Recently, through an accident of technology absent information other than my taste in general – not shuffle – Jane’s Addiction‘s Classic Girl and Radiohead‘s Talk Show Host played one after the other from the card in my car. It was like when you and your current partner (Radiohead) bump into your former flame (Jane’s Addiction) and you see why you like/d them both, but the flaws in the one make the other… You’re happy in your current situation, and now have critical insights on who you were and what that other relationship meant back in the day.
Both songs hinge on gun violence.
Even in the early 90s when I listened obsessively to Jane’s Addiction whose musical and visual flamboyance dazzled me,1 there were things about Classic Girl that irritated me. The song opens 4:05/in my neighborhood/When shots go out/no one bothers/They pop and they reply/pop and no reply/Dinosaurs/on the quilt I wore/with that girl/Such a classic girl…
I remember thinking, well of course. Of course he lives in a dangerous neighborhood. Of course he’s with a ‘classic’ girl. Of course he chose to live in a dangerous Black or Latino neighborhood, of course he chose to immortalize a ‘girl’ in a song that doesn’t even address her personally beyond a few lines: It’s true I am a villain/when you fall ill/but that’s probably because/men never can be/not like a girl… and you know/you’re my girl…2
When, out of loyalty after Jane’s Addiction‘s break-up, I bought Porno for Pyros‘ debut album and heard Black Girlfriend, I had confirmation: Perry Farrell was a culture tourist, slumming, and a total dick when it came to women. And that was that. While I thought then and still think that Three Days and Then She Did are spectacular songs – near to perfect -, the counter-culture posturing that shaped the fringes of a lot of the late 80s early 90s rock music that I enjoyed became embarrassing.
Radiohead around that the time seemed a lot less given to pointless theatrics. I liked Creep; it was startling, unvarnished, brief – the opposite of Ritual de lo Habitual‘s excesses. I bought Pablo Honey and loved the album opener, You, and the fifth song, Thinking About You. But Pablo Honey aged badly pretty fast, so I didn’t get The Bends until after I’d seen the video for Street Spirit (Fade Out).3 And I didn’t hear Talk Show Host until I’d watched Baz Luhrmann‘s Romeo + Juliet.
I immediately loved Talk Show Host and its second verse: You want me?/Fucking well come and find me/I’ll be waiting/with a gun and a pack of sandwiches… I could see that kid sitting under a tree: hurt, angry, fed up, pushed to the limit in a confrontation he didn’t start but felt he had to be willing to finish. In my version of the world of the song, even though the kid says he’s “ready“, it comes to “nothing“. No shots fired.
Different to the guy in Classic Girl who hears shots and then turns his attention to a kid’s blanket and then to his super-pretty girlfriend, Yorke’s lyrics inhabit the mind of a potential shooter; violence isn’t background noise to drugged out romance, it’s the last straw for a tormented soul who alternates between conscious vulnerability and rage and determination: I want to/I want to be someone else or I’ll explode/Floating upon this surface for the birds/The birds/The birds… Which, to my ear, sounds like a better take on Western masculinity than Farrell’s cop out men never can be…
It’s funny because back when Perry dressed in women’s clothes and kissed Dave Navarro, I sincerely thought he troubled gender. But now it seems he just claimed the feminine for himself while entirely inhabiting the masculine. And, yