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At Least It Wasn’t “Poundcake”…

January 21, 2010

It’s a sad scene that unfortunately plays out quite often (including once during my brief tenure living in Seattle in 2001):

A distressed and depressed individual goes to a traffic bridge to attempt or at least contemplate suicide. As quickly as possible, authorities go to the scene to try to coax the person into backing off the precipice. Motorists, snarled in the resulting traffic and immensely frustrated, forget every shred of the common human bonds that connect them to the possible jumper. And then they start yelling “Jump!”

That scenario occurred earlier this week in the greater Manchester area of northwest England. This time, a road-rage-blinded (but quite enterprising) motorist employed a “solution” based in pop culture. The driver called up the local radio station, 96.2 The Revolution, and submitted a request to Steve Penk, the station’s well-known, sometimes controversial morning host. Penk honored the listener’s request and played Van Halen’s 1984 hit “Jump.”

“Jump”—get it? Presumably no one on the scene was standing with her or his back against a record machine, so the message and its intended recipient were fairly clear. Something along the lines of, “Get it over with, you sad sack, so I can get to my 8:15 meeting!”

Well, at least as it’s been portrayed in British media since then, the woman jumped either during or shortly after the station aired the song. This probably won’t or can’t be confirmed, but I can certainly envision a scenario where many motorists were listening to the popular station and decided to crank up the radios in their Vauxhalls. You put a few of those speakers together and the song could have actually been audible to the woman about to jump.

Not to be too much of a prude, or especially a “Blame the Media” zealot, but I’d argue that even the possibility of that influence should have dissuaded Penk and the station from playing the Van Halen song. This isn’t a societal-level question, a la “video games cause violence,” writ large. This is, “If I play this song, an individual human being in a fragile state might be even more likely to kill herself.” Big difference. In the case of the song, the potential for direct influence on harmful behavior is far greater.

Thankfully, in this case, the woman survived the fall with only relatively minor injuries. So perhaps she will one day be able to indicate whether or not she heard David Lee Roth’s command to “Jump” before she leaped off the bridge. Too bad Roth’s advice that “you gotta ro-o-o-oll with the punches…” didn’t have greater currency with the troubled woman.

In sum, I have to say “Bad job” to DJ Steve Penk—it was pretty much a dick move to play “Jump.” And of course, a giant “Shame on you” to the motorist(s) who succumbed to road rage and behaved like a completely heartless wanker.

I’m just glad it turned out as well as it did, all things considered. I shudder to think what would have happened if someone with greater familiarity with Van Halen’s back catalog had called in the request. What if Penk had been asked to play “Poundcake,” the 1991 Sammy Hagar-crooned Van Halen ode to an unnamed woman’s hindquarters, which remind Mr. Hagar of a delicious pastry? You know, the song that’s kinda like Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom,” but not satirical (and therefore, unintentionally, even funnier)?

I suspect that, in that horrific instance, the poor woman would have Rasputined herself—stabbed, shot, poisoned, hanged, drawn, quartered, etc.—just to make sure she didn’t have to endure the Hagar-induced agony. And several of the motorists would have probably joined her in a tragic wave of mass Halenocide.

At least Steve Penk doesn’t have that on his minuscule conscience.

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