Thursday, May 20, 2010

Urban Verbs -- "Next Question" (1980)

I'm faced with 
The next question
Is this love
Or just a feeling?

For some reason, I always associate the Urban Verbs -- yet another band whose music I first heard on the "Mystic Eyes" radio program in 1980 -- with the Talking Heads.  I'm not sure why, except for the fact that the Taking Heads' drummer, Chris Frantz, was the brother of the Urban Verbs' lead singer, Roddy Frantz.  Both were beloved by most critics, but the bands really couldn't have been more different in attitude.  The Urban Verbs were unhappy, full of angst -- some might say they were whiny and their music was depressing -- while the Talking Heads were quirky and offbeat and funny, and usually had their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks.

The Urban Verbs didn't last long.  Their debut album -- or their eponymous debut album (that's a word you pretty much only use when you're talking about debut albums) -- was released in 1980.  Its tracks included "The Angry Young Men" ("Oh no, the end is at hand"), "Subways" ("Down here I don't have to say anything/I just sit and look out the window"), "Tina Grey" ("Tina's put her fist through the glass" because "she doesn't want a baby"), and "The Good Life" ("I wouldn't take a piss on your good life") -- I warned you their music was depressing.  They put out a second LP the next year, and then broke up in 1982.  Sic transit gloria.

"Next Question" is my favorite Urban Verbs song.  It's about a couple who may or may not be in love, but the singer is willing to assume, arguendo, that they are in love.  His question is  

If this is love, how will it change us?
Make us move just a little bit closer
Or will you call me every evening? . . .
What do you want?
Why don't you show me?
Hold hands in public?
But then we'd look like we're married

Poor guy -- so confused.

This song reminds me of something A. J. Byatt wrote in her novel, Possession, about modern young intellectuals:  "They were children of a time and culture that mistrusted love, 'in love,' romantic love, romance in toto, and which nevertheless in revenge proliferated sexual language, linguistic sexuality, analysis, dissection, deconstruction, exposure."

In Elvis Costello's "Mystery Dance," the singer is the male member of a young, inexperienced, Romeo-and-Juliet-like couple:

Well, I remember when the lights went out
And I was tryin' to make it look like it was never in doubt
She thought that I knew, and I thought that she knew
So both of us were willing, but we didn't know how to do it

Byatt's overeducated post-docs have just the opposite problem.  They know exactly how to do it,  but aren't quite sure if they want to do it or would prefer to just talk about doing it or better yet write an article for a scholarly journal exploring the biological, psychological, sociological, anthropological, philosophical, or literary implications of doing it.

The narrator of "Next Question" is like Byatt's grad students -- he talks too much and thinks too much.  He's trying to write a script for his life rather than just letting it happen.  You really want to grab him by the shoulders and give him a good shaking.

Here's a Youtube video featuring a live version of "Next Question":

If you'd like to buy the song, here's a link:

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