Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Aliens (the sequel)
Thanks to everyone for submitting all those great alien lyrics! At first, I thought of announcing that songwriters with serious aspirations to the long-neglected post of Surrealist Poet Laureate (English Language), such as Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Robyn Hitchcock, Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, Björk, Tori Amos, and of course Edith Sitwell and Britney Spears, should be ineligible for this category on the grounds that they are deliberately trying to mess with our minds, whereas the space aliens I’m concerned with actually think they’re talking human talk and mingling among us undetected. But then I realized that having serious aspirations to the long-neglected post of Surrealist Poet Laureate (English Language) is a classic space-alien characteristic, and who am I to exclude certain extraterrestrial life forms from consideration just because I think they’re consciously messing with us?
Then there’s the other “category” problem, the problem of pop. Most of the lyrics you’ve cited come from artists like the Meat Puppets, Soul Coughing, the Fiery Furnaces, Caroliner, Capt. Beefheart—people who are pretty damn unlikely to be getting any radio airplay in this lifetime, if by “radio airplay” we mean “airplay on a radio station of greater than 25 watts.” Don’t get me wrong—I loved finding out about these bands I didn’t know, I loved being reminded about the Captain and the Meat Puppets, and I went around all weekend singing “Brenda’s Iron Sledge,” which I haven’t heard in about 15 years—but it’s quite another thing to be confronted with space oddities like “I Am I Said” or “Levon” in your car radio on heavy rotation. (As for “MacArthur Park,” Colonel M, well, Jimmy Webb also wrote the sublime “Wichita Lineman,” so if he wanted to eat some shrooms and write “As we followed in the dance/ Between the parted pages and were pressed/ In love’s hot, fevered iron/ Like a striped pair of pants,” I suppose he’s entitled.) I don’t want to invoke any arbitrary or essentially-contested criteria here—I just want to point out that it’s a little easier to get away with lyrics like
Flag of health unfurled
a plague of grit given to the world!
Throwing my six cents out of the wind
A shotgun blast from in my pants
An omen I’ll be a bedpan
when you’re in the serious-alternative-to-the-merely-alternative-alternative section of the record store. How much more difficult to slough off your humanoid prostheses in public, as PZ Myers (rightly) says of Michael Jackson.
So far, my faves are Soul Coughing’s “Uh, Zoom Zip” and Caroliner’s “Rainbows Made of Meat,” but really, the competition is intense, and besides, it’s not a competition. Though if it were a competition, Ken Smith would take the palm for best Meta-Meta-Commentary with “I believe that Jeremy Osner’s strange and beautiful apology a few comments back trumps all the song lyrics. He wrote: ‘Sorry, didn’t realize there was no html permitted. Just strip out the tags with your eyes,’” and Osner himself would pick up Honorable Mention for announcing that “‘Jeremy Osner’s Strange and Beautiful Apology’ is going to be the title of my memoir.” But it’s not a competition. In fact, the more I thought about this, the more I realized how very mixed were my motives in announcing this not-competition.
On one hand, I wanted to do something a little different on the site, in the interest of keeping everyone entertained. On the other hand, as I read all this stuff over the weekend, I realized I wasn’t entertaining anybody; on the contrary, you all were entertaining me. Well, yes, of course, not that there’s nothing wrong with that—except that, as one friend pointed out to me yesterday, I did kick this off by putting “Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man” in people’s heads for a couple of days, and there simply had to be some malice involved there, so maybe “Pop Lyrics By Space Aliens” is my very first passive-aggressive post on this humble blog, masquerading as an invitation to entertainment. Sorry about that, everyone. No, wait, I’m not sorry! Or maybe I am. I’m not sure.
Then to make matters still more complex, there’s my vexed relation to all lyrics, which I didn’t tell you about. On one hand (this would be three hands now, but of course you space aliens know what I’m talking about) I love finding out what the lyrics are. “Alvin Tostig,” huh? Thanks, Carrie—I never could make sense of that line from “Levon,” and whaddya know, I went to a baseball game this weekend at which they played “Levon” between innings for no good reason, and for the first time in my life I could sing along with that half-chorus, full-throated, the way I’ve always wanted to. Everyone in section 204 thanks you. But on the other hand (fourth hand), I’m a drummer—you know, the guy who follows the band around and goes to all their gigs. (Followup joke: what’s the last thing the drummer says before he gets kicked out of the band? “Hey guys, maybe we should try playing some of my songs.") I have never bothered to learn all the lyrics in any of the bands I’ve played in; in Baby Opaque, in 1984, I found out what some of the lyrics were when I typed them up for our DIY EP sleeve, and in Nastybake, in 1998, I heard them for the first time in the recording studio—after being in the band almost four years. (I still have no idea what David Terhune’s lyrics were in Normal Men, or Doug Summa’s in The Trollops.) I don’t know whether I speak for all drummers when I say this; I don’t know whether I speak for even three drummers . . . but . . . well, from where we sit, the lyrics don’t really matter. Privately (or at least privately until now), we suspect that they’re all versions of “Collar me, don’t collar me/ I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush.” We know what really matters—just us and the bassist, working away in the engine room to make sure everybody else has a good time. We’ve long suspected that the lead singer was really just saying “Today is her birthday/ They’re smoking cigars/ He’s got a chain of flowers/ And sows a bird in her knickers.” So thanks, everyone, for giving me indisputable proof. I will now spread the word to the rest of the U.S.D.A. (Underappreciated and Spiteful Drummers Association).
And my sincere apologies for not participating in the fun as it was unfolding over the past three or four days. I’ve been having some Serious Computer Trouble, which I’ll explain in another post.