Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Warrant -- "Cherry Pie" (1990)

Swingin' on the front porch
Swingin' on the lawn
Swingin' where we want
'Cause there ain't nobody home
Swingin' to the left
And swingin' to the right
If I think about baseball
I'll swing all night!

2 or 3 lines is a woefully lacking when it comes to hair metal content.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I was inspired to write about this song by a chance comment from a work friend, who mentioned recently that Jani Lane -- Warrant's lead singer -- had just died.

John Belushi overdosed in one of the bungalows at the Chateau Marmont hotel, a celebrity hangout on Sunset Boulevard whose guests have included Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S. Thompson, and Lindsay Lohan.

Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend while they were staying at the Chelsea Hotel, a New York City hotel that has hosted Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac (he wrote On The Road there), Stanley Kubrick, Joni Mitchell, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Dylan Thomas (who died there).

Lane in 2011
By contrast, poor Jani Lane breathed his last (at age 47) at the Comfort Inn on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, California.  You can get a room there for $94.99 a night -- not bad for a hotel that may be in a really crappy area but does have a Denny's on the premises.

When my friend mentioned Lane's death, I concealed the fact that I had only the vaguest notion who Warrant was.  (By the way, Lane's real name was John Kennedy Oswald.  Let me know if you can think of any excuse for parents to do that to an innocent child, because I sure can't.) 

I can't say this song rings any bells, although it was a top 10 single and the first track on the band's eponymous double-platinum album.  I guess I was too busy listening to Jane's Addiction and Fine Young Cannibals and Inspiral Carpets in 1990.

I don't know for sure how old my friend is, but my guess would have put her in her early twenties when Warrant was popular.  It turns out she must be a lot younger than I thought, because I don't see how anyone older than 12 or 13 could have liked this song.

I like a good double entendre as much as the next guy.  This song has plenty of double entendres, just not any good ones.

You younger readers may wonder what that "think about baseball" reference in the lyrics quoted above means.  Guys were supposed to think about Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays as they approached a "certain moment" . . . so as to delay that "certain moment" . . . hopefully until after the girl's "certain moment" arrived.

Willie and the Mick
Warrant had completed recording their second album when their record company told them they wanted one more song -- preferably a rock "anthem" that would make people want to sing along to it and also buy the record.  The story goes that Lane wrote "Cherry Pie" in 15 minutes. 

What took you so long, Jani?

Nancy Gribble
Here's a great piece of trivia about "Cherry Pie": it's the ringtone of Dale Gribble's cheating wife Nancy on King of the Hill.

The comments about "Cherry Pie" on http://www.songfacts.com/ are hilarious.  Most of the commenters debate whether Warrant or Nirvana were the better band.  The Warrant fans find Nirvana depressing -- one commenter says "I'd much rather hear a song and watch a video about a sexy girl than listen to Kurt Cobain whine and complain about how much his life sucks."

Others say that "Cherry Pie" was so bad that it is responsible for the success of Seattle grunge music.  One commenter opines that Warrant represents "the nadir of hair metal -- the low point of the most popular type of rock in the late 80's -- a sign that a change had to come. It couldn't go any lower after them."

The video is so sexist that the Canadian equivalent of MTV refused to air it. (Canada is an extremely politically correct country, but you'd have to have the sensibility of a Larry Flynt not to find this video a little over the top.)

The hot blonde in the video is Bobbie Brown, a successful beauty pageant contestant and Star Search winner who also appeared in Great White's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" video (a personal favorite of 2 or 3 lines) and three episodes of Married With Children.

Jani Lane and Bobbie Brown
Obviously, sparks flew during the filming of the "Cherry Pie" video because Brown dumped her boyfriend and married Jani Lane.  They got divorced a few years later. 

Since then, Brown has dated several other rock stars, including the legendary Mötley Crüe drummer, Tommy Lee.  I wonder if he's ever had to think about baseball?

Here's the "Cherry Pie" video:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

White Stripes -- "We're Going to Be Friends" (2001)

Fall is here
Hear the yell
Back to school
Ring the bell
Brand new shoes
Walking blues
Climb the fence
Books and pens
I can tell that we are gonna be friends
My youngest child goes back to school tomorrow.  It's his junior year in high school, which means he and I have just one more back-to-school day left.  

