by Joshua Allen
O Carlos, Grammyhog, what are your sustained notes saying to us? Could the complexity of the Afro-Cuban rhythm really be spelling out something so simple, so archetypal, so fundamental to rock 'n' roll as the old chestnut known as: "My woman is hot and I'd do anything for her"? Please convince us that there's more to it than that, that you hired master songwriter Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20, to burst through that hackneyed cliche and bring his own special brand of lyrical magic to your transcendent music? O Rob Thomas, born on a windswept Valentine's Day in a gloomy German military base in 1972, Rob the exit ramp poet, Rob Thomas, don't make us swallow the line about this being an ode to your lovely Marisol tell us the truth.
Man it's a hot one
Already the song reveals its seedy underbelly. Why "seven inches"? This is such a specific number, especially for a song that's so dense with charming vagueness. Why not "a breath away from the midday sun"? That would be a better fit, linguistically, and it would echo the line "in every breath" that appears in the second verse and also evoke the phrase "take my breath away," which is certainly something that the Subject of the song does? Why didn't you call me, Rob? I've still got the touch.
No, you went with "seven inches." Now take a look at this:
According to the Kinsey Report, six inches is the average length of the erect penis of a white, college-aged man, i.e., a significant percentage of the Matchbox 20 demo. No one writes songs about averagely sized penises, however, so Rob took it up to the next level and we can only assume that it is no dimwitted experiment in poetic license but rather a factual survey of his "hot one," because, as songs such as "3 AM" and "Real World" have shown us, Rob writes about life as it really is, not some milquetoast exaggeration.
I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone
The Dark Pall of Genius
Carlos: It is indeed very jamming. But I would like to see some Spanish somewhere in there.
R.T.: I hear you, man. Yes. Yes!
R.T.: OK, man, dig this. Wait. [takes a delicate bite of a Krispy Kreme donut while looking heavenward, deep in thought] OK. "Pico de gallo ... baby you set my soul on fire." Except "fire," there, I kind of sing it like "fie-o" give it a little flava, you know. Give it some of that Carlos spice, you know what I'm talking about.
Carlos: I certainly do. Let me pass this along to the executive copy editor. Will you please stand over there in the interim? Someone will be right with you.
Santana has a team of hundreds working behind the scenes, packed into a cramped laboratory with silky, tie-dyed banners hanging from the ceiling and incense burning on the control panels. "We need a word here," one of them says, and already the computer is humming.
"Muñequita," it tells them after a moment's processing.
They look at each other with bafflement. "But why?" they ask.
"It's a two-part dig against Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20."
"Please elaborate," Team Santana implores the computer.
The computer lets out an electronic burble a sigh? a moan? "'Muñequita' means 'little doll,' so we'll be undermining his 'seven inches' line. Also, as any seasoned music fan will know, the most famous use of that word in a song is in María Grever's rendition of 'Muñequita Linda.' In the 1940s, Grever developed a method of teaching that would allow North Americans to sing Hispano-American music without knowing how to speak Spanish. Something that our friend Mr. Thomas could stand to learn more about."
Fine, then, but why "Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa"? Spanish Harlem (conveniently located in the northeast region of Manhattan, stretching from First Avenue to Fifth Avenue, and East 96th Street to East 125th Street, its 103,000 residents comprised mostly of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans) is straightforward enough and fits the rich use of Chicano culture that we've come to expect from Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20. But Mona Lisa? Da Vinci's famed portrait isn't exactly the classical standard of breathtaking physical beauty, so we are forced to look for deeper explanations:
1. Dr. Lillian Schwartz of Bell Labs posited the theory that the Mona Lisa was, in fact, a painting of Da Vinci himself, since a) nowhere in his meticulous notebooks is a record of that particular model, and b) if, using a high-powered computing device, you digitize Da Vinci's features and those of the Mona Lisa and merge them together, still digitally, as Dr. Schwartz herself did, you'll discover that the features of the two faces align perfectly. Rob's shout-out to this painting, then (which was painted on wood), could be a clue that this song is not about his wife, or any woman, but rather about himself.
2. "Mona Lisa" is also the name (perhaps false) of a porn star who, according to her press bio, is "a well-honed, butt-tastic, breast-licious vision of vivacious voluptuousness that earned her second-runner-up status at the 1995 Miss Nude World and Miss Nude Universe competitions." As Mary Tyler Moore used to say: "Ohhhhh, Rob." Is this really to whom you're singing this ode? Or is she merely fuel for the heat you're feeling in the opening verse?
And if you say this life ain't good enough
This, friends, is where the song goes where others fear to tread. Many is the pop ditty that trumpets the importance of the singer's genitalia, but Mr. Thomas here is willing to make some serious sacrifices to stay sexually potent; he would honestly "give [his] world" to "lift [the Subject] up." This is no "meet me halfway" compromise, people this is love, a love that has built its foundation on the smoothness of Rob's seven inches of manhood.
The chorus gets more specific about the almost frictionless tactile nature of the Subject, then starts to get pushy:
And just like the ocean under the moon
This is no longer a love affair from afar, but a hands-on love event. There is a flowing back and forth indicated by the "ocean under the moon" (a curiously feminine image could Rob Thomas be telling us that the pull his penis has over him is as powerful and inexorable as the pull of the moon on the tides and, further, the menstrual cycle? Probably!), with the emphasis on the latter two syllables of "emotion."
Rob reminds us of "how smooth" the Subject is, perhaps even smoother now thanks to an over-the-counter, water-based (the "ocean" again) lubricant, and then he suddenly, spasmodically, barks out two orders, delivering a rough ultimatum where before there were only gentle platitudes: "Gimme your heart, make it real / Or else forget about it." What happened here at the end of the chorus to cause such an outburst?
Rob, Rob Thomas, was simply tired of messing around, as is the listener. He's sick of playing nice, of wooing the Subject, and wants the Subject to give him its heart, i.e., what is contained deep within, buried in its center. He wants all of these poetic musings to become "real," i.e., made physical, out in the world, something he can actually hold in his hand.
And if that doesn't happen, if his seven inches refuse him this ultimate satisfaction, then "forget about it." Call the whole thing off because for Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, it's all or nothing. He'll sweet-talk the Subject for as long as it takes, but once he gets down to business, he better see some results for all his effort or there's going to be trouble, mister, and that's the kind of trouble you just can't afford.
in the junk drawer
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