Sounds Like a Plan: Pop-music advice from the mind of MARK BLANKENSHIP

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:09

    Even if we give her four minutes, I don’t think Madonna can save the world. Nor do I think that a DJ can save my life or that rock ’n’ roll dreams necessarily come true.

    However, I do think that pop music can offer perspective. We just have to be willing to go with it, you know? I’m not saying Top 40 hits can provide us with answers, but they can be springboards to different ways of thinking.

    Well, I’m pretty sure Prince will deliver the ultimate truth someday, but otherwise, you get my point.

    My own life is a great example. Even though I’ve heard it 86 times—according to my iTunes play count—Green Day’s song “Minority” still excites me. Is it a landmark punk anthem? No. Is it even Green Day’s best single? No, that’s “When I Come Around.” But my engine cranks every time Billie Joe yells, “Down with the moral majority/ ‘Cuz I wanna be the mi-nor-i-ty!”

    That lyric reminds me that, even though powerful conservative political agendas frustrate me, I don’t ever want their kind of power.

    I love connecting to music that way, and I love spreading the word, and that brings us to this section of the paper. In many ways, “Sounds Like a Plan” is a traditional advice column. I’ll be calling on friends, experts and my own experience to give you feedback on questions big and small. But what else? I’ll be filtering my advice through pop songs, mentioning lyrics, singles or albums that can help me make my point. My brain is bursting with music and music trivia, so I should put that info to good use.

    No matter what you think of my advice (or my musical selections), I’d love to hear from you. More than anything, I want “Sounds Like a Plan” to be the start of a conversation—hopefully a conversation that is extended at my pop-culture criticism site The Critical Condition . I’m excited to learn things from you guys, and I’m ready to discover some hot new hits.

    So let’s get it started!

    Dear Mark, I have a new friend who’s trying to poach all of my other friends. She will meet them at a party and suddenly start hanging out with them—sometimes it feels like she is trying to make me jealous. I know she’s had trouble making friends since moving to the city, but I don’t want her to invade every part of my life. What do I do?

    Do you realize that your life is imitating the songs of TLC? Hear me out: You’re wondering “What About Your Friends” is allowing them to hang out with this new girl, but don’t worry. They’re probably “Diggin’ On You” just as much as before.

    Think about it: Are you actually spending less time with them, or are you just worried that will happen? Don’t project your own insecurities onto this new girl (We’ll call her T-Boz). As you said, T-Boz has felt “Unpretty.” If she’s been lonely, then she’s probably trying too hard to make new pals. Give her time to realize that she’s going to be accepted and things might settle down. And whatever you do, don’t confront T-Boz with vague accusations about friend theft. Only approach her if she does something specific that bothers you, and even then, make sure you speak to her in “I language.” Say, “I feel hurt by this” instead of “You are a ‘Creep.’” That will make her feel less defensive and prove that you are taking responsibility for your reaction. Along the way, you may as well invite your friends to do things with you privately—one-on-one time is always good—but remember that friendship isn’t a competition. If your friends love T-Boz, they won’t love you any less. Your social dynamics might be changing, but change doesn’t mean the death of your relationships. Despite what the song tells us, you can chase the “Waterfalls” of new friends and stick to the rivers and the lakes of your old ones.

    Dear Mark, One of my very good friends just came out to me, but I’m the only one who knows he’s gay. To everyone else, he pretends to be straight, dating women and being set up by well-meaning friends. He’s living two lives. How can I encourage him to be honest about who he is while still being supportive?

    When I first started coming out, I was terrified. I was 15, totally lonely in my rural Tennessee high school and looking for ways to “accidentally” touch this guy Richard’s arm during Student Council. It was exhausting. But the day I turned 16, as a present to myself, I came out to my friend Sarah after English class, and she was totally awesome about it. The rest is gay history.

    Right now, you are the “Sarah” in your friend’s life. You’re proving that he can be himself and not send the people he loves fleeing in the other direction.

    As your friend continues to come out, you can support him by remembering that he’s terrified of rejection. That’s probably one reason he’s still dating women: A hetero date is like validation that he can still run back to the straight world if this gay thing goes awry. He’s not letting go of the old life until he’s sure the new one won’t backfire.

    So be patient, and remind him that you’re not going anywhere. However, you don’t have to be quiet about what’s bothering you. Point out that you’re worried about what this double life is doing to him. If it helps, use this sentiment from “Human,” a new song by The Killers. Brandon Flowers sings, “Sometimes I get nervous/ When I see an open door/ Close your eyes/ Clear your heart/ Cut the cord.”

    In other words: Change is scary, but you’ve got to change. Cut your ties to the past.

    And also? Remind him that his choices are affecting other people. These women he’s dating (and the friends who are setting him up) are being used. They don’t deserve that.

    Asking him to acknowledge the consequences of his actions only proves that you care about him, because it proves you’re willing to treat him like an adult. To paraphrase The Killers once more, he needs direction to perfection, and he needs his friends to help him out.