Bullied Into Forgiveness
f you are going to be bullied into something, there are far worse things than forgiveness. Being bullied into committing a federal crime or jammed into an ill-fitting pair of American-tan colored slacks comes to mind. This list is the flipside of our other list (Bullied into Submission - gentle reminder to the gentle readers) and where the word “payback” springs to mind. I, Hope Zabriskie, get to point out why Derek’s tastes need an uncomfortable medical procedure, preferably administered by a proctologist, and he gets to do the same to me – metaphorically speaking of course.
In order to keep with continuity - I‘ll offer myself up as the first sacrificial lamb. I’ll make my case to a certain Midwestern judge and jury for both Prince and The Smiths. And feel free to pull me over for some sidebar action since I can be a rather cheeky girl and probably need to be spanked with the taste stick.
Prince ticks several of my boxes – including my most personal one. This guy makes immolation to desire the only path worth taking. He makes music to please no one but himself. He is Stevie Wonder with a cock. He modernized soul music while staying true to its sexual essence. He produced, wrote and played every instrument. A guitar player on par with the best, his voice is a combination of Marvin Gaye, Al Green (before he found the man upstairs) and Aretha Franklin. Siren songs sung in sibilant coos, snarling mewls. What could be a better amalgamation of rock and soul than a guitar that shadows an erection? I will admit, he doesn’t hit it out of the park every time, but when he turns it out – he turns it out to the highest order. I was talking about Prince with my trainer – he doesn’t understand the appeal. Straight men never will. Prince’s combination is one of sexual bravado and unthreatening sensuality. He would draw you a bath borne of equal parts Cristal and Moroccan rose water. After lavishing you clean, he would pleasure you straight back to dirty until rapture-induced blindness leads to blacked out bliss. The uncontrollable reaction to Prince’s sexuality is base. You can’t rationalize it; it is irrational. Think of a magnet pulling women pelvis first – body bent back crescent moon shaped. Men are jealous of both his lov-vah skills and his ability to wear heels.
The Smiths are a different kettle of fish entirely. What you have is two polar opposite forces pushing against each other to create the most perfect lock and key fusion. Morrissey’s torment laid bare, balanced perfectly by Marr’s pins and needles pop sensibilities, turn alchemy into oxygen. It’s why their respective solo stuff blows. However - as stated in the last list – I am firmly a Johnny Marr girl, as opposed to a fey-quiffed Morrissey lad. I think that Morrissey (or as I like to call him – my fading lady) does make a novel musical contribution and his humor, based in ache and accident, runs a finger round my soul. His voice (admittedly an over-articulated nuisance big baby one) is the Esperanto for disenfranchised sad sacks. You know those people – they are the one member of the gang the police catch. Everyone who has the ability to express an emotion without turning it into a Greek tragedy just doesn’t have time for Morrissey and his big girl’s blouse ways. He was the first emo artist, albeit one glued to a Victorian fainting couch as opposed to a strip mall. Oh woe is me! No one understands how brilliant I am! When oh when will someone else not only understand my pain – but worship me for being so in touch with it! But those chaps do need someone to translate their pain into prose. I think we both need to admit we’d rather have someone literarily inclined, with a unique sense of style giving the great unwashed an outlet.
But Morrissey is undeniably a gag-reflex combination of narcissism and insecurity. And Marr is lovely-scented combination of cool and gorgeous. And Derek, you know you’re on my side. You like to think of yourself as a modern man in the true modern mode of the 1920s/30s– a la your homeslice Fitzgerald or your drinking buddy Hemingway (mine’s a Bellini). Sensitive, articulate and firmly masculine – equally comfortable at a bullfight or a gin-soaked croquet tournament. You prefer your solicitous musings served up cleanly taunt; velvet blazer clad - more Nick Drake than Miss Havisham. Not with alabaster dough balls of overly risen melancholia seeping out of a 32” waist. And I do too. Perhaps that’s why we end up doing these lists together.
Prince, “Le Grind”, The Black Album
The fact that Prince himself pulled this album because he thought it was too dark says something. Too dark for Prince? How on earth does that happen? I was expecting all sorts of perversions; things that would make a pro or a pirate blush. But it isn’t dark at all. Yes, the eye of the needle crux is undercarriage – I am pretty sure you could wear your headphones as a belt and still get the intended pheromone-soaked message loud and wet. But dark? No. Sexually explicit? Yes. And since a fair few Americans seems to confuse sex with bad – I can see the method to the petite purple-clad songstress’s madness. All of The Black Album is pretty great, but I chose this song because it is quintessentially Prince: “Is that your boyfriend? I don’t care ‘cause I got moves he’s never seen.” Fucking c’mon! Any guy who has the cajones to roll up and say that – your dress needs to end up in ball at the head of his bed. Followed up with “this funky beat is gonna show you what your hips are made for” – from your mouth to God’s ear honey. All filthy flirt with a bit of rough, bursting at the crotch, seams held together with a mix of sweat, saliva and massage oil. Listen out for the audible plink of g-strings slipping down. Fat knobs of funk; meat-hooked moog slabs slitted-pink sizzle-spurt-pop make pace in sullied dank spots. Concupiscence conflagration defined.
Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U” The Hits / The B-Sides
Probably the best ode to regret song ever. Not many people realize this is Prince, since Sinead O’Connor’s version of it made it so much her own. Only recently released, Prince turns it into a duet with Rosie Gaines and it’s sublime. Gaines’s voice of angel wings brushing against a bruised heart, and Prince graciously allows it to sing out higher and stronger than his. That is a big part of Prince’s appeal - he knows when to be soft, and when to be hard. And he knows how to please his partner.
The Smiths “How Soon Is Now”, Hatful of Hollow, Meat is Murder (US Sire release)
From the opening riff that sounds like a shudder hitting each spinal vertebra, to the luscious irony of the opening verse, this is The Smiths first defining moment. And you know that’s true. Enough said.
The Smiths, “Ask”, The World Won’t Listen, Louder Than Bombs, Rank
I love two things about this song. First is the couplet: “Spending warm summer days indoors. Writing frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg”. It is one my favorite clever chops couplets next to Ben Gibbard’s “You seem so out of context in this gaudy apartment complex” (from “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” by the Postal Service). The second is the fact that Morrissey is being very un-Morrissey like and displaying openness. I get the distinct impression that Mozza, like me, thinks most clearly when he is on his knees. The idea that all his adored has to do is ask him to do something – and that he will for them is the ultimate _expression of love – I’ll do this not because I want to, but because you want me to. Utter joy.
The Smiths, “There Is a Light and It Never Goes Out”, The Queen Is Dead
And this is second moment. This is my most venerated Smiths album – I always wondered if the Queen in the title is Morrissey. Out of their catalogue, this song is what connects folks to them most. Starting with a note that feels like a word caught in a throat, followed up by a throbbing heartbeat, the listener is set up for their inevitable pleading fall. Anxiety brought to palpable life; grief and longing burnished to a chiseled, rapier point by sheer frustration. One’s first wobbling steps towards admitting ardor, choking it back, then throwing your pride whole-mammoth and overarching into the chasm of nostalgia and regret. Your parents don’t understand, and you have that strange schism of being totally enthralled yet paralyzed and petrified your intended. If you could just die together, everything would be okay, because a man’s reach should always exceed his grasp. Or what is heaven for?
The spotlight falls dims on Hope and rises on Derek Miller.
Oh, dearest Hope, what a fool’s errand you’ve embarked upon above, no? I set for myself a far easier task: pointing out to you the folly in your tastes. Or, to get a start on what would be a life-long task, to at the very least show you some beginner’s points for getting into the Beatles and the Radiohead. Bellini? Your forked-tongue is blunted by your tastes, my dear. Our beloved readership had fun with you the last time out. Who can blame them? You made yourself a martyr, my dear girl, at the expense of taste and sacred canons. But, bear with me lass, and I’ll show you just how you can start yourself on the path to musical righteousness, for that is what we are all about here, no?
First up, the Fab Four. My parents always played old Beatles records when I was growing up. The first time I heard them in my adolescence, I felt I could sing along. Still, my real love for the Beatles, as for many of us I would bargain, begins in the first days with a driver’s license, a borrowed parents’ car and a tape deck. Listening to dubbed copies of Abbey Road until they melted on the dash one summer’s day. Playing Magical Mystery Tour in a constant loop through winter’s stale passage. Going around and around the neighborhoods that bind the small Minnesota suburb of my youth and debating their best album, and from there, the album’s most important centerpiece. Their dark undertones were unnoticed; it was the optimistic openness to their psychedelic vistas that caught my ear. It is the beginning of it all for me, not the first music I remember loving and certainly not something that gets in the stereo a tremdendous amount these days, but the start.
Radiohead, one might say, is at the darker corner of the pyramid. As I graduated from college, and slowly shed my love of sixties and seventies pop music—the shaggy vagabond in me--I began to sample new music. I had shut myself off from anything modern for the previous four years, and I looked to the top of the heap from the start. I picked up OK Computer, attracted by the Pink Floyd references and the overwhelming praise. I was unemployed, and truth be told, not really looking. I was waiting. The world began to look a bit shadowy, as parents nagged about a job and I waded through the papers, seeing nothing worth doing and Christ knows nothing worth forty-plus heated hours a week. At that stage in my life, I had no room for the Beatles. They no longer fit with my post-twenty-two framework. Radiohead it was to be, and to varying degrees, that’s true to this day.
It would be foolish of me to list my favorite Beatles or Radiohead songs. That’s a mighty task. Instead, I’m here to discuss five songs that have always stuck out to me as overlooked. In that way, I suppose, they are my favorites. But that’s a changing list. Anyways, Hope, pay close attention here. I’m gonna guide you from your groundhog’s den. This may seem obvious to most of you, but Hope’s gotta be given baby steps.