I vividly remember when my oldest child (he'll turn 28 in a few weeks) started first grade.  We had just moved to this neighborhood, and knew very few people.  The local grade school held a get-acquainted picnic for parents, kids, and teachers at the end of the first week of school.  

That was 1989.  His first-grade teacher, who also taught two of my other children, is still teaching first grade there.

I've written about well over 200 songs on this blog, but haven't written about a single White Stripes song.  That's a major oversight on my part and one that I'm about to correct -- in spades.  The White Stripes were the official band of my Cape Cod bike rides this summer, and I'll be posting about several of their songs over the next couple of weeks.

Jack and Meg White
Jack Gillis was a little-known Detroit musician who married local bartendar Meg White in 1996.  He took her last name instead of vice versa.  After the two were married, Meg started playing the drums, and the two formed the White Stripes in 1997.  The couple divorced in 2000, but continued to play together until earlier this year, when they officially pulled the plug on the band. 

When I first became aware of the White Stripes, it wasn't clear what the couple's relationship was.  For a number of years, Jack White claimed that the two were brother and sister.

Jack did most of the heavy lifting for the White Stripes -- he wrote most of the songs they recorded, played guitar and keyboards, and did most of the singing.  Meg sang on occasion, but usually stuck to playing the drums.  She was not a drumming virtuoso by any means, but she didn't really need to be.

This song is on the White Stripes' third album, White Blood Cells (2001), which was the album that put them on the map.  Their fourth album, Elephant (2003), which went platinum and won the Grammy for best alternative music album, is their strongest album by far.  (Their two next albums have their moments but are a little hit-or-miss.)

The "White Blood Cells" album cover
I think Jack White is one of the most interesting rock musicians of the last decade, and I should have posted about a White Stripes song well before now.  I have written about songs recorded by two other bands he was a part of -- the Raconteurs and Dead Weather.  Both of those bands are very good, but writing about them and ignoring the White Stripes is sort of like writing about the Plastic Ono Band and Wings and ignoring the Beatles.

I should note that Jack White has collaborated with a number of other musicians, including the Rolling Stones and Alicia Keys.  He produced and performed on Loretta Lynn's 2004 album, Van Lear Rose.  He also had a significant role in the movie Cold Mountain, and had a romantic relationship with that movie's star, Renee Zellweger.

Zellweger and White
After breaking up with Zellweger, White married British model Karen Elson, whom he met when she appeared in one of the band's music videos.  They tied the knot in a canoe on the Amazon River.  Meg White was the maid (matron?) of honor.  

The couple moved to a Nashville suburb, had two children, and threw a big party when they decided to get divorced earlier this year.  A press release issued at that time said that both White and Elson pledged to remain "dear and trusted friends and co-parents."  Awwwww.

White and Elson
White and Elson's older child was born in May 2006.  She's probably starting first grade about now.  I wonder if Jack has sung this song to her.  Let's hope that she has a best friend to walk to school with.

By the way, "We're Going to Be Friends" is featured in the opening credits of Napoleon Dynamite, and is one of Conan O'Brien's favorite songs -- Jack and Meg performed it live on the final episode of O'Brien's NBC show. 

Here's the music video for "We're Going to Be Friends," which features perhaps the least convincing lip-synching that I've ever seen -- Jack White seems very distracted:

Here's a link you can use to get the song from Amazon:

Friday, August 26, 2011

De La Soul -- "Eye Know" (1989)

The name's Plug Two
And from the soul I bring you
The D.A.I.S.Y. of your choice
May it be filled with the pleasure principle
In circumference to my voice
About those other Jennys I reckoned with
Lost them all like a homework excuse
This time the magic number is two
'Cause it takes two, not three, to seduce

De La Soul's first and most successful album, 3 Feet High and Rising, was released in 1989, when gangsta rap was all the rage. 

Remember how Seven-Up used to call itself the "uncola"?

De La Soul is the ungangsta rap group.  Legendary music critic Robert Christgau said 3 Feet High and Rising was "radically unlike any rap album you or anybody else has ever heard."  He described it as "playful, arch, often obscure, sometimes self-indulgent," but generally liked its "audacious eccentricity."

Other critics loved it as well, as did the public: 3 Feet High and Rising (a reference to the Johnny Cash song) made it all the way to #1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. 

