Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dandy Warhols -- "Bohemian Like You" (2000)

I really love your hairdo, yeah
I'm glad you like mine, too,
See we're looking pretty cool

Eight or nine years ago, I was walking through the music department at Borders after getting my hair cut when I heard the then-new Dandy Warhols' CD ("Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia") playing on the in-store sound system.

The first song from that CD was great. The second song was great. So I  immediately bought the CD:

If you knew me well, you'd know how out of character this is for me. I rarely respond immediately to new music – I have to hear it several times before it starts to grow on me. Plus I'm kind of cheap. (I don't buy books, I go to the public library. And I don't buy many CDs – I borrow them from my friends and my kids, or I go to the public library.)

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David Allan Coe, a member of the "outlaw" subgenre of country and western music who claims he spent time on death row for killing a fellow prison inmate who demanded oral sex from him, had a big hit with his recording of the Steve Goodman song, "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," in 1974. 

In Coe's recording, he claims that Goodman said he was sending him the perfect country and western song to record. But after reading the lyrics, Coe told Goodman that a song that failed to mention the singer's mother, trains, trucks, prison, and getting drunk could not claim to be the perfect country and western song. 

So Goodman wrote this new verse for the song:

I was drunk the day my momma got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain
But before I could get to the station
In my pickup truck,
She got runned over by a damned old train

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If you were writing the perfect Los Angeles (henceforth, "L.A.") song, what are the analogous key elements that you would just have to mention? 

It's been a few years since I've been to L.A., but I used to travel there frequently, and so I feel qualified to offer my list:

1. An obsession with physical appearance

2. Cars (of course – anyone who grew up listening to the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean and reading
Hot Rod magazine knows that cars are a crucial part of L.A. culture)

3. Wannabe actors/musicians who wait tables (preferably at a restaurant featuring vegan food, or food from an obscure third-world country) while waiting for their big break

4. Romantic/sexual relationships where money or career advancement is the primary motivation for at least one of the parties

By that definition, "Bohemian Like You" is pretty much the perfect L.A. song.

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The lines quoted at the beginning of this post cover the vanity element – in this song, the subject is hairdos. By the way, remember I said I had just gotten a haircut when I heard this CD for the first time? I'm such a creature of habit that I've gone to the same woman for haircuts for about 25 years – if she's booked up when I call, I'll wait a week or two. Before that, I went to her ex-husband for 10 years or so until he went into a different line of work. (They used to have a shop in a small town about 30 miles from where I live – and I would drive there in rush-hour traffic rather than take a chance with someone different.) 

The Dandy Warhols in 2003
And speaking of being a creature of habit, have I told you that I've made myself the same dinner almost every Monday and Tuesday night since 1992?

Here are the lines about cars:

You got a great car
What's wrong with it today?
I used to have one, too

Here's the part about working in a restaurant until your band makes it big:

So what do you do?
Oh yeah, I wait tables, too.
No, I haven't heard your band
Because you guys are pretty new

And last but certainly not least, the mercenary relationship:

Who's that guy just hanging at your pad
He's lookin' kinda of bummed
Oh you broke up that's too bad
I guess it's fair if he always pays the rent
And he doesn't get bent
About sleeping on the couch when I'm there

Raise your hand
if you think you know the gender of the singer and the person he is talking to, boys and girls? Who thinks we have two guys? Who thinks it's two girls? And who votes for one of each? (Don't cheat and watch the music video before you answer.)

It beats the hell out of me. The talk about cars would make you lean toward two guys. That would make it likely that the sexual relationships in the song were gay, but gays (at least according to popular stereotypes) are not into cars like straight L.A. guys would be.

The talk about hairdos would ordinarily make you think we had two chicks here, but this is L.A. we're talking about–- so it could still be two guys, or one of each gender. The fact that the two characters work at a restaurant and are in a band doesn't help us at all.

That leaves the guy just hanging at the pad. Let's apply
Occam's razor. The simplest explanation of our situation is that the singer is a male and the person he is discussing hairdos with is a female – and there's no threesome involving the guy who has to sleep on the couch when the singer (presumably younger and better-looking than the guy on the couch, who is probably only allowed any privileges whatsoever because he pays the rent) spends the night.

So my vote is for a guy and a girl. If you think it's two guys or two girls, I can't say you're wrong. Anything is possible. (The music video agrees with me.)

The Dandy Warhols in 2018
Let's go back to the lines about the guy who pays the rent. He and the woman who is addressed by the singer "broke up" at some earlier time. So it's not surprising that he is banished to the couch when the singer shows up to sleep with the girl. But I get the feeling that he sleeps in the bedroom on other nights – the fact that the two have broken up hasn't changed that. Or maybe he does sleep on the couch all the time (he does pay the rent, so she can't really kick him out altogether) but only "gets bent" when a third party is invited into his former paramour's boudoir.

Forget it, Jake.  It's L.A. – anything's possible.

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By the way, the song never mentions Los Angeles (or Hollywood or Beverly Hills or even the beach). The Dandy Warhols are from Portland, Oregon, so maybe the song's about Portland.

Naaaaaah. It's about L.A. One hundred per cent chance it's about L.A.

A final note. If you don't understand the references to "Bohemian" and "urban Bohemia,"
you can read all about it here. It's a French thing. ("Boho" is short for "Bohemian.")

Click here to watch the official "Bohemian Like You" music video.

And click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

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