Sunday, September 9, 2012

B-52's -- "Rock Lobster" (1979)

We were at the beach
Everybody had matching towels!

As previously noted, “Rock Lobster” was the first single the B-52's released from their eponymous (love that word!) debut album, and it was a big favorite of mine and my good friend and Federal Trade Commission officemate, Scott.  Click here to read about another song from this album and to learn more about how we got away with playing the B-52's all day when we were supposed to be working.
In the summer of 1979, Scott and I were assigned a college-student intern.  Mark was from Vermont, and he was a very affable guy.  (I Googled him today, and it looks like he is a portfolio manager for a large mutual fund firm.)

Mark loved “Rock Lobster,” as did I.  He was especially fond of the lines quoted above.

To the extent that "Rock Lobster" is “about” anything, it's about a teenage beach party circa 1965 – think Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, et al. – that was threatened by a variety of scary sea creatures (including giant clams, sting rays, jellyfish, piranhas, and narwhals).

The beach party got off to a good start:

Everybody's rockin'
Everybody's fruggin'
Twistin' 'round the fire
Havin' fun
Bakin' potatoes
Bakin' in the sun
Put on your nose guard . . .
Pass the tanning butter!

Nose guard
The lyrics say everybody was frugging, but I'm guessing they were doing the swim  as well:

The first sign of trouble was when a scuba diver failed to surface:

His air hose broke
Lots of trouble
Lots of bubbles
He was in a jam
Was in a giant clam!

In the cartoons I watched as a kid, deep-sea divers were always getting swallowed up by giant clams – I’m not sure how often that happens in real life.

Things go from bad to worse after that:

Here comes a stingray
There goes a manta ray
In walked a jellyfish
There goes a dogfish
Chased by a catfish
In flew a sea robin
Watch out for that piranha!
There goes a narwhal
Here comes a bikini whale

You've never heard of a bikini whale?  Here's a picture of one:

Here’s a picture of a sea robin, which is a very weird-looking fish:

The narwhal is one of the oddest animals there is.  It’s a whale with a tusk – really a tooth (a left canine) – that is usually five to ten feet in length.  (The narwhal’s body is only about twice as long as the tusk). 

The tusk is rarely used for fighting, or to break sea ice.  It seems to be primarily a secondary sexual characteristic (like a peacock’s tailfeathers), but also may help determine social rank among bulls (male narwhals) in narwhal communities.  In other words, it serves the same role for narwhals as expensive foreign cars and trophy wives do for men.

The narwhal lives exclusively in the Arctic Ocean.  So those California kids at the beach party in “Rock Lobster” didn’t really see one.

I was reminded of "Rock Lobster" recently when I rode the bike trail that goes from the Cape Cod National Seashore visitor center to Coast Guard Beach.

The beachgoers were bakin' in the sun that day -- you could smell the tanning butter -- but no one seemed to be fruggin', and I didn't see any matching towels.

Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod
The signboard at the beach was welcoming, but I wondered why the tip of the day was "Stay close to shore."

Then I saw this sign, which provided the explanation for the "Stay close to shore" tip:

I've never run into a shark at the beach.  But I've had several scary encounters with bikini whales.

One final note on the B-52’s.  The band’s name refers to their beehive hairdos.

"Beehive" is used to describe that kind of hair style not only because it resembles a bee's nest, but also because it resembles the nose cone of the American B-52 bomber.

Here’s “Rock Lobster”:

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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