Private Life

You can feel sorry for anyone who gets on the bad side of Grace Jones. She seems like someone who suffers no fools, especially the male kind. She’s a goddess who puts weak mortals in their place with one withering glance. And this is the ultimate withering put-down song, taking aim at the specific narcissism found in entertainment types. The types who can’t tell where the spotlight ends, the types who confuse their own mediocre selves with the characters they play for the public. Those are the one who need to get shot down hardest. Who better to do that than a woman who’s rubbed shoulders with the glitziest glitterati from Warhol’s New York to Saint Laurent’s Paris? Of course, to give credit where no one remembers to, the song was actually written by Chrissie Hynde, who has rubbed shoulders with plenty of friends in low places herself. But Grace Jones has walked away with songs belonging to the likes of Piaf; Chrissie Hynde had no choice but to accept second best.

Private Idaho

I think it says everything about The B-52’s aesthetic that they performed on television with duct tape on their instruments (you can see a clear close up of Ricky Wilson’s mended guitar near the end of the video below.) They didn’t mind looking trashy like that because trash was their thing; fright wigs, thrift store dresses, the dregs of 1960’s pop culture. And most important to their success, total joy. They were really a tall cold drink of loopy juice at a time when most bands took their posturing very seriously. Rock star posturing is fun, though! Camp is fun! Wigs are fun! Inspiring edgy movies about male prostitutes with mommy issues is fun! Ok, you lost me at Gus Van Sant, but whatever, it’s all in fun.

The Price You Pay

Here’s another excruciatingly bleak Bruce Springsteen song. Life’s a journey, says Springsteen, using the well-worn metaphor of driving all night. However, Springsteen’s open road isn’t a highway of infinite opportunities, it’s a road paved with regrets and the miles stretching out behind you weigh more heavily than any promise that might lie ahead. No life choice goes unpunished, he seems to be saying. You can run away from your demons or towards them, be good or be bad, but you’re still facing the same dark neverending highway.

Boy, Bruce Springsteen sure needs to lighten up.

Police on My Back

There’s a well known phenomenon in pop culture of glamorizing outlaws and criminals, idolizing people who, in reality, really ought to be locked up and never seen again. This is not that phenomenon. What the Clash are describing is the opposite of that. It’s the condition of living in a society where just the act of surviving puts you at odds with the law, making decent people live in fear while the unscrupulous prosper and thrive. Economic disparity and social inequality in the UK drove the punk movement in the late 70’s, and it resonated particularly strongly in totalitarian Eastern Europe, where just being alive meant police at your back. If that sense of rage and fear seemed to dissipate during an era of relative peace and prosperity, it’s seething right back into place in the unstable times of today. Too bad Joe Strummer didn’t live to see himself become the most relevant voice in rock music again, or thank god he didn’t.

Point Blank

This is what you get when you dig a little bit deeper into Bruce Springsteen. It seems that Springsteen only reluctantly writes the obligatory big loud hits, just to have something on the radio while he works on a very different kind of song. It’s the quiet desperation of the American working class that really interests him. That makes for a contradictory legacy, obviously. I’m curious to pick up a copy of Springsteen’s memoir; how does the superstar see his own path? What’s the trick to consistently selling yourself as a believable dude next door when you’re so far removed from your beginnings? It’s probably not that big of a stretch; all it takes is some observational skills and a sense of empathy to see that the world is full of people whose lives didn’t take the turn they wanted. For Bruce Springsteen, the contrast between his own success and the relative failure of the people he grew up with is a source of pain. He is not one of those stars who immediately uses the position of their stardom to isolate themselves from reality. Not being a drug user might have something to do with it, as well as a family history of mental illness, but he’s more clear eyed about the American condition than most of his peers, and he very emphatically isn’t enamored with the glamour he’s exposed to as a celebrity. It does seem that the reason Springsteen has been able to pull off his common man persona is that he genuinely doesn’t see himself as being all that far removed from his beginnings after all.

Party Out of Bounds

Would you mind that terribly much if The B-52’s crashed your kegger? They seem fun, though Fred Schneider seems like the kind of guy who would make you feel bad about your record/book collection. They also make a crashed party sound like fairly innocent fun, because pretending that everything’s the 50’s is their thing. Nothing bad could ever happen in the tacky glow of The B-52’s retro world. It’s all wigs and martinis and camp.

The Overload

“The Overload,” was Talking Heads’ attempt to emulate the sound of British post-punk band Joy Division. The song was made despite no band member having heard the music of Joy Division; rather, it was based on an idea of what the British quartet might sound like based on descriptions in the music press. The track features “tribal-cum-industrial” beats created primarily by Harrison and Byrne. (from Wikipedia) 

I think that just might be single best high-concept concept was ever conceptualized. Because this is pretty spot-on, and it’s clear that the Talking Heads had stumbled upon, at the very least, an excellent parlour game. In fact, I’m pretty sure that ‘an idea of what Joy Division might sound like based on descriptions in the press’ has become a legit genre. The world having come full circle, we now have an entire genre of ‘bands who’ve based their entire sound and image on written descriptions of 80’s new wave music’.