they saw this on The Shield??”
“Just heard this song in Justified and had to look it up!”
“Loved when this played at the end of House!”

It used to be considered selling out when a band gave its music to a TV show or commercial. These days it’s just smart marketing. And it works, based on the number of people who find their way from their TV sets to a YouTube clip of the song.

Until recently, I’d never jumped from a TV show to my computer chasing down a song. But then I saw TV On the Radio’s ‘DLZ’ close out a season two episode of Breaking Bad.

Now in this case I actually knew the song before I saw the scene. I wasn’t heading to YouTube because I wanted to find out who performed it. I went because I knew hundreds of other people must have been similarly amped up by show and I wanted to share in the celebration.

And sure enough, almost every comment on every YouTube clip of this song mentions Breaking Bad.

I’ve included the Breaking Bad scene below the clip of ‘DLZ’ and I’ll set it up here (SPOILER ALERT for the first season and a half… skip the rest of this post if you care).

Walter White is an Albuquerque high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer in the show’s pilot. In order to set his family up financially, and avoid being bankrupted by his medical treatments, Walt teams up with a drug-dealing former student and starts cooking and selling crystal meth. Because he’s an expert chemist, his meth is the purest available and quickly becomes a sensation.

Through his smarts and a whole lot of luck, Walt (using the assumed name Heisenberg) stumbles into a position as Albuquerque’s most wanted drug kingpin, all while living his double life as a husband, father and high school teacher.

On its face, it seems far-fetched that a mild-mannered chemistry teacher could turn to a life of crime overnight, but it quickly becomes clear that Walt wasn’t all that mild-mannered to begin with. He was sitting on a powder keg of rage, pride and fear just waiting to be triggered. His cancer diagnosis was just an excuse to release his inner demons.

So midway through Season Two, Walt gets the unexpected news that his cancer treatment has been wildly successful. He’s in remission, his tumor shrunk to 20% of its original size. His first move is to call his partner and explain that this means he’s out of the drug game. Back home, he throws himself into home improvement projects.

But at the end of a very powerful and emotional episode, Walt finds himself at the hardware store buying paint when he happens upon a lowlife who is clearly buying equipment for a meth lab. Walt slips into lecture mode, schooling the kid on what a rotten job he’s doing. Then, as he moves toward the line of suburban consumers, the sort of people he used be, something clicks in him.

Walt heads outside and sees the wannabe meth cooker and his partner in the parking lot. And then and there he officially becomes Heisenberg, cancer or no cancer. It’s a badass scene in a fascinating and compelling show that has quickly risen to the ranks of my favorites.

And a nice song choice, too.

Congratulations on the mess you made of things;
On trying to reconstruct the air and all that brings.
And oxidation is the compromise you own
But this is beginning to feel like the dog wants her bones
saved

You force your fire then you falsify your deeds
Your methods dot the disconnect from all your creeds
And fortune strives to fill the vacuum that it feeds
But this is beginning to feel like the dog’s lost her lead

This is beginning to feel like the long
winded blues of the never
This is beginning to feel like it’s curling up slowly
and finding a throat to choke

This is beginning to feel like the long
winded blues of the never
Barely controlled locomotive consuming the picture
and blowing the crows, the smoke

This is beginning to feel like the long
winded blues of the never
Static eplosion devoted to crushing the broken
and shoving their souls to ghost

Eternalised. Objectified.
You set your sights so high.
But this is beginning to feel like
the bolt busted loose from the lever

Never you mind
Death professor
Your structure’s fine
My dust is better
Your victim flies so high
All to catch a bird’s eye view of who’s next

Never you mind
Death professor.
Love is life,
My love is better.
Eyes could be the diamonds
Confused with who’s next

Never you mind
Death professor.
Your shocks are fine,
My struts are better.
Your fiction flies so high,
Y’all could use a doctor
Who’s sick, who’s next?

Never you mind
Death professor.
Electrified, my love is better
It’s crystallized, so’m I.
All could be the diamond
Fused with who’s next

This is beginning to feel
like the dawn of the luz of forever.

This is beginning to feel
like the dawn of the luz of forever.

This is beginning to feel
like the dawn of the luz of forever.

