Everyone knows Tom Jones’ hit She’s a Lady. This is not that song, because that song sucks. This is Pulp, juicily riffing on another overripe dancefloor hit, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. Gaynor’s song has improbably shorn off disco’s smell of sweat and stale cocaine to become an evergreen anthem of empowerment. So of course the one thing it needed was to reimagined as the hormonal ramblings of a neurotic English twit. Jarvis Cocker was a leading voice of 1994’s Cool Britannia pack, and he managed to make his perverse and neurotic persona look very charming and attractive, probably because he looked so good in stovepipe trousers. It’s magical how you can practically hear the flop sweat and shaking hands, but you still want to follow him back to his bedsit. Hey, not everyone can make pop poetry out of bad sex and morning-after regret. What’s Brit-speak for “Oh, you irresistible proto-fuckboy”?
Every time I do a series about some important issues (like sex) there’s always a Lords of Acid song, and it never ever says anything. None of their songs say anything! Except to espouse an orgiastic lifestyle of kinky sex and psychotropic drugs. If you want music that transports you to a sweaty underworld of dancing in bunkers and snorting ecstasy until your eyes bleed, Praga Khan is your man. It’s hard to have deep thoughts when your synapses are firing in tune with the strobe lights, but if you can gather your wits about you, you could argue that there’s something subversive and liberating in this kind of unapologetic hedonism. Hedonism has been espoused by various libertines as a path to personal liberation on-and-off for centuries. Sometimes it’s been in framed in idealistic, utopian language, as it was in the 1960’s, and sometimes it’s just a nihilistic pursuit of gratification. The rise and fall of hedonistic subcultures doesn’t appear to have always reflected the social progress of the broader culture, though the hedonists have liked to think of themselves as trailblazers. Sometimes too much self-indulgent hedonism, or the appearance thereof, has rubbed people the wrong way, leading to political coups and heads being guillotined. Sometimes the hedonistic subcultures have slowly marched their way into wide social acceptance, as we’ve seen the LGBT-rights movement do. But mostly hedonism is accepted as a phase that people go through when they’re young and don’t need very much sleep. Taking drugs, losing all your inhibitions, living out your naughtiest fantasies, trying to bang out some sense of yourself out on the dance floor – if it doesn’t kill you, it’s a healthy growing experience.
Blues. No matter how much or how little the music industry kowtows to its influence, or how much or how little recognition blues musicians get, blues is still at its best when it sounds as if it’s coming from inside of a dingy cavern. It’s music for backyards and kitchens, basement studios, parking lot barbecues, and roadside fruit stands. Because that’s where the music came from. The best blues should sound homemade. If it sounds like someone spent a hundred thousand dollars on bespoke guitar pedals, the soul is gone. R.L. Burnside was one of the last real blues practitioners, and even though at the end of his life he had access to fancy studios, and wasn’t above having fun with remixes, he spent enough years playing in dirt fields and parking lots to still have that seen-the-bottom sound.
I am in no way nostalgic for the cultural landscape of 1994, but I understand that some of you may be. This should take you there. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that Weezer is one of those groups that never outlived their legacy as a 90’s band. I know they still make records and such, but nobody thinks they’ve been consistently relevant for all these years. Or, I don’t know, maybe the aging hipsters of my childhood still do think that. I mean, I only listen to this band for the hits. I can say, though, that there’s definitely a generational divide between me, who was 11 years old in 1994, and older kids who actually grew up wearing flannel and have serious debates about which album reduntantly titled Weezer is the most important one.
Throwback to 1994, when David Byrne proved that you could totally grow out your hair as a middle aged man and still be impeccably cool (but only if you are David Byrne.) That was a good year and a good look for David Byrne and incidentally David Byrne is probably my favorite solo David Byrne album. (I’m excited for his new album but haven’t listened to it yet because iTunes is bullshit and the Pirate Bay is down again.) This song is actually not very sad, but it celebrates sadness. It is saying you should love and celebrate you sadness because it’s a natural part of life, which is a comforting thought, clinical depression aside.
“Don’t believe the florist when he tells you that the roses are free”
I want to print these lyrics and hang them in every grey cubicle in every office, for the edification of everyone who needs a little uplift to get through the day. What could be more motivational? All it needs is a picture of a kitten in a tree. Ok, maybe the twisted humor of Ween is not for everybody. For some people it might just be the worst shit they’ve ever heard. For others, it’s music that speaks directly to their own weird souls. There’s not a lot of in-between; you’re either an acolyte of Boognish or you can’t press the stop button fast enough. For acolytes, however, Ween really are an inspiration. They’re two homely dudes who started out as teenagers making tapes in their basements and bedrooms, and somehow their mutual weirdness and in-jokes reached out and touched – in pre-internet times! – an awful lot of people who recognized them as kindred eccentrics, and they’ve maintained that connection over decades. Obviously being wildly gifted and able to play any kind of music helped them along, but you know, a lot of people are wildly gifted in the technical sense but still don’t have anything to say, and it’s a much higher calling to be eccentric in a way that touches people’s hearts.
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.