Encounters in a Bookstore #488: PUMPED UP CONVOS

Sometimes in the bookstore where I work we have side conversations with one another, as we’re also handling customers. This is generally frowned upon, but much of the time we can’t help it. Because we have started listening to Pandora streams instead of Muzak, music is commonly a topic of these conversations.

Recently Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” was bouncing over the speakers, and after I’d greeted the two people who’d appeared before my register, I turned briefly to my fellow Iowan, and also coworker, Aaron. X “Hey Aaron, do you know what this song is about?”

“Shootin’,” he said.

“For sneakers,” I added.

Having scanned the customers’s Italy travel books and cooking magazines, I asked if they were members. The woman handed me her membership card and the man said, “I thought it was about bullying.”

I considered the man’s point as I ran the woman’s credit card through my register. Handing her the store copy receipt to sign, I said, “I thought it was about kids shooting each other for better shoes. Because they do that.”

The man held my gaze and I noted a bit of shock flicker in his eyes.

“But you might be right,” I said as I placed their items in a bag.

Now, later, having done a little more research into the song lyrics and why it was written, I see that we are all right.

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, outrun my gun. All the other kids with the pumped up kicks you better run, better run, faster than my bullet.

Or, rather, Aaron and the customer were right, and I was being cynical, or not paying attention to the rest of the song. Because it is about shooting, and it is from the perspective of a kid who’s daydreaming about violence against all the other kids with their cool pumped up kicks who give him crap every day.

Perhaps I am right, in that the kid would also like to take those neat sneaks, but that’s not really the point.

Instead, the point is that sometimes breaking under-enforced rules at the bookstore results in thought-provoking conversations about culture and society. Also, “Pumped Up Kicks” is a really catchy song, and it’s easy to miss the message. It’s only when you stop and listen to the words that you’re quietly singing along that you realize that shooting and sneakers aren’t lighthearted topics at all, regardless of how easy they are to snap your fingers to.

Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.