3 Responses to Count Your Blessings: Los Lobos, “Good Morning Aztlán” (2002)

  1. Richard says:

    “Value Guaranteed” is the perfect term to describe the act of counting in a song lyric. It gets ’em every time! Toots and The Maytals’ “54-46 Was My Number” has great counting, based on the James Brown counting mechanism model. Toots shouts to the band and audience “Give it to me (pause) ONE TIME!” (the band strikes once)…Give it to me (pause) TWO TIMES! (band strikes twice) until he gets to 4. The first time, the song goes directly to the chorus after the counting. But the second time around, he gets to 4 and instead of what you’d expect, he starts shouting “gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!”, and then the chorus. It’s brilliant.

    DJ Shadow’s “The Number Song” is the counting song experience in its essence. It’s nothing but counting! That’s not completely true, actually. It has one of the best drumbeats and bass lines ever. Completely repetitive yet gripping, much in the same way that the counting trick grips us in the same way every time, even though it’s the same counting we’ve been hearing our whole lives.

    Although I initially want to say something like counting is the closest surviving relative of the magical incantations people used to say and hear a lot more than today, my spidey senses tell me there’s more. As it turns out, counting 1,2,3,4 doesn’t come naturally to us. We’re born counting logarithmically (1,10,100,1000). If you take a pile of pennies and ask ask a toddler to pick up one, they’ll usually pick up just one. If you ask them to pick up two or more, they’ll usually grab a handful. BTW I heard this on “This American Life” so it has to be true. Seriously, I tried it with my two-year-old. She picked up one, then two (smart kid), but when it came to three, she grabbed the handful.

    Counting in a linear fashion has to be drilled into us. Pardon the bad pun, but countless videos for tots are devoted to the topic. It’s a little sad, like the tragedy of growing up Peter Pan envisions. We move from the treehouse of logarithmic counting and into the stone fortress of the linear, a language of lost innocence. But once we learn this trick, we can accomplish amazing things. In that sense, counting is more than a cousin of a magical incantation. It IS an incantation. Saying “1,2,3,4” invokes a particular type of information-sorting system that, when expressed in certain ways, can yield magical results, like sending a person to the moon.

  2. Richard says:

    And need I mention that counting in the linear 1,2,3,4 format also leads to Music which, to me, is even more valuable than sending a person to the moon.

  3. Steve Smith says:

    Maybe the perception of quantity involves a different number-meaning than does the act of attention-controlling repetition. The Toots example makes me think of childish eenie-meenie-miney-moe games, and in music a suspensefully extended repetition of strikes at the end of a section, where you may not be keeping track with numbers but you do have a countable product because the power of repetition is being exercised.

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