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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

Simply put, we're all at least a little "Crazy"

I finally talk about a track from my lifetime, and it gives me a chance to appreciate sampling as well as its lyrical perspective.

Today marks a week of my Senior Year Soundtrack. When I looked at my playlist in the morning, I noticed all my selections were tracks originally from the 60s and 70s (while “The Saints Are Coming” was performed by U2 and Green Day in 2006, Skids’ original version was from 1979.)

I figured today was as good a time as any to put something a bit more recent into the mix. While I’m less a fan of 21st century popular music in general than I am 60s-80s music — the 90s is a weird decade and I’ll probably get to it soon — I still have plenty of 00s and 10s tracks (and hopefully 20s soon enough) that I’m considering featuring. Combine that desire with me still being in a funk/soul phase thanks to writing about “California Soul” on Sunday and “Spill the Wine” yesterday, and you’ll understand why I landed on “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley for today’s addition.

Gnarls Barkley is a duo consisting of rapper/singer-songwriter CeeLo Green and producer Danger Mouse. CeeLo was previously known for being in Atlanta hip hop group Goodie Mob, while Danger Mouse burst onto the scene in 2004 with his Jay-Z/Beatles bootleg masterpiece The Grey Album, then produced Demon Days for Gorillaz the following year. The two formed Gnarls Barkley in 2003, and “Crazy” was released in March 2006 as their debut single, a month ahead of their first album, St. Elsewhere.

Musically, “Crazy” is quite emblematic of the album’s sound: sample-built neo soul with some electronic flavor. The ever-so-slightly swung drums are sampled from Garnet Mimms’ 1972 R&B track“Stop and Check Yourself,” laying down a groove that meshes perfectly with, of all things, a piece from a spaghetti Western soundtrack. Other than the drums, the instrumental on “Crazy” comes from two excerpts of “Nel cimitero di Tucson” (alternatively, “Last Men Standing”), composed by brothers Gian Franco and Gian Piero Reverberi for 1968’s Preparati la Bara! (English title: “Django, Prepare a Coffin”), one of many follow-ups to the original Django film from 1966. Finding out about the Reverberi sample blew my mind, and it made me appreciate the art of sampling a lot more. Sampling gives new life to its sources through the creation of new soundscapes, with the original tracks being instruments themselves. Even such a simple combination of samples as on "Crazy" — loops of drums and a film score — created something so fresh when they were combined. Who knew that a spaghetti Western score could be so soulful? (Clearly, Danger Mouse did.)

On top of the great instrumental production, I love CeeLo's lyrical viewpoint in "Crazy." Green narrates as a man out of touch with and rejected by society, who may not be quite right in his head but is thankful to have his own free will. The first verse presents a bit of a contradiction, as the narrator talks about having "lost [his] mind" but also "[knowing] too much." The confusion here can be explained as a matter of perspective, or more accurately, perspectives, plural: CeeLo's character is seen by society as being insane, when in reality he is enlightened, on a higher plane of intelligence and understanding than those who criticize him. The chorus thus asks if him being on said plane, knowing more but respected less, makes him crazy. CeeLo's response of "possibly" then immediately qualifies his intelligence to a certain extent — even with all that he knows, he doesn't know whether or not he can trust himself and what he sees.

From CeeLo's perspective as an artist, though, being crazy isn't necessarily a bad thing, and he's far from alone in thinking that. I immediately think of Kanye West on "Feedback," with his line "Name one genius that ain't crazy," among many other similar quotes. Being on the crazy side can theoretically help an artist in terms of creativity and standing out; of course, such positive qualities may be very heavily qualified by one's mental health status. At least from the narrator's PoV in "Crazy," he's free from the shackles of a world which can so easily manipulate others' minds, as he suggests in the second verse. There, the narrator laughs at the thought that the person he's talking to thinks he's "really in control." This end to the second verse shifts the perspective back to the society from which the narrator has freed himself, and through it we can see why the narrator did what he did: simply put, he wanted to be able to think on his own, just like his idols did (as is referenced in the last verse). When CeeLo sings "Ha ha ha, bless your soul," it's because his character knows the other person in the conversation can't see how they're being manipulated. They're crazy just like him, but for an entirely different reason.

So in the end, I guess that the message of "Crazy" is that we're all crazy for different reasons. Some of us are simply wired differently; some of us have bought into narratives spun by groups that don't care for their followers' well-being (*cough* ivermectin *cough*); some of us think we're above falling for the world's traps but are really head-deep in a tangled web of confusion. No one's entirely balanced, and no two people see the world the same way, as is shown in the official video through its Rorschach inkblot motif. Perhaps recognizing that might help us understand each other a bit better... or perhaps it'll just confuse all of us even further. Who am I to say? I'm crazy too, right, CeeLo?



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