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18 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,123: ‘DLZ’ – TV On the Radio

  1. Dana says:

    Wow–that is a great scene. I can see getting “hooked” on this show. The song works well in the scene, but I’m not sure I would find myself enjoying it on its own.

  2. pegclifton says:

    Well I guess it’s time to go to Netflix and rent the first season; I’m tired of waiting for Mad Men and Justified to come back :)

  3. Amy says:

    Great song. Powerful scene. But here’s my problem. I can’t imagine rooting for a drug dealer. And I certainly can’t imagine feeling good about rooting for a drug dealer. The whole time I’m watching that scene, I’m picturing all of the images I’ve seen of people hooked on crystal meth. While I can see enjoying and appreciating a film about a flawed, complex, intriguing person such as the character played by Cranston on this show, I’m not sure I’d want to spend as much time invested in him as you find yourself doing when you wholeheartedly throw yourself into a tv series.

    Of course, I don’t expect every protagonist to be Coach Eric Taylor, but once you’ve spent several seasons in the presence of that sort of man, how do you spend time with this guy without wanting to go take a shower after each episode? Just saying…

    (btw, I strongly recommend Falling Skies – some great moral characters to root for and some complex, not nearly so nice supporting characters – think Lost’s Sawyer – to keep things interesting)

  4. Clay says:

    I think you could say the same thing about any number of great characters in TV history. Tony Soprano jumps to mind as the most obvious example (and maybe that’s why you didn’t watch The Sopranos).

    Also, you don’t root for Walter White, at least not as the series goes on. I’d argue that the show’s true protagonist is his young partner, played with wonderful humor and great dramatic chops by Aaron Paul. He’s the character you hope will find redemption.

  5. Amy says:

    It’s funny – I almost added another comment about Tony Soprano. I don’t know if I didn’t watch the show for that reason, but that might very well be the case. Now that I’m reflecting on my TV viewing habits, I think I do want to not only like but also admire the characters if I’m going to get invested in a drama. That may be why I watch so few dramas. :)

  6. Clay says:

    Interesting observation. I do think the best dramas tend to be about morally ambiguous characters (Friday Night Lights being a notable exception).

    Watching people cross lines we don’t cross can be thrilling, frightening, disturbing… even fun. And TV has the luxury of extended time to explore the many facets of these characters.

    Nobody is all good or all bad. What does it say about us if we DO find ourselves rooting for a Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, even a Jack Bauer?

  7. Doug says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Amy on the meth dealer but for some reason I give Tony a pass. I guess I’m a traditionalist… new crime, no; old crime, yes. But not universally. Some of Tony’s doings I found impossible to take. Mostly The Sopranos engaged in crime against criminals. But I blanched at the episode in which an innocent waiter got beaten to near death and then shot dead. Mom has the meth dealer on her queue. Go figure.

  8. Clay says:

    To play devil’s advocate, I think it’s easier to justify the actions of a drug dealer, who it could be argued is providing a service to adults who choose to use his product.

    Once upon a time it was illegal to sell booze… is the bootlegger of the 20s equally hard to root for? (Admittedly, meth is a much nastier substance, but still).

  9. Alex says:

    But still what? Are you seriously equating crystal meth with booze? I can’t even think of a response to that. I listened to this song before watching the clip and really liked it. The clip, however, did nothing to make me want to watch this show. And while I know everyone loves Tony Soprano, I lost interest in him and his world after season 1. I don’t want morally pure characters, but the shows I want to spend my time watching have to be appealing. For me, the worlds of crystal meth dealers (science teacher or not) and New Jersey mobsters are not places where I enjoy spending my time.

  10. Clay says:

    This might be a first… Doug, Peg, Amy, Dana and Alex all commenting on the same post!

    I’ve always enjoyed spending time in environments that aren’t appealing, whether it’s the post-apocalyptic setting of Battlestar Galactica, the slums of Brazil in City of God, or the high school in Glee.

    I love watching (or reading) human drama, even (and especially) when it goes into dark and unsettling places. What are we capable of when push comes to shove? Do we draw those lines when times are easy, and how quick are we to erase them when times are hard?

