Show of hands, who still remembers what Morse code is? It’s that cool beeping noise that WWII movies use to underscore tension when something exciting and/or scientific is going on. Right? Right. So Bryan Ferry made an excellent production choice in using that sound effect to literalize a song about loneliness and longing. He’s like a ship at sea, you see. He needs a hero to save him from drowning in his ocean of solitude. It’s basically just a booty call, but the SOS makes it sound serious and important. And sophisticated. But you know what? Booty calls deserve to be dignified. There’s not much heavy lifting we can do for another person, in terms of rescuing them from themselves, but we can at least occasionally rescue them from being alone and horny.
Did some do-gooding NGO pay Black Uhuru to write a PSA to teach at-risk youth about the dangers of crack? Because don’t let the innocuous name of the song fool you, this is a song about the dangers of crack. Coming out in 1990, it was very politically relevant, if you’ll recall the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s, and those eye-catching D.A.R.E. (to keep kids off drugs!) shirts that washed up in every thrift store in the 90’s. It was an epidemic, apparently, because for complicated socio-economic reasons crack cocaine was somehow considered different from the regular kind. Basically, cocaine was a popular party treat amongst the wealthy and glamorous for decades, but when low-income type people started getting their hands on it, it was suddenly air quote an epidemic air quote. It was aslo a real problem, though, seriously. Because unlike the wealthy and glamorous, low income type people can’t just trot off to rehab or purchase a cleansing blood transfusion or send their children away to boarding school for safekeeping or just not work or do anything productive for months on end while they’re on a binge. But they still want to enjoy the mind-numbing pleasures of blow, or heroin, or whatever intoxicant is trending. It’s the exact same thing that’s happening now with the opiod epidemic. The crack epidemic waned away as the economy went into an upswing in the 1990’s. Right now the opposite is happening and a lot of people see no better future for themselves than quietly dying of an overdose. We all know that the “Drugs are bad, mmmkay?” approach is no deterrent at all. We all know that fucking t-shirts don’t help, and singing songs about it doesn’t help much either, no offense to everyone who wrote songs about it. Thumbs up for all the good intentions, though.
The internet hive mind has rarely produced anything as brilliant as turning Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand into a Dr. Seuss book. Mashups are usually bad, stupid, the wishful fruit of deranged fans trying to fit disparate interests into one box. But it turns out that Nick Cave was born to write children’s books, though he may not yet know it himself. His narratives may be of a kind with the Brothers Grimm, ominous and filled with bloody reminders of just how dark and full of terrors the human soul can be. His lively wordplay and frequent references to bunnies would readily appeal to young Little Golden Book readers, provided they’re the sort of children who rarely leave the attic. Cave lifted the inspiration for this particular meditation on the nature of God from Dante’s Inferno. In that reference the red right hand is the vengeful hand of an angry God, but could just as easily be the calling card of a villain who would be right at home in anything from a Victorian morality novel, to a pulp detective story, to any number of slasher movies, to a neo-noir comic book. Or, quite naturally, a Dr. Seuss book. Dr. Seuss, for his part, started his career as a political cartoonist, and an undercurrent of allegory and political commentary was always right underneath those ice-cream colored squiggles of his. If you’ve seen his WWII era work, you’ll recognize exactly where Yertle the Turtle came from. Those Sneetches marching around with and without yellow stars on their bellies weren’t a coincidence either. Seuss never went so far as to illustrate Dante, but maybe he should have, and he certainly could have, and it’s our loss that he didn’t. Here and now, though, I’m wondering if there’s a crowdfund for the artist who goes by Dr. Faustus to go ahead and create The Little Golden Treasury of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Because if that was a thing, and if I had a child, I would buy that thing for my child.
Kurt Cobain: your favorite male feminist and mine. During his short tenure as the voice of his generation Kurt Cobain could not have been a better role model (aside from the whole heroin thing.) Like any good messiah, he denied that he was the voice of anyone, which of course cemented him in that role even more. But he used his platform to speak about his frustration at the deep sexism within the music industry, and all across the board. He hated the machismo and aggression in the underground punk scene he started out in, and soon found that the mainstream industry wasn’t any better. He was an early supporter of the Riot Grrrl movement; in The Punk Singer he gets a shout-out from Kathleen Hanna for being the only friend who believed and helped her after a sexual assault. I remember a few things about the early 90’s and one of them is the lively debate then going on about whether date rape is a legitimate thing or just another example of feminist hysteria. (We’ve since reached a general consensus that it’s most definitely a real thing, and it’s mostly considered pretty much illegal nowadays.) I also recall some hand-wringing and controversy as higher learning institutions started to implement campus anti-sexual assault policies; there was some deep concern that the awkwardness and effort of procuring a partner’s verbal consent would leech all of the fun and spontaneity out of sex. This particular lively debate has cycled back around along with tartan skirts and Doc Martens; we’re still collectively unclear on the concept of consent. All things considered, I would say that 90’s kids are lucky that the voice of their generation was a man who loudly, angrily and publicly proclaimed that rape is a shitty thing that needs to be talked about and took a stand of solidarity with victims and declared himself a proud feminist. Ironically, or perhaps not, he also felt used and violated in his role as a public figure to such a degree that he was unable to go on living. It’s unfortunate that sometimes the best role models are the people least suited to that role.
Novelty acid house, anyone? I must be an eternal 12 year old, because I find it hilarious. You may easily guess that it’s not about the joys of pet ownership, and you will be correct. Subtle nuance is not what Lords of Acid are about. They’re about whatever shock value can be gleaned from a woman rapping about her vagina. It’s really not that much shock value, even. Maybe in 1997 it was far more titillating. It’s not trying to be particularly clever, either. That doesn’t make me enjoy any less. It’s naughty and fun, obviously and there’s just something irrepressible about a sustained sex joke, especially when delivered with such matter-of-fact conviction. It’s also gay af, which is always a plus. The world needs more songs celebrating ladies who love ladies, and not just the whiny Birkenstock types.
Like a lot of people, this was my first Ween song. Of course, I was a good full decade late to the party, because my initiation occurred sometime in the mid-2000’s, while older generations got to enjoy the weirdness way back in 1992. In fact, now that I think about it, Flies On My Dick might have actually been my first Ween song. But, you know, same album, same difference. For a lot of people, though, this was their first Ween song. It became Ween’s “big” “breakout” “hit” after being featured on an episode of Beavis and Butthead, who, apparently, played the tastemaking role of Ed Sullivan for early 90’s MTV fans. As with the inception of American Beatlemania, an entire generation remembers that indelible moment in music and television history. Or not. But it was momentous enough to ensure that Ween would never have to make tapes in their basement again, unless they felt like it. Beavis and Butthead’s original verdict was “These guys have no future.” Beavis and Butthead were wrong.
I didn’t know that Nada Surf had any other good songs besides the one, you know, the popular one. But this one is really addictive, too. And the whole album is actually pretty good. And apparently they’ve recorded like ten albums and they’re still together and are still touring. All of which I didn’t know, because the box labeled “Mid-90’s One Hit Wonders” isn’t one that I care to peek into very often. Time to learn more, I guess. Maybe I can fill in some of the gaping holes in my musical knowledge that are the 90’s.