Ja Rule’s “Mesmerize” is not a very good song. I mean, objectively speaking, it’s fine. And it was certainly popular—it reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart a month or so after it was released in late 2002, and it still gets regular airplay on classic rap radio more than 15 years later.
But it was also roundly panned by critics, fans, and fellow rappers as being too commercial, too pandering. It landed on Blender’s list of the “50 Worst Songs Ever” alongside the likes of Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’,” Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.” To make matters worse, it resulted in one of the most thoroughly confusing music videos ever produced—one that I'm confident history will show to be even more embarrassing for Ja than last year’s Fyre Festival debacle.
Despite all that, I love “Mesmerize.”
I love it because, as soon as I hear those silly chimes and Ja’s raspy chuckle, I’m immediately transported back to the early aughts, to the grimey-ass, fun-as-hell, 18-and-under clubs I frequented in downtown Cleveland during my junior year of high school. I’m instantly back in some random, dimly lit, fog-filled warehouse along the east bank of The Flats, chasing after girls, learning to crip walk, and sweating through shirts I had absolutely no right to be wearing in the first place.
[Editor's note: Live your truth, High School Kyle.]
It’s a vivid and visceral memory, sparked by a song. Beer has the same power.
Every single time I have a PBR, a sliver of my brain is back at Pinkie Master’s in Savannah, GA, jammed into a tiny booth with five other art school kids, eating popcorn we’d microwaved over by the dartboard, listening to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. on the jukebox, discovering some new piece of ephemera on the wall that'd been hanging there longer than we’d been on the planet.
Whenever I have a COAST 32°/50°, I can practically feel my toes digging into the Hilton Head sand, sun beating down, book in hand, taking it easy with any number of The Beach Boys' greatest hits floating along the seabreeze to my sunscreen-slathered ears.
And on the rare occasion when I have a Harp, it’s 2am again, shortly after I moved to Columbus, and I’m on a barstool at Mac’s Cafe staring at the business end of a Scotch egg, a Jameson chaser waiting nearby, thinking about how in the hell I’m going to make it home, while Molly, one of my favorite bartenders of all time, starts closing the place down.
I’ve got dozens of them. Bell’s Best Brown and Ann Arbor. Yuengling and my parent’s backyard. Good People C-O-S and Bonnaroo. I can’t comprehend how any of it works. And most of the time I don’t even know it’s happening until I have to snap back into the present moment. The human brain is an astonishing thing.
Neurologists have figured out that there’s a strong connection between the olfactory bulb (the part of the brain responsible for tastes and smells) and the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes memories and develops emotional responses). Now, I don’t necessarily know what all those words mean. To be perfectly honest with you, reader, I copied and pasted most of them from various places on the internet. But I do know what it feels like—it feels pretty rad.
The fact that pouring some fermented barley juice into your mouth hole can make your brain recreate a completely different time and place wherein you poured that same fermented barley juice into your mouth hole is basically magic.
And as far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter if that barley juice comes from a big brewery or a small brewery, a local brewery or a brewery on the other side of the planet. It doesn’t matter if the beer is highly rated or esteemed by brewers and drinkers and experts alike. All that matters is if you’re having a good time while you’re drinking it. And if you are, you’ll always have a little time machine for revisiting it.