De La Soul consisted of three Long Island guys who hooked up in high school.  They often refer to themselves as "Plug One," "Plug Two," and "Plug Three" because each of them always plugged his microphone into the same numbered jack when they performed.

The innocence and downright cuteness of the album may be primarily the result of the group's youth -- none of the three had turned 21 when the album was released.

Prince Paul
De La Soul's first three albums were produced by the legendary Prince Paul (real name: Paul Huston), a quirky genius who is behind some very interesting and very odd rap albums -- including So . . . How's Your Girl?, by Handsome Boy Modeling School (a conceptual hip hop duo consisting of Prince Paul and Japanese-American producer Daniel Nakamura, a/k/a "Dan the Automator").  We'll discuss Handsome Boy Modeling School in a future Hip Hop 101 class.

3 Feet High and Rising includes not only samples of James Brown, Public Enemy, and Parliament/Funkadelic, but also samples of Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, and the Turtles.  "Eye Know" heavily samples Steely Dan's 1977 song, "Peg."

De La Soul's lyrics don't sound like anyone else's -- they sound like some private language.  (I don't think this is a generation gap  or black/white issue -- I doubt that most other rappers have a clue as to what De La Soul's rhymes mean.)  

Let's take a closer look at the lines from "Eye Know" that are quoted above.    

I've explained "Plug One" already.  "D.A.I.S.Y." is an acronym for "Da inner sound, y'all."  (Don't worry if you don't get that -- I don't get it either.)  "In circumference to my voice" sounds pretty cool, but I'm guessing it signifies nothing.

"Jenny" is De La Soul's generic name for girls.  ("Jimmy" is their generic name for boys -- often, De La Soul use "Jenny" and "Jimmy" as slang terms for the female and male sexual organs, respectively.)

A very different Jenny and Jimmy
With regard to the last two lines above, there's another song on this album called "Magic Number," which begins "Three/That's the magic number" -- referring to De La Soul's three members.  

Here's another example of De La Soul's wacky wordplay from "Eye Know":

Forward march is the say
When transistors will play
Come into bed is the mood
Dolby sound 
Will be then top crowned
When I put the needle into your groove

Give De La Soul a chance -- they'll grow on you if you do.

Here's "Eye Know":

Here's a cover version of the song performed by a ukelele-playing Irishman:

Here's a link you can use to order the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Beck -- "Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)" (1994)

Acid casualty with a repossessed car
Vietnam vet playin' air guitar
It's just the sh*t-kickin', speed-takin'
Truck-drivin' neighbor downstairs
Whiskey-stained, buck-toothed, backwoods creep
Grizzly bear motherf***er never goes to sleep
It's just the sh*t-kickin', speed-takin'
Truck-drivin' neighbor downstairs
Belly-floppin' naked in a pool of yellow sweat
Screaming' jackass with a wet cigarette
It's just the sh*t-kickin', speed-takin'
Truck-drivin' neighbor downstairs
Psychotic breakdown double-edged axe
Growin' hair like a shag rug on his greasy back
It's just the sh*t-kickin', speed-takin'
Truck-drivin' neighbors downstairs

Yes, I know I broke the rules and went way over my quota of two or three lines.  But how could I pick only one of those wonderful verses?

How do you expect me to choose between "Acid casualty with a repossessed car," "Screamin' jackass with a wet cigarette," and "Growin' hair like a shag rug on his greasy back"?  It's like asking me to choose my favorite child.

How many of you are fans of the old MTV show, "Celebrity Deathmatch"?  It's hard to believe that claymation masterpiece went off the air almost ten years ago after a 75-episode run.

The plots of each episode were pretty much the same.  Two celebrities with grudges against each other (real or imaginary) were put into a wrestling ring, where they fought to the death.  The shows were unbelievably gruesome -- people had limbs ripped off, eyeballs plucked out and stepped on, and so on.

The first matchup was Charles Manson against Marilyn Manson.  Other notable bouts featured Dolly Parton vs. Jennifer Lopez, Mahatma Gandhi vs. Genghis Khan, and Pamela Anderson vs. Heather Locklear.

Here's the episode that featured Beck squaring off against Björk for the title of best monosyllabic musician of all time.  (SPOILER ALERT:  Bach appeared via time travel and killed both of them.)

