Under the Influence of Luft

I love my new dentist. It's true. I never knew a dental visit could be such a hoot, because, prior to discovering my latest D.D.S., the same person cleaned my teeth for 30 years. And while I still adore her, I couldn't keep seeing her on a professional basis.

Here's the back story: My mother is a dental hygienist. She's been responsible for the maintenance of my pearly whites since I was born. An orthodontist oversaw my excursion through the adolescent hell of braces, but otherwise, it was always Mom. She made sure I brushed and flossed religiously and only let me chew sugarless gum. Consequently, I never developed gum disease or a single cavity.

As I grew older, retaining Mom as my "dentist" became an increasingly strange situation, particularly after I became sexually active. See, my mother uses this insidious trick when she wants to discuss something uncomfortable, like my sex life: She waits till we're someplace where I can't escape. Like a car going 60 mph . . . or the dentist's chair. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, having Mom inquire if I was a "passive" gay while she was poking around my molars definitely left scars. It was all too Sylvia Plath. So when I moved West, beyond her sphere of influence, I never sought out a replacement.

But as I grow older, I'm realizing I can't take my good health for granted. I decided it was time to cough up the requisite greenbacks and make sure everything in my mouth was A-OK, lest I spend my 40s endorsing Poli-Grip.

Several friends all recommended the same D.D.S. Their promises of a practice where the nitrous oxide flowed freely were enticing, but what truly excited me was the news that this particular dentist had personal stereos set up at every station, so patients could listen to a favorite CD while being worked on. And then my boyfriend came up with a kooky idea: Why not review a record while having my teeth cleaned?

As fate would have it, two minutes later a publicist called to ask if I'd listened to Out of the Woods by Swiss electronic producer Seelenluft (Klein Records). I had not. I told him my scheme to listen to an album while under the influence of laughing gas, and he assured me this was the ideal candidate. Of course he did—that's his job. But I decided to go for it anyway. If the CD sucked, I could always blame the bad review on the drugs.

Alas, my initial visit wasn't the pastel-colored dream sequence I'd envisioned. I knew something was amiss when the hygienist came out to greet me; it looked like Central Casting had sent down Amy Sedaris to portray my mother. She didn't offer me gas, and although she did let me listen to Out of the Woods, I never convinced her to turn the volume up high enough to enjoy it. After an hour's worth of diligent but gentle cleaning, she explained that the accumulated tartar buildup (she called it "tenacious," which I liked because it made me sound feisty) was so extensive I'd need to come back for another round. And to get—it embarrasses me just to type this—a cavity filled.

But my follow-up? Wow! A different hygienist led me back and offered me nitrous right off the bat. Yes, please. Then he popped in Out of the Woods, and the office full of whirring drills and pointy metal tools drifted far away. As my adorable red-headed dentist rooted around in the back of my mouth, I realized that, with the big pink dental dam clamped around my gaping maw, I looked like an extra from a Marilyn Manson video. But who cared? I was floating through Seelenluft's jazzy musical landscape, a sunny place full of subdued beats, where a 12-year- old raps about dancing on an airplane ("Manila") and an 83-year-old woman rhapsodizes about show business ("Dancing Grandma"). And afterward when the staff cracked jokes about my suppressed gag reflex, for once I didn't have to stifle the double entendres.

As if I needed further proof that my dentist is superswell: When I disclosed my plans to review the disc I'd just listened to in the chair, he expressed concerns about my judgment being impaired by the nitrous. So I waited till the next day and spun the CD again . . . and it held up magnificently. If you're among the faithful who feel Jimi Tenor went off the rails when he stopped covering Duke Ellington and started composing dissonant orchestral scores, you'll find much to cherish on Woods, from the theramin solo in "Boobsie and Pepsy" to "Echokiller," which comes off like Tom Waits covering "A Night in Tunisia." I plan on bringing Out of the Woods along for my next teeth-cleaning, but on my honor, it's intoxicating even without nitrous oxide.


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