Somebody Got Murdered

You know that something has failed in the world when songs written in 1980 resound exactly the same as they did back then. You’re supposed to look back on pop culture from 39 years ago like transmissions from an alien planet. And, of course, most of the cultural dreck from the 1980’s does look and sound weird and exotic. Except, ironically, the most politically charged material. If you didn’t know that The Clash were a band that flourished between the years of 1976 and 1986, you would think they were a fresh batch of angry kids agitating about the instability of the world. (Complete with a shoutout about the dangers of “Kissing the microchip circuits.”) It appears that the fashion trends of indolent teenagers change a lot more over the course of time than basic institutional problems like violence and inequality.

Solid Rock

I miss old-school guitar rock culture. It was a simpler time when the main arbiter of quality and relevance was whether or not something ‘rocked’. Okay, that’s actually a pretty one-dimensional means of measuring quality, and let’s not ignore the fact that guitar rock culture was mostly the mindless lionizing of mediocre white dudes’ pretensions. But let’s not throw out the baby, as they say. The simple pleasure of rocking out has become undervalued. How have we come to this? Is it purely reactionary? We may be tired of elevating guitar players to god-like status, but there’s no reason not to go on elevating the music. Rocking is, after all, the cornerstone of all popular music, no matter how far it has strayed from 12-bar blues. And it will, like all things, come around again.

Smiles

What is up with Americans and their compulsive habit of making appeasing grimaces at one another? They’re like a troop of stressed-out Chimpanzees. Well, at least Lou Reed is a man after my own heart. You don’t see him walking around catching flies in his grill. He’s a real wipe-than-grin-off-your-face kind of a guy. And I know that he’s a Long Island boy, but I think he just telescoped through space-time and arrived at the heart of the Russian soul. Genetic memory of ancient Jewish ancestors scowling away in the pale of settlement? Because when the world wants to kill you, you don’t walk around signalling how friendly and non-threatening you are. Fuck smiling, it’s for weaklings.

Skateaway

Dire Straits made some great videos, and this one is an underrated gem. It really takes you back to 1980, and not in a bad-nostalgia way. The aesthetics could not be cooler, and the message couldn’t be either. It makes you look at dated technology – roller skates and Walkman cassette players – and remember how those things used to represent the greatest freedom. You could skate through life with music playing in your ears, escape the ordinary, become who you wanted to be. Damn, that’s what it meant to be cool. Kids these days will never know how game changing it was to have your own music in your pocket.

Sinsemilla

If you’re asking yourself what sinsemilla is, you’ve got no business listening to Reggae music and you should go back to whatever suburb of Salt Lake City you came from. Sinsemilla is a strain of cannabis cultivated in a very specific way so as to result in particularly potent psychoactive properties. So he’s got some really good shit growing in his backyard, is what it’s saying. You really can’t separate Reggae culture from drug culture, although the drug culture we American live with doesn’t have the religious component. Which is unfortunate, as it seems like we’re really missing out on an opportunity to commune with God, while the Rasta get to elevate themselves spiritually as the elevate themselves chemically. Honestly, American marijuana culture is just another primo example of white people ruining everything, which is why I like to stay far away from it and from white dudes who wear Peruvian knits. I take my Reggae straight, or drunk, as it were, but I don’t get high much. It ain’t my culture.

She’s So Cold

This was one of the Rolling Stones’ last big hits, and you can definitely feel them teetering on the edge of self-parody. In the video you  can see them tumble right over. It’s right there in the sweet spot, if you can call it that, between effortlessly funky and mindlessly childish. Rumor has it that Mick Jagger composed this ode to non-reciprocated lust about his ex-wife Bianca, to whom he stayed married for seven years despite neither one showing any signs of liking each other very much. It’s certainly unlikely that Jagger would have much experience of being frozen out by stand-offish women unless those women had already been burnt out by years and years of his bullshit. Either way, it’s deeply silly, and as far as songs about mindless lust go, pretty harmless. If the worst thing you ex-husband can think to say about you is that you’re “goddamn cold” you’re getting off pretty lightly. 

Sherry Darling

Bruce Springsteen sings a lot of depressing songs about people with bleak, tainted lives. He’s kind of a downer that way. But not all the time! Even the bard of the American heartland needs to cut loose and get silly sometimes. Just play an upbeat, happy love song about drinking and cruising. Never mind that there’s also a nagging mother-in-law who always needs a ride to the unemployment office. It gives the whole summer romance thing a bit of a context, and as usual, it ain’t too cheery, but just once, let’s play it for laughs. Now there’s the sense of showmanship that put Bruce in a one-man show on Broadway in his dotage.