Videos tu.tv

I don't know about you, but when I hear a song that makes fun of rednecks, I immediately want to know if the singer is himself a redneck or not.  

J. Edgar Hoover
President Lyndon Johnson once explained why he didn't replace FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover thusly:  "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out that outside the tent pissing in."  

In other words, it's OK for another redneck to make fun of rednecks.  It is NOT acceptable for a non-redneck to make fun of rednecks.  (Same principle as rappers using the n-word -- which is OK -- and white guys from South Carolina using the n-word -- which is definitely not OK.)

I often call myself a redneck, but that is really just an affectation.  I have a lot of affectations.  Another one of my affectations is pretending to be the CEO of a wildly popular and successful blog.

Truth be told, this blog is hanging on by its fingernails.  We're just a hop, skip, and a jump from bankruptcy court.  If only my readers would just use the Amazon search box that is so conveniently placed at the beginning of each 2 or 3 lines post whenever they ordered anything from Amazon, I could rehire all those disabled single moms I've had to lay off.

(Don't tell me you don't ever order from Amazon.  I mean they sell everything there.  And it doesn't cost you a thing to order through 2 or 3 lines -- just click on that search box and you go right to the Amazon website.  Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy.)

Unlike Beck, I at least have some claim to membership in "Redneck Nation."  I did grow up in Joplin, Missouri, and I have Arkansas aunts and uncles named Ardith, Omer (not Homer), Ottis (not Otis), Thelma, Wilma, etc.  Ancestors on the other side of the family founded Ava, Missouri, the county seat of Douglas County, where much of Winter's Bone was filmed.

By contrast, Beck has no claim to redneckery.  I admit that when he appeared as himself on The Larry Sanders Show years ago, Artie the producer (played by the truly great Rip Torn) called him a "hillbilly from outer space."  That's pretty accurate, but the "outer space" part really overwhelms the "hillbilly" part.

Beck was born Bek [sic] David Campbell but took his mother's name and became Beck Hansen when his parents separated.  (Actually, he took his mother's father's name.  All you women out there who didn't change your name when you got married do realize that you still have a man's name, don't you?  You just have your father's name instead of your husband's name.  If you don't get that, wake up and smell the cat food, for cryin' out loud.)

Beck Hansen
Beck is a really, really weird guy.  But it's not really his fault.    

His father, David Campbell, is a relatively normal guy.  (In other words, Beck's family situation closely resembles my kids' situation.)  He's a classically trained musician who played violin and cello on Carole King's Tapestry album when he was 23.  Later he became an arranger, and has worked on albums by Bob Dylan, Metallica, Green Day, Radiohead, the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow, and many others.

By contrast, Beck's mother -- Bibbe Hansen -- is a total loon.  She is a performance artist, musician, and actress who appeared in several Andy Warhol movies when she was a teenager.  She recorded an album with Jack Kerouac's daughter, performed with drag queen/performance artist Vaginal Davis, and was a founder of the satirical band Black Fag (which made fun of the great punk band Black Flag).

Bibbe Hansen and friend
(Note:  I hope certain of my female readers will finally stop their bellyachin' about 2 or 3 lines never having any pics of hot guys.)

It wasn't all Bibbe's fault.  Her mother was a bohemian-type poet, while her father (Al Hansen) was a prominent member of the "Fluxus" school of art and a close associate of Andy Warhol.  Al Hansen's most famous performance art work was called the "Yoko Ono Piano Drop."  (Yes, Al was friends with crazy Yoko.  Birds of a feather, etc.)  That name is no joke, by the way.  He once pushed a piano off the roof of a five-story building.

"Calliope Venus," by Al Hansen
If David Letterman did that, it would be called a "Stupid Human Trick."  When Beck's grandfather did it, it was performance art.

Here's a link you can use if you want to learn more about the Fluxus movement.  (I wouldn't bother if I were you.  It'll just confuse you and give you a migraine.)   

Here's the weirdest thing about Beck's mother.  In 1974, she delivered twin babies -- Giovanni Ribisi (he was the star of the movie Boiler Room and also appeared in Saving Private Ryan and Lost in Translation) and Marissa Ribisi (who was in Dazed and Confused).