  11. Amy says:

    I love that my challenge brought Doug and Alex out of the woodwork! :)

    Clay, I, too, enjoy watching what happens when “push comes to shove,” in some not too far future (Falling Skies) or not so near galaxy (Battlestar Galactica), or, even, oh too near morally challenging scenarios (24). However, watching a science teacher turn to manufacturing crystal meth as a way to insure the financial future of his family seems just a bit too great a stretch. I like Doug’s “old crime” vs. “new crime” observation, but, for me, I think it’s more about worlds within which I can find myself and worlds within which I can’t. I’m never going to be part of a mob family, so I can (at least within the confines of a film; I never did commit to the series) watch with interest the choices made by these characters who are alien to me.

    However, a Chemistry teacher?! My daughter will take Chemistry this year, with a colleague down the hall. Other colleagues I have known over the years have struggled with Cancer. As far as I know, none turned to dealing crystal meth as a way to make ends meet.

    And I have to defend Friday Night Lights, as I fear it is coming off sounding lily white. That show offered characters struggling with many moral dilemmas over the years. Yes, they were moral dilemmas far more ordinary (a student seeking advice over an unwanted pregnancy, a child engaging in sex earlier than the parent believes she is ready, a “booster” fudging an athlete’s address in order to enable him to play for the high school football team) than extraordinary, but that somehow made the drama that much more palpable.

    So… yeah, I’m with Alex. But still what?! No, crystal meth is not the moonshine of the 2000’s (uh oh’s?), but I never found myself rooting for Al Capone either! I was with the untouchables all the way!!!

  12. Clay says:

    I believe you’re over-thinking this. Shouldn’t the question ultimately be whether a show is good or not? Is it well-written, well-acted, well-shot and well-directed? Does it make you laugh, cry, think and gasp?

    ‘High school football town’ could be the premise of a dreadful TV show or one of the best ever. ‘Alien invasion’ has been the premise of dozens of shows both good and bad. Same goes for ‘mob family.’ In the sitcom world, ‘bunch of friends hang out’ describes about 90%.

    As far as I know, this is the first ‘high school chemistry teacher manufactures crystal meth’ show, and it’s a startlingly good one. That’s what counts.

    Now certainly, not every show is for everybody. I don’t care how good the latest Law & Order or CSI is, I’m not going to tune in. But give me a meaty, character-driven series that delivers the goods far more effectively than any movie, and I’m all over it. Not because of what it’s about, but how it pulls it off.

  13. pegclifton says:

    Dana must have been busy yesterday. Anyway, I agree with Clay, if a show is well-written, well-acted, etc. I’m going to watch it so long as I don’t have to deal with commercials. That said, I haven’t watched many of the programs that you all have and I’m sure they’re very good; sometimes it’s a matter of time and how much you want to invest in another show. Right now I watch Justified, Mad Men and Broadwalk Empire regularly, and there are a lot of bad people doing “bad things” but they meet the above criteria. Just saying.

  14. Amy says:

    As long as they don’t have commercials. Just saying ;)

  15. Clay says:

    Don’t DVRs make commercials irrelevant?

  16. Dana says:

    Well, I certainly can’t let FIFTEEN comments go by without further commentary:)

    Having watched many dramas with Amy, I can attest to the fact that she very much craves a character she can root for, or, even better, a couple she can root for. That probably applies less so for comedies where the ultimate criteria is whether or not it is funny. Still, even with comedies, the ones she truly loves have that character/couple element (Office being a prime example).

    As for me, I think I fall more on the side of (a) is it well done and (b) do I want to expend the time to stay with the series. As for that second element, though, I do think that the darker the plot/world of the drama, the more difficult it is to inspire me to watch. I think that holds true with Soprano’s for example and maybe even shows like Alias or Buffy. Still, I recognize that each of those shows probably has its lighter characters and moments.

    I suppose what made me intrigued by Breaking Bad, other than the great reviews, was that the clip Clay showed demonstrated a certain kind of humor (telling the novice drug guy that he was doing it all wrong) that gave a level of humanity and depth to the teacher. But if the show is primarily dark, I doubt it would hold my interest for too long.

  17. Clay says:

    It definitely has its funny moments, though the comedy is decidedly black.

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