These past few days felt like I was back in school cramming for a test, having to drop 13 hours in just a couple of days. Fitting, though, in that the fourth season of The Wire is all about education. The schools, the corners, the mayor's office -- hell, even a Home Depot knock-off educates our fave chick hitter Snoop.
The real stars of this fourth season are the eighth graders from Tilghman Middle School, as we get a look at how the No Child Left Behind program leaves so many children behind. The characters Namond, Michael, Randy and Dukie are all at a critical point in their lives where they either will either move on to high school or make their way on "the corner," and it's through their eyes -- and the eyes of cops-turned-teachers Prez and Bunny -- that we see how schools have been forced to turn away from reaching kids and instead teaching "the test." Co-creator Ed Burns was a detective who moved on to become a teacher, and it's his experience that is mined for this season -- a story that's both eye opening and heartbreaking.
To emphasize the story, The Wire turned to a collective of 14-year olds (DoMaJe) to perform Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole," and it works beautifully, especially juxtaposed against the aged veterans who sing the other season's versions (Blind Boys of Alabama, Waits, The Neville Brothers, and this coming season's by Steve Earle). All these versions appear on a new soundtrack to be released this coming Tuesday (January 8) entitled ...and all the pieces matter, "Five Years of Music from 'The Wire'". This is also the first season that music from Baltimore started to become more front and center. Dirty Hartz, Mullyman, Diablo and DJ Technics are just a handful of the "Bodymore Murderland" artists featured in the season, and a second soundtrack highlighting them is also coming out next week, called "Beyond Hamsterdam, Baltimore Tracks from The Wire," a reference both to season three and Darkroom Productions' popular "Hamsterdam Mixtape."
As the seasons have progressed in The Wire, the breadth and width of the music choices has grown to include Latin and Carnival Funk from New Orleans. The addition of Latin music makes sense due to the influx of Latinos in B'More's population, but the New Orleans tracks (The Meters, The Wild Magnolias, Raymond Winnfield) initially seemed odd. However, if there's a sister city to B'More, it's probably The Big Easy, with its own brand of urban decay. It also might be serving as a precursor to David Simon's next project which reportedly will take place in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the final episode's montage is set to Paul Weller's take on the voodoo classic "I Walk On Gilded Splinters," a song made famous by New Orleans' Dr. John, and containing the refrain, Here I go, now / 'Til I murder, 'til I'm dead. It suggests a chilling future for young Michael.
Playlist: The Wire - Season 4
Here's a sampling of some of the 75 tracks from the playlist/season (full tracklisting of playlist here):
"Way Down in the Hole" - DoMaJe - Season 4 theme song
"Ring Of Fire" - Johnny Cash - Ep4.02
"Why Didn't You Call Me" - Macy Gray - Ep4.03
"Cissy Strut" - The Meters - Ep4.04
"Move On Up" - Curtis Mayfield - Ep4.06
"We Are Family" - Sister Sledge - Ep4.06
"Dance My Pain Away" - Rod Lee - Ep4.07
"B.O.B." - OutKast - Ep4.08
"Lord Give Me A Sign" - DMX - Ep4.09
"Carta Del Hijo Preso" - K'luba - Ep4.11
"Hey Pocky A-Way" - The Meters - Ep4.11
More: As always, the season 4 recap video is good for a refresher, but I think my favorite is a specific Chris and Snoop scene. When they're hired to take out New Yorkers encroaching on East Baltimore corners, they come up with a way of distinguishing their targets from the B'More slingers: Ask them about Baltimore club music. Seems if you don't have some education on Young Leek's "Jiggle It," then you'd better run. "Where's your Yankee pride now?" asks Snoop later on to a couple corpses.