Ribisi played the smart girl with the curly red hair:

What a crazy performance artist like Bibbe Hansen was doing delivering babies is a good question, and I have no idea what the answer is.

But in 2004, Marissa Ribisi married Beck.  That is truly weird.  And so is the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Beck named their first two children Cosimo and Tuesday.  (No hope at all for those kids, is there?)

One final note:  all these people are Scientologists.  (Case closed.)

But back to this song, which I absolutely love.  It is on Beck's major-label debut album, Mellow Gold, which was released in 1994.  I think my older son bought the CD over a decade ago, and I've had it on iTunes for years.  But I must not have ever listened to the entire album, because this song was absolutely new to me when I heard it while mountain biking at Cedarville State Forest recently.

Cedarville State Forest is my favorite mountain biking spot in the Washington, DC area.  It's about an hour south of my home, so I only make it down there once or twice a year.  Despite having 19 miles of trails, it seems that almost no one goes mountain biking there.  On my last trip to Cedarville, I rode for 2 1/2 hours and saw exactly two other bikers -- and they were riding together.

This may explain why some mountain bikers shy away from Cedarville:

It's possible that some cyclists are confused by the high-tech trail signs, and (like Charlie on the M.T.A.) simply never return:

The somewhat antiquated sanitary facilities also may discourage more finicky riders:

On closer inspection, you can see that this outhouse is a two-holer -- no waiting when you're in a hurry!

The trails at Cedarville are relatively flat, but there can be a fair amount of mud to deal with:

But the worst thing about the Cedarville trails are the exposed tree roots -- you gentlemen riders better come equipped with seriously padded shorts:

I half-expected to see a dinosaur or at least a toothless banjo player in a bateau here:

This scene reminded me of a T-shirt that my wife bought my older son at an Urban Outfitters store when he was 8th-grade.  (It had the letter "I," a heart, and a picture of a beaver on the front.  She had no clue what that meant.)

Before we hear the Beck song, how about a picture of Kim Kardashian to (hopefully) help get my numbers up a little:

Kim Kardashian
Here's "Truckdrivin Neighbors Downstairs (Yellow Sweat)":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Little Feat -- "Fat Man in the Bathtub" (1973)

I put my money in your meter, baby 
So it won't run down, 
But you got me in a squeeze play 
On the cheesey side of town. 
Throw me a line, 
Show me a sign 
'Cause there's a fat man in the bathtub 
With the blues 
I wasn't planning to post about two Little Feat songs until I noticed a billboard in the subway station nearest my office recently.

The billboard was one of a number that advertised Living Social, which is a "deal-of-the-day" service that e-mails discount coupons to some 40 million people a day.  (Most of their offers seems to involve reduced-price massages, yoga classes, weekday comedy club tickets, and meals at restaurants that no one wants to eat at.)

A typical Living Social ad
Each of the billboards presented some obscure and mildly amusing fact -- like the fact that a quarter has 119 grooves in its edge.  The one that inspired this post noted that President William Howard Taft -- who is believed to have weighed as much as 335 pounds -- got stuck in the White House bathtub on his inauguration day, and had to be pulled out by servants.  (He had a larger tub installed shortly thereafter.)

This song came in a close second to "The Fan" when I was mulling over which Little Feat song I was going to feature on 2 or 3 lines as part of my "Records I Listened to in Law School" series.  Once I saw that billboard, I knew I had to do both songs.

(Taft's the fat one)
Here's a live performance of "Fat Man in the Bathtub."  (Lowell George has no clue where that first note was, did he?)

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Little Feat -- "The Fan" (1974)

You were a sweet girl
When you were a cheerleader
But I think you're 
Much better now 

I admit it -- I'm not immune to peer pressure.  When I was in law school, I bought quite a few records that got good reviews in Boston's free weekly papers (the Phoenix and B.A.D., or Boston After Dark) or were featured in the Harvard Co-op's record department or got played on WBCN, the local album-oriented rock ("AOR") station.

Gag me with a spoon
So I ended up getting some really girly albums because everyone else was buying them.  (I did stop short of buying anything by the Pousette-Dart Band, which was based in Cambridge and was very popular locally.  I also resisted the siren's call to buy records by Jonathan Edwards or Livingston Taylor, a couple of other local coffeehouse darlings.  Yuck!)

