I’m an absolute sucker for songs about pets. Forget love songs about humans; human loves do nothing but let you down. Animals will never let you down. Every animal companion deserves to be immortalized in song. If that was the case, the world of music would be a lot cuter. Few groups injected as much undiluted silliness into the music world as The B-52’s, so it’s no surprise that they’re also responsible for one of the greatest all-time dog songs. I have no idea if Quiche La Poodle was a real dog or not, but I’d like to imagine so. A miniature poodle dyed neon colors sounds like a very Fred Schneider thing to have. Or maybe I’m mistaken and he secretly has very refined and somber tastes in real life, in which case it would be just a regular colored poodle. Anyhow, Quiche La Poodle is a great character, real or not. She should be in a children’s book. Then we’d finally find out what happened to her. Which, if you haven’t listened to the song very closely though, I have to break to you: in the second half, Quiche escapes and runs away and we never get to find out if she ever comes back. So it’s actually kind of more of a metaphor for a human relationship, from the delight of being in love to the resentment of being left alone. Some people do invest those kinds of feelings onto their pets, though, and some people, conversely, treat their loved ones like animals, so it works either way. And either way it’s hilarious.
Here’s a rare live Black Uhuru performance. Not dated, but appears to be sometime in the early 80’s, probably near the release of Sinsemilla. That album is one of Black Uhuru’s finest and an absolute must-have for Reggae fans. Or, really, just an across-the-board classic beyond the confines of genre. Reggae often gets shafted as some kind of ‘special interest’ music, either targeted to stoners or lost under the broad ‘world music’ umbrella. I’ve always tried to promote Reggae for its political relevance, rather than its better known fun side, and Black Uhuru has always been my prime example. Their music is undeniably fun, but the social consciousness of their writing is their real strength. What do they want you to push til you push it over? The racist slave-economy capitalist system of oppression, of course, though they wouldn’t phrase it quite that dry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.