50 Cent’s Muscles? MCR’s Guitars? Pokemon? Defining Awesome In Bigger Than The Sound

Inspired by new Smashing Pumpkins songs he's not allowed to write about, our columnist explores the concept of awesomeness.

On The Record: Defining Awesome

A few days ago, while visiting the offices of [name redacted], I was given the opportunity to hear a few songs from the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins album, Zeitgeist. Of course, part of the deal was that I was not allowed to discuss those songs in any way, shape or form.

Needless to say, that made writing this week’s edition of Bigger Than the Sound rather difficult, because there’s plenty I could tell you about the three tunes I heard. But, in the spirit of confidentiality (and for professionalism’s sake,) I agreed to keep my mouth shut. And yet, now a few days removed from it all, I’ve decided that I just can’t do it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the trio of songs I heard off Zeitgeist were totally awesome.

But that got me thinking. Just what is awesome? Ask 100 people and you’re likely to get 100 different answers. For Eric Schmidt, it’s a 13-minute Britney Spears concert. For Sarah Hatter, it’s key racks, stemless wine glasses and, uh, “vintage rock star sweat.” And for Billy Corgan, well, who knows what it means, but here’s a photo of him wearing a wig and flashing the devil horns, which is pretty awesome in its own right.

And to me? Well, that’s a pretty tough question. Granted, I use the term “awesome” about 562 times a day, yet just what do I mean when I say it? Is it a term of endearment (“Dusty Rhodes is awesome”) or a statement of disdain? (“Jason Frasor blew another save for my fantasy baseball team? That guy’s awesome.”) An expression of excitement (“I found $20 on the street — awesome!”) or dread? (“I have to go see my neighbor’s band play at Mercury Lounge tonight. Awesome.)

Well, yes. And no. As it turns, out, “awesome” is a pretty difficult thing to define (which is, in itself, pretty awesome.) And yet, as a service to myself and those around me, I decided to try. So after spending the weekend furiously jotting down ideas (read: watching basketball), here’s what I came up with: my very loose, extremely inclusive, not very concise definition of “awesome” …

Awesome is, by nature, measured in degrees of absurdity, ego and overall WTF-ness. It is Tad Kubler from the Hold Steady’s use of a double-neck guitar for no particular reason, the post-wrestling career of the Iron Sheik and/or Red Sox pitcher Mike Timlin’s camouflage T-shirt in the “Faith Rewarded” DVD. Awesome is an all-or-nothing proposition … things classified as “sorta awesome” are not so, because awesomeness does not elicit middle-of-the road sentiment. (Therein lies the difference between “awesome” and “great” or “cool.” A sandwich is great; a Philly cheesesteak is awesome.) Awesome is the larger-than-life, the epic, the gluttonous. It inspires heated debate, hatred and fisticuffs. It is stupid or profane, yet is aware — nay, OK — with those facts.

It can be applied to monolithic acts of rock-and-roll excess, career-ending exercises in ego and/or musicianship (double/concept albums are awesome) and unnecessary, overly annoying noodling. Anything that ends in an epic flameout is awesome. Almost all wrestlers are awesome, provided they plied their trade before 1999. The Boston Red Sox are awesome, if only because they are not the New York Yankees (and also because a large portion of their pitching staff enjoys bow-hunting). Overtly cute J-Pop is awesome, because it reveals the child within us all. Fist-pumping, embarrassing rock is awesome. Public-intoxication arrests (and their accompanying mug shots) are awesome. Pretty much everything you’d find in a hazy dorm room — tapestries, incense, Bob Marley posters — is awesome.

After hammering that out, I also devised a rating scale — a “Scale of Awesome,” if you will — to serve as both a guide to understanding it all and a graphic representation of the transitive property of awesome (which is confusing and awesome in its own right). It bears mentioning that while all items included on the list are awesome, a 1 equals “least awesome” while a 10 indicates “face-melting awesomeness.”

And, yes, I know none of this makes sense — which is why it’s awesome.

1.0: Pokemon, The Early November’s 3-CD The Mother, the Mechanic and the Path, the intro to … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Worlds Apart album.

2.0: Jose Lima circa 2000 (or 2004), Big John Studd’s beard, Coheed and Cambria’s “Welcome Home.”

3.0: Gilbert Arenas in actuality, ’60s band Quartermass, Hideki Okajima, Bentley Green Hall & Oates’ “Head Above Water,” Bob Seger’s Face The Promise, Against Me!

4.0: Gilbert Arenas in theory, Ozzy Osbourne’s 1984 mugshot from Memphis, Tennessee, the Afghan Whigs’ “Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer,” 50 Cent’s insane body-building obsession, the Secret Machines’ In The Round Tour, R. Kelly’s Happy People/U Saved Me.

5.0: The asides on R. Kelly’s Wikipedia page (particularly “Kelly is well known for his explicit carnality creating such hits as “Bump N Grind,” “Feelin’ on Yo Booty” and “Ignition (Remix)”), Mastodon’s entire career, roughly 78 percent of the Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute, the artwork of Storm Thorgerson, the Plastic Constellations (and, by association, the Deuce Cities blog), NASCAR.

6.0: Pavement’s “Half a Canyon,” Stephen Malkmus’ “1% of One,” the guitars on My Chemical Romance’s “Famous Last Words,” the cover of the Rye Coalition’s Jersey Girls EP, Helium’s The Magic City, the J. Geils Band changing their name to Geils for 1977′s Monkey Island album — and then changing it back one album later.

7.0: Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues,” Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues,” the album version of My Morning Jacket’s “Off the Record,” Ozzy Osbourne during his mid-’80s “scary face” heyday, ninjas.

8.0: David Ortiz, Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance,” pirates.

9.0: Mr. Edward Van Halen’s solo on “Eruption,” Kiss’ Music From “The Elder.”

10.0: Tecmo Super Bowl, this picture.

B-Sides: Other Stories I’m Following This Week

Amy Lee and Eddie Van Halen to form new band, simultaneously fire each other on a weekly basis. (See “Evanescence Split With Guitarist, Drummer; Amy Lee Says Band Is ‘Alive And Well’ “ )

Marilyn Manson, Slayer join forces for a totally evil summer tour, plan stops in graveyards, the dark recesses of your soul, Sleep Train Amphitheatre. (See ” ‘Satan Is Alive And Well’: Marilyn Manson, Slayer Announce Summer Tour Dates” )

Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance join forces for a totally ev— no, wait. It’s just Projekt Revolution, brought to you by Monster energy drink. Spooky! (See “Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday To Headline Projekt Revolution” )

I was gonna include an “E-mail of the Week” here but BTTS #3 is already running plenty long, so I’ll just link to this amazing “Singer Wanted” ad one of my co-workers forwarded me yesterday. Warning: only open if you are “serious and have DEDICATION!” (Oh yeah — long hair too.)

And finally, there won’t be a BTTS for the next two weeks, as I’m gonna be getting married and then heading off on my honeymoon (which is, needless to say, awesome.)

Hate my awesome list? Hate me? Hit me up at BTTS@MTVStaff.com and let your displeasure be known.