April 11th, 2002


Songs of Mystery

People have told me that I take song lyrics too seriously. To some people, listening to the lyrics at all is taking them too seriously. But there are a few songs that have been rattling around in my head for years because I’ve never been able to come to grips with a line or two. I hear the song and I start carrying on a conversation with the singer, sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud. These songs do it to me every time.

I’m not talking about ideological differences. There’d be no end to that. For example Bikini Kill’s wince-inducing lyric in an otherwise great song, "Eat meat / Hate Blacks / Beat your fucking wife / It’s all the same thing" can be responded to with a simple, "Uh, no. It’s not."

It’s more the wondering what was on the singer’s mind when he/she decided to sing a given lyric. Was it a last minute studio re-write that made sense at the time? Did the band/singer just not understand the implications? Did it just fit the rhyme scheme better? We’ll probably never know.

The first one is old, I’ll admit. But I heard it recently on an old mix tape and was astounded again by the mystery of it. Now no one would ever say that Youth Brigade had super-intelligent lyrics. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect consistency with a band’s theme song. In "Sink with California", the chorus is "We’ll sink with California / when it falls into the sea" but all the lyrics are about the kids uniting and ending nationalism and all that good stuff. I suppose it could be interpreted as loving your hometown is cool, but not at the expense of others (or something like that), except for the line "I’d say California / It means nothing to me / I despise territoriality". So why the hell would you sink with it?

It just seems like the ultimate in having it both ways. Hell, at the show people probably can only make out the chorus anyway, so in California you’re a hero-separatist while at out of town shows you can point to your lyric sheet. Maybe the chorus was so catchy that it didn’t matter that it didn’t match the rest of the song. Or maybe the world just needs to be more like California. The kids everywhere should just unite as Southern Californians (recalling the fabulous Culturcide cover of "California Girls" renamed "California Punks", an indictment of MRR and early ‘80s generic hardcore. "If you think this is anarchy / It probably wouldn’t bother you / That the bands in Outer Mongolia sound just like the bands in Timbuktu / I wish they all could be California punks")

But let’s stop kicking dogs too old to fight back. I love The Coup. I even love the song "The Coup" about a hypothetical urban rebellion in Oakland. But again, I think one is entitled to take a band’s major theme song pretty seriously. I even love the following stanza even though it’s a funny message. "The liquor stores are open / But they’re not selling pale ale / Motherfuckers sellin’ Molotov cocktails".

Now OK, it fits the rhyme scheme really well. But "selling" Molotov cocktails? Where’s the vision for a post-revolutionary society if the liquor stores are selling the Molotov cocktails? I can’t decide if this is in favor of a say, modern Chinese-style communism which encourages capitalism on a certain scale, or if it’s Marxist sarcasm in a capitalists-selling-the rope-for-the-nooses-that-will-hang-them kind of way.

2pac, in a song still played every day on KMEL, "How Do U Want It" sings* the very interesting line, "I’ll even be a freak / and let you get on top of me". Whoa 2Pac! Don’t get crazy now!

Are we really supposed to think that the freakiest thing 2Pac can think of sexually is heterosexual, non-missionary position sex? Oh please. Even Digital Underground could come up with "whip cream and cherries" and that was in 1989. What is this song really covering up? That’s the intriguing question. Especially when combined with that weird leather outfit he’s wearing on the cover and inner sleeve pictures.

(To be continued. Your suggestions welcome.)

*I will continue to refer to 2Pac in the present tense until he stops releasing albums.
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