Saturday, July 10, 2010

Faith No More -- "Midlife Crisis" (1992)

You're perfect, yes, it's true
But without me, you're only you
Your menstruating heart
It ain't bleedin' enough for two

It's a midlife crisis . . . 

Music is to me what madeleines were to Proust -- my primary source of involuntary memory (souvenir involontaire).  

To quote Wikipedia, "Involuntary memory is a conception of human memory in which cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. Its binary opposite, voluntary memory, is a deliberate effort to recall the past. The term was coined by French author Marcel Proust. From this philosophical root, involuntary memory has become a part of modern psychology."

Virtually every song I've written about on the blog generates a very particular memory for me. More than once, hearing a certain song on my iPod or on the radio has transported me immediately to a specific time and place, and produced a vivid recall of some personal experience -- even though the incident may have occurred decades ago and I may not remember thinking about it in all the years since it took place.

When Proust's narrator took a bite one day of the small, scallop-shaped cake the French call a madeleine, he remembered for the first time in years a particular childhood memory: "[A] shudder ran through my whole body" as "suddenly the memory returns." For me, I would describe the sensation more like an intense blush, or a "hot flash" instead of a shudder. But I think Marcel and I are on the same page here.

Faith No More's "Midlife Crisis" doesn't produce a particularized memory -- rather, it is the song I most closely associate with a certain phase in my life: my commute-to-Philadelphia years.

I left the only job I had held as an adult in April 1991 when I was not quite 39. A year later, the company I had gone to work for closed its office in the Washington, DC, suburbs and transferred all of us who had worked there to its Philadelphia headquarters. The company provided me with a furnished apartment until I had time buy a house and move my family up there, but that never happened. I stayed in the apartment and went home (a three-hour drive) on weekends -- usually driving down late Friday afternoon and returning to Philadelphia Monday morning.

I ended up doing that for about three years. It was the kind of thing you never consciously decide to do -- what sane person would choose to live this way for three years? -- but inertia takes over and you get into a one-day-at-a-time routine, and what is obviously a very abnormal way to live starts to seem normal.

Most weeks, I spent four nights in my apartment. I usually went to the grocery store immediately after leaving the office on Monday and got enough food to make three dinners, and got a pizza or something on Thursdays. (I've written elsewhere on this blog that I eat the same dinner almost every Monday and Tuesday -- salmon, pasta, and French-style green beans. I developed that menu in Philadelphia almost 20 years ago.)

My job didn't require me to work late, so I had 4-5 hours to kill each of those evenings.  This was the early 1990's, so there was NO INTERNET. That left me with:

-- Cable TV (I had HBO, so I had The Larry Sanders Show to look forward to).

-- The local public library. (According to my reading journal, I read 65 books in 1993, including All the King's Men, several books by Edith Wharton, James Ellroy's L A Confidential and The Black Dahlia, quite a bit of Civil War history, and Sue Grafton from A through I).

-- Running through the nearby Main Line neighborhoods and biking along the Schuykill River and the Manayunk Canal.  I had bought my first real bike in 1992, a Haro Omega hybrid that looked something like this:

-- Listening to CDs (usually purchased used).

-- Certain other solitary activities.

It would have been very nice having an evening or two each week to myself. But four nights alone out of seven was much too much of a good thing. So after three years of this -- when my wife was pregnant with our fourth child -- I finally got my act together and found a job in Washington. I've missed the city of brotherly love it a lot less than I miss Houston and San Francisco, but maybe a little more than I miss Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I could go on and on. Actually, I have gone on and on, haven't I? Let's get back to the music.

The first Faith No More song I remember hearing was "Epic," which I've quoted in another entry on this blog. The CD it was on -- The Real Thing -- was a very good album, with a lot of good songs. I don't think their next CD, Angel Dust, had nearly as much depth, but it did have "Midlife Crisis."

By a happy coincidence, "Midlife Crisis" was released as a single only four days before my 40th birthday -- art imitating my life (or vice versa). Except I don't think my personal midlife crisis started for several years after. I was probably closer to 50 than 40 when it kicked it, but it made up for arriving so late by sticking around for a l-o-o-o-o-n-g time. In fact, it still shows no signs of going away anytime soon.

Every one of the entries on this blog start with a few lines of song lyrics, but I'm not sure the lyrics are really that important. I'm more of a music guy than a lyrics guy. (Half the time, I can't even decipher all the words to a song.) Most rock lyrics are fairly banal or obscure -- most of the guys who write these songs are hardly genuises, and the lyrics to most of them aren't that impressive when you sit down and read them as if they were poetry.

That's certainly true of "Midlife Crisis." It begins with these lines:

Go on and wring my neck
Like when a rag gets wet
A little discipline
For my pet genius

That has an interesting kind of BDSM ring to it, but it's nothing that special. And the next four lines really make no sense at all.

My head is like lettuce
Go on dig your thumbs in
I cannot stop giving in
I'm thirty-something

The bridge is no more meaningful:

Sense of security
Like pockets jingling
Midlife crisis
Suck ingenuity
Down through the family tree

Then we get to the four lines quoted at the beginning of this entry:

You're perfect, yes, it's true
But without me, you're only you
Your menstruating heart
It ain't bleedin' enough for two

Now we're talking. That's real good, isn't it? The second line is simple yet profound, and "menstruating heart" gets your attention.

Unfortunately, the next verse dives right back into Lake Obscurity:

What an inheritance
The salt and the Kleenex
Morbid self attention
Bending my pinky back 

I'm guessing the reference to the salt and the Kleenex (I'd add a registered trademark symbol here if I knew how -- sorry, Kimberly-Clark) is something to do with crying and tears. As for the rest of it, your guess is as good as mine.

But enough of this -- Faith No More is no Patricia Barber, and I'm no Northrop Frye. So let's just turn up the volume and listen.

Here's the official music video -- it's a bit of a mess:

This is a fabulous live performance from 1997. One critic said singer Mike Patton "could be one of the most versatile and talented singers in rock music," and I would change "could be" to "is."  Plus he looks mighty sharp in a suit and tie:

Here's an iTunes link to this song:

Here's an Amazon link:

1 comment:

  1. Great example of Bordin hitting even harder than Dave Grohl. In the thousands of videos I've seen of FNM, no one ever seemed to give a good overhead angle of him when he was really going off. 1992 was even more so IMO. Splinters were shooting out nonstop and he seem to share the spotlight equally with Patton.