One of the most popular bands among the Harvard Square intelligentsia in those days was Little Feat.  There are still a lot of Little Feat fans around -- the band was sort of a minor-league Grateful Dead when it came to having hardcore fans.

I picked up two Little Feat albums when I was in law school -- Dixie Chicken and Feats Don't Fail Me Know, which feature an eclectic, syncopated, rootsy sound often described as "New Orleans funk."

The face of Little Feat was Lowell George, a singer-songwriter and guitarist whose first band, The Factory, was formed in 1965.  That band's greatest accomplishment was appearing (under the pseudonym "The Bed Bugs") on the chaotic 1960's sitcom F Troop.  Since F Troop was set in the American Wild West shortly after the end of the Civil War, it is hard to imagine exactly how a rock band would have fit into the plot.  

George later became a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention for a few months.  When Zappa fired him after just a few months, George hooked up with keyboard player Bill Payne and Little Feat was born.

Why did Zappa give Lowell George the boot?  George later claimed it was the result of him writing the song, "Willin'," which contained some rather mild drug references.

I like to think Zappa kicked him out because "Willin'" is such a bad song.  It's one of those songs about the travails of a working-class guy (here, a truck driver) that always sounds as phony as a three-dollar bill when it comes from a long-haired, drug-ingesting L.A.  musician who probably never did an honest day's work in his life.

And I've been from Tucson to Tucumcari,
Tehachapi to Tonopah
Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made
Driven the backroads so I wouldn't get weighed

It was bad enough when George recorded the song with Little Feat.  It was even worse when Linda Ronstadt recorded it for her 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, which I also lived to regret purchasing.  ("Driven every kind of rig that's ever been made"?  Linda Ronstadt wants us to believe she's a truck driver?  Puh-leeze.)

Linda Ronstadt
Hey, there are some Linda Ronstadt songs I really like.  But Heart like A Wheel was such a chick record.  I think they gave everyone who bought it a coupon for Midol.

The Little Feat albums I bought had some good songs, but I was not a big fan of most of their material.  I know a lot of my friends who are my age aren't going to agree.  But Little Feat was sort of the musical equivalent of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey -- the people who liked that movie were all high as kites when they saw it, and the same probably held true for most of the people at Little Feat's concerts.

Heaven knows that Lowell George was probably high most of that time.  His heavy drug use -- not to mention his weight gain -- probably contributed to the heart attack that killed him in 1979, when he was 34.

George had bailed out on Little Feat the year before -- Bill Payne wanted to go in a new musical direction, and George thought Payne's jazz/fusion noodling was utter crap.  (+1)   

Here's my favorite Little Feat song, "The Fan."  It is not what I would call "New Orleans funk" -- it's a little more Frank Zappa-like, with an irregular time signature that never really settles down enough for you to get your arms around it.

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

Monday, August 15, 2011

2 Live Crew -- "Me So Horny" (1989)

I'm like a dog in heat 
A freak without warning
I have an appetite for sex
'Cause me so horny . . .
Ahh! Me so horny!
Me love you long time!

2 or 3 lines covers the full gamut from the sacred to the profane.  Our last post was on the sacred end of the spectrum, but this one is profane with a capital P. 

"Hip Hop 101" is designed to be a comprehensive survey of rap history, warts and all -- get ready for some warts.

I'm going to be honest with you.  2 Live Crew is a pretty bad rap group, and this song sort of sucks.

That doesn't mean that this post sucks.  To the contrary, this post is great -- 2 or 3 lines knows how to make lemonade out of lemons, boys and girls.  So keep reading -- watch me do my magic!

If you've never seen the late Stanley Kubrick's 1987 movie, Full Metal Jacket, you need to correct that situation toot sweet.

The first half of the movie is a depiction of the basic training of a platoon of Marine infantrymen circa 1967, and features a tour de force performance by R. Lee Ermey, who had been a Marine drill instructor from 1965 to 1967 and served in Vietnam before he got into show biz. 

"Me So Horny" was inspired by the notorious scene in the movie when two of the platoon's members are solicited by a Vietnamese prostitute:

Time to shift gears.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is an African-American literary historian and critic who is a professor at Harvard University.  He has written a number of books, the most famous of which is the The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (1988).  Gates has received 51 honorary degrees and many other honors, including a MacArthur "genius" fellowship.  In other words, he's kind of a big deal.

