A wonderful thing has happened.
I hadn’t realised it at first, but for the last few months there was a particular song that had been seeping into my subconscious. I’d heard it, but I’d not heard it. However, slowly, over time, it had made a deep impression on me despite me not even understanding a single lyric.
Last weekend I was in a part of the Netherlands I’d never been to. I was there for a stand-up set so had booked a cheap AirBnB in a village nearby. When I got to the village I was staying in I could hear singing and shouting in the streets. I asked my host if something was going on or if it was always like this. “Bokkentocht. Bock beer festival. I’m sorry if it’s too loud at night!”. I assured her that I could sleep through anything and was just curious as the Netherlands seems to be in a constant state of festival.
After the gig was done and I was heading back to my room, the partying in the village had progressed to that stage where some people still looked like they were having fun, but many more looked like they should have called it a night hours before. The temptation to see what it was all about was too strong so I made my way to the busiest place to get myself a bock beer. When in Rome.
It’s hard standing in a bar alone without looking at your phone or getting so lost in your own thoughts that your face has an intensity out of place with the room. It didn’t really matter in this case though as pretty much everyone there was either dancing, singing, ordering drinks or all three. I could just contently stand there unnoticed.
Then it happened.
A song played that ignited the room. You know the sort of one. Not just a dancefloor filler but a huge sing-a-long. All of these strangers in unison sung as though they’d been doing it their whole lives. I didn’t know I knew it too, but I did. As the chorus kicked in, even those on the periphery couldn’t help themselves to join in with the revery, there was barely a face left unaffected. Then I realised. I knew this song! Well, the melody at least. It was that ridiculous Dutch song, that had soundtracked my first summer here in The Netherlands. All of these memories of Dutch people with exaggerated poses, dancing and faces came flooding back at once. I stood there taking it all in, as it played through. The sort of tune that couldn’t exist outside of mainland Europe, fiercely embracing its so-bad-it’s-good categorisation. The stars aligned in that particular moment and I felt an overwhelming sensation of contentedness right there on my own in this village.
The next day I decided I had to find out what it was. I assumed it was a simple task, this was the modern age, after all. Every time it played, everyone knew what it was, it was obviously a very popular song. I sat at my computer, opened up Spotify, but then…
What do I type?
I don’t know a single word to this song, I just knew the melody from the chorus. For some reason I assumed finding it would be easy, like finding the national anthem.
But what to search?
I had no idea.
Wait, what’s Dutch for party song? Feestlied?
With thousands of unrelated results I quickly realised how futile this approach was, and decided my Dutch workmates may be more fruitful. I started with Dan since he spent most of his day with headphones on so must be listening to something, right? “There’s a song I want to know what it is, but you probably already know it, it goes” and I sung the melody. I had to assure him that I knew the song was bad, but I needed to know anyway, I didn’t want him to think that this was my regular jam. I expected him to know within seconds, but his face didn’t change throughout my rendition. Note after note and nothing. I repeated it a few times hitting my hand on the desk in time with the beat to try and recreate the original the best that I could. I decided to give up when I noticed Dan’s expression had gone from concentration to one of concern as to just how many times I’d do this.
“You should try Hugh, he loves his party music!” Dan offered, perhaps partly to just get me to go away. So I did. I asked Hugh. The Brabant guy for whom carnaval was a way of life. If anyone would know, he would know. I hummed him the melody, bringing the hand in right from the start this time. I wanted to recreate the experience as accurately as possible. My spirit dropped as a void expression painted over his face. His expression hid a slight pain of embarrassment as this was his specialist subject, his time to shine, he should know this. He apologised saying “I don’t go out as much as I used to, I’m so sorry”. I felt bad doing this to him, but more overwhelmingly I felt frustrated at the whole situation.
For the first time during this whole journey it dawned on me that I may not ever find out what this song was. I had not considered that possibility until this point. Despite it being so obvious to those who knew it, I had no way of describing it that made any sense. It was as vague as describing how you want your haircut to a hairdresser. I Googled as best as I could. Searched for terms like feestje, singalong nederlands… sure I got lots of results but what was I going to do with them? I wasted the best part of a working day obsessing over it. Working my way through cheesy playlists, skipping through, trying to find that familiar chorus. I was none-the-wiser.
I explained the situation to friends over chat. One who was currently unemployed saw it as a challenge. Over the hours he posted link after link based on my vague description, with me correcting each element I could remember was wrong. “No, the chorus sounded like a bunch of drunk guys singing in a range that meant that other drunk guys could do the same. They’d thought about this”. “It didn’t have a groove, it was like one of those 4/4 techno stompers that has zero subtlety whatsoever”.
Eventually I had to give up. It was home time. I’d not only wasted my time but others time too. I struggled to deal with the idea that I’d spent so much time on this but had gotten nowhere, but what could I do? Nothing. I was powerless. This song held me in its grasp and there was nothing I could do about it. I may never know. I told myself I had to accept it. It wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t know what one song was, right? Did it really matter? It’s just a song. There are plenty more. Either way, there was nothing I could do about it. Best to focus on other things and forget about it.
That was until tonight.
An otherwise innocuous night out, which I wouldn’t have been part of at all if it weren’t for the DiS thread where the social board make decisions for you. The music was loud, and each song having little in common with each other, the mixing no more than a fade in and fade out. Then I heard the beginnings of some cheesy Dutch song start playing. I smiled to myself, remembering the song that got away, like an old flame. I leaned in to my Australian friend, explaining the situation, how ridiculous it all was. Then, as I got to recalling the humming at work bit, the chorus of the song playing kicked in.
This was it.
This was the song.
They were playing the song.
The song that had inspired me to talk about the song was the song itself! The chorus hook was there, it was all there and once again the Dutch people were singing with passion. I hadn’t imagined it! I had no idea what the words were, but found myself trying to singalong anyway, just making Dutch-sounding noises in tune with the melody. I was so relieved, struggling to contain my joy as I described to those around me the situation that they could not appreciate. To them it must have looked like this was my favourite song of all time, the pleasure across my face was disproportionately huge. I had found it. I wouldn’t let it get away again.
It was already the second chorus when I had the common sense to fire up Shazam. Maybe it had been so long since I’d used it, or maybe it’s because my phone is nearing death, but it felt like forever as I waited for the start screen to appear. I had never felt such rage at my phone than in that moment as it held me ransom with its incompetence. I pleaded with my eyes until the button finally appeared and I was able to see it do its thing. Moments later the title appeared. It meant nothing to me, but I knew I had it. It was in the cloud now.
Shortly afterwards I left the club and headed back home, the temptation to listen again being too great. I sat there in bed playing the song that had toyed with my emotions, and sure enough, it was diabolically awful. Even worse than I could have imagined, but I didn’t care. It was synonymous with so many happy scenarios, the feeling of being an outsider in a place that suddenly felt welcoming was not one to be understated. It was a symbol of something so alien to what I was familiar with, yet still so welcoming. Surely not the original intention of the song, but the one it ended up having. It had a new meaning to me, one which felt right.
This was that song.