The Beatles, “Flying”, Magical Mystery Tour
I always thought George Harrison was unproperly elbowed aside as a songwriter/soundsmith by the tag-team of Lennon/McCartney. This track, floating a third of the way into this piecemeal record (one of the band’s post-Dylan-encounter worst, for obvious reasons; nature of the beast; McCartney was at his most treacle with his singles, etc.), is definitive of Harrison’s spiritualist grace, starting with a staunch milk-fed bassline in the left speaker before fading into the right with Harrison’s squinting guitar part. The Beatles’ trademarked choruses hover over its psychedelic groove before ending on a studio-jaded flute just shy of two minutes. Miasma and stilled cotton flaunt its soft edges. You don’t need the force-fed visual cues of the movie to know what “Flying” is good for. If you ever find yourself with a joint that went through the wash, put this track on repeat and close your eyes. Of all the Beatles songs, this one’s title is perhaps the most apt.
The Beatles, “I’m So Tired”, The White Album
If “Flying” doesn’t earn that title, this one does. Lennon is on the nod here, ostensibly fagged out from rotten love but in the end penning one of the best come-down songs ever written (far better than the Stones’ Goat’s Head lark “Coming Down Again”). The song works for whatever’s drained you of marrow, whatever has your nails chewed to the red. Starting with a simple bluesy guitar part, Lennon begins to howl and rage against its simple growth, bedraggled and worn with a love who doesn’t believe a word he offers. Mclusky’s challenge that “If I had to choose a woman, then I think I’d choose religion” springs to mind without reason, perhaps given Lennon’s preference for one over the other. For such simple instrumentation and chord progression, the angst and fury that he imagines stands against reason. As Ringo picks the beat up, that hollowed-out drum work the Beatles perfected in the studio (almost like they played atop warm, moist towels), the track halts against Lennon’s mumbling, with no words to form and no energy to mouth them were they there.
The Beatles, “Savoy Truffle”, The White Album
As you can probably tell by now, I adore the more groove-oriented fragments of the Beatles material, the stuff that sounds like it was altered by the mind before the studio had its say. Not surprisingly, Harrison composed this one as well (I can’t hear this without thinking how much Lennon owed him for the freed-slave rumbling “Ballad of John and Yoko”). One of their great, fractured jams, a bluesy horn section weathered just beyond the mic buries Ringo’s drums. The organ moves to the front to grind against the horn section. Harrison adds his gasoline-smeared guitar to the mix, and everything seems to swell around it. When I was young, this was must-repeat. The studio-enhancement jumbles into a steamy, sweaty froth, and there’s enough going on to have come foul from ten zoo animals and four Neanderthals. This is nasty sex and broken nights. This is an endless array of time-zones and weathers on tape. This is the sound of a band fucking with you, understanding you won’t call their bluff.
Radiohead, “Everything in Its Right Place”, Kid A
Okay, so this one’s obvious, but I include it if only for opening the clarion call of Kid A. As Thom Yorke’s nonsensical phrasings stumble over a steady chorus of chopped vocals and pungent vibes, if you listen closely, you can hear the wind bitching and the world carved into rhythmic plates. Thom fades out and the slow, restful vibes continue, just the way they started, as though you’ve survived the wreckage and the bombast and come out not unscathed but at least breathing. There are unknowable changes now, sliding down your bloodways, slowly tempting you with their tendency towards isolation. The machine is your guide. I’d like to say that its mechanized puppetry is surmountable. What do you think, Hope?
Radiohead, “You and Whose Army?”, Amnesiac
Thom’s ghoulish challenge is inhuman. Much like the doppelganger, death-knell version of “I’m So Tired,” this song is a broken beast dragged into the light and forced into wakefulness, greeted by jeers and smiles and laughter in the dark. Everything is hidden, intangible, disgusting, full of a vigorous need to get the better of you. Yup, paranoia incarnate, you are our carrion bird now. Another of my must-repeats, like much of Radiohead’s best material, it’s mood-dependent. There are times when to hear Thom moan against his own voice, high in the chorus, is to hear yourself birth another world. As the drums kick in against its cavernous bass, a high mountain charge, the sickness in me imagines the song as a skeletal club-hit. The wondrous groove they climb here, and Thom’s piercing wail that drowns it out, are not to be missed, young lady.
Yet I fear that miss it you shall. I’d like to strap you down Clockwork Orange-style, peel back your eyelids, and burden you with these opening salvos. I’d like to think you’ll hear them without presumption someday. Still, we’ve drawn ourselves together here to reject each other out of hand. I won’t warm to Prince or the Smiths any time soon, and I fear the same goes for you and these two loves of mine. Still, we can bear these arguments to their end. I can win yet again, if only by your need to play ‘reactionary’; we can warm ourselves with the realization that, as always now, at day’s end, against our best intentions, perhaps we’ve both been bullied into forgiveness. But, man, you should have seen them both kicking Edgar Allen Poe. . .
By: Hope Zabriskie and Derek Miller
Published on: 2005-03-11
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