Two years ago, Gates returned home from a trip to China and couldn't get the door to his house open.  A passer-by saw him and his driver break a window so they could get inside, and called the police.

The officer who came to investigate allegedly treated Gates rudely, and Gates -- assuming he was being hassled because he was black -- allegedly responded in a hostile fashion and got himself arrested for disorderly conduct.

Oprah with Gates
This little contretemps set off a brief but intense spasm of debate among dueling pundits on the cable-TV news [sic] channels.  Even Oprah got into the act. 

Eventually, an independent panel of experts from across the nation investigated the incident thoroughly and came to the conclusion that both men had acted like major A-holes.

President Obama invited the professor and the policeman to the White House to have a beer and watch a little porn.  (OK, OK, I made up the part about watching porn in the White House.)

So what does a heavy-duty African-American intellectual like Professor Gates have to do with a sleazy rap group like 2 Live Crew?  

Luther Campbell
Before I answer that question, let me give you a little background information first.

The brains behind 2 Live Crew was Luther Campbell, a Miami rapper and record label owner who called his label Luke Skyywalker Records until Star Wars director George Lucas sued him.

In 1989, 2 Live Crew released their most successful album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be.  The song from that album that generated a lot attention -- but very little radio airplay (thanks to its lyrics) -- was "Me So Horny."

The conservative American Family Association and others complained about As Nasty As They Wanna Be to every politician in Florida who would take their calls, and eventually a state judge in Ft. Lauderdale ruled that there was probable cause to find that it was legally obscene.  The county sheriff warned local record store owners not to sell the album, and 2 Live Crew sued him.  But a federal judge ruled that the sheriff was right.

A record store owner then sold a copy to an undercover police officer and was arrested.  Three members of 2 Live Crew were taken to the poke when they performed some of the songs from the album at a local club.  

Eventually, a federal court of appeals overturned the lower court's ruling that the album was obscene.  Helped by all the publicity, As Nasty As They Wanna Be -- a mediocre album at best -- went on to sell over two million copies.

Professor Henry Louis Gates testified in favor of the defendants at their trials.  Here are some excerpts from his direct examination:

Q. And you have listened to the recordings of the songs, "Me So Horny", "Fuck Shop", "If You Believe In Having Sex" and "Come On, Babe"?

A. I have. . . .
[Note:  You think that the good professor might have been wondering at this point if agreeing to testify in this case was really such a good idea?]

Q. Is rap a form of art?

A. Oh, absolutely, it seems to me it can be defined as art.
Q. Does it detract from being art because the words that are used are four-letter words?
A. Oh, no, not necessarily. The greatest literary tradition in English literature, like people such as Chaucer and Shakespeare . . . has always had its vernacular, has always included a lot of lewdity, a lot of verbal puns, sexual puns, curse words, et cetera. . . .

[Note: "lewdity"?  I know what "lewdness" means -- never heard of "lewdity."]
Q. Are we to take the lyrics literally that we heard on the tape?
A. Well, there is very little art that should be taken literally. . . .
["Me So Horny" and the other 2 Live Crew songs listed above] have taken one of the worst stereotypes about black men, primarily, but also about black women, and blown them up.
Q. What are the stereotypes?
A. The stereotypes that have been most commonly associated with black men in western culture is the fact that we are oversexed or hypersexed individuals in an unhealthy way. . . .
How do we overcome that stereotype? I think one of the brilliant things [is that] they embrace that stereotype.
Q. What do you mean?
A. Well, they represent the stereotype over and over again, in such a graphic way, namely to exploit it. You can have no reaction but to burst out laughing.
There is no cult of violence here. You can't hear any danger at all in the background. What you hear is great humor, great boisterousness. . . .
Everybody understands what is going on. Even if they don't understand it as a literary critic, they understand it on a subliminal level. Their response is to bust out laughing, to view it as a joke, a parody.
Parody is one of the most venerable aspects of any literary tradition. It is certainly very important to Afro-American culture and literature.
Q. If you took [the lyrics] literally, would you be missing the point?
A. The whole point is . . . [t]hey are not to be taken on a literal level. They are to be taken on their figurative or metaphorical level.
I think Professor Gates in certainly correct when he says that "Me So Horny" and the other 2 Live Crew songs that were alleged to be obscene should not have been taken seriously -- the whole album was a big goof.

I don't know much about obscenity law -- I've had some pretty shady clients in my legal career, but none of them have been in the porn business.  But I don't think parodies are automatically protected from being considered obscene.  

The law of obscenity says that a work that depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive manner and appeals to the prurient interest is obscene unless it has serious literary or artistic content. 

Does "Me So Horny" have serious literary or artistic content?  Hey, I'm as big a fan of the First Amendment as you can find.  And I'm a big fan of rap music (a fact which mystifies my children and many of you).

MC Hammer
But "Me So Horny" and the rest of the album it is on is, in a word, crap.  I'm amused that someone with a summa B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D from Cambridge would compare "Me So Horny" to Chaucer and Shakespeare.  It is very bad rap music, even by 1989 standards.  (MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" was also recorded in 1989.  I'd love to hear Professor Gates opine on the literary and cultural value of that song.)

By the way, 2 Live Crew later recorded a parody of the great Roy Orbison song, "Oh, Pretty Woman."  Not surprisingly, the company that owned the rights to the original didn't want to license it to 2 Live Crew, which decided to make a parody of it any way.  The ensuing litigation made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1994 that a lower court had erred in finding that 2 Live Crew had violated copyright law.   

Here's "Me So Horny":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon.  (Are you sure you really want to?)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sonic Youth -- "Wildflower Soul" (1998)

For you today 

My oldest son (he was not quite 15 at the time) and I saw Sonic Youth perform at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC in the spring of 1998.  They were touring to promote A Thousand Leaves, their 10th studio album.  "Wildflower Soul" is from that album, which had a very odd cover:

A Thousand Leaves grew on me slowly.  It is quieter and more subtle than Sonic Youth's earlier music -- it's Sonic Youth for grownups.   (Thurston Moore was about 40 when it was released, and Kim Gordon was 45.)   

The band takes its time on most of the tracks, including "Wildflower Soul," which is over 9 minutes long.  There's another 9-minute-plus song on the album, plus an 11-minute-long track.

I'm not much of a gardener and I'm not much of a photographer, but when I'm on a hike or a bike ride, I take a lot of pictures of flowers -- especially wildflowers.  June is peak wildflower season in Colorado, and I came back from a recent trip to Denver and environs with a lot of pictures on my Blackberry.

Here's a blanket flower -- possibly the Gaillardia aristata, or common blanket flower:

I think this flower is a Gaillardia suavis --also called perfumeball, or pincushion daisy --  a related variety with small flower rays but a large, fragrant seedhead:

Here's an orange Indian paintbrush (genus Castilleja).  I saw quite a few of these:

Here's a wild rose -- perhaps a Rosa woodsii (Wood's rose) or Rosa arkansana (wild prairie rose):

Here's another wild rose:

This bright yellow flower is the sulfur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum):

This is a plume thistle (genus Cirsium):

Here's a shot of this thistle from above:

This is the musk thistle (Carduus nutans), also known as the bristle thistle or nodding plumeless thistle:

Here's a yarrow (Achillea millefolium), also known as "nosebleed plant" and "soldier's woundwort" because of its astringent qualities:

I think these are dwarf golden asters (Hetertheca pumila), but I could be wrong.  Asters, daisies, and sunflowers are members of the Asteraceae family, which has more than 22,750 accepted species -- so cut me a little slack if I'm not sure:

Here's a harebell, Parry's bellflower, or something from the Campanula genus:

Here's the invasive Dalmatian toadflax flower (Linaria genistifolia, subspecies dalmatica), which is an escaped ornamental plant that is native to Dalmatia (a historical region on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea that is now part of Croatia.)

Here's a closeup of the Dalmatian toadflax's flowers:

This is a Mariposa lily (Calochortus gunnisonii):

Last but not least, here's what I believe is a scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea):

I like flowers of all kinds, but I have a soft spot for wildflowers.  You can never have too many wildflowers on a hike or mountain bike ride.  They're scarce enough to seem special, and you have to admire their self-sufficiency.

Here's "Wildflower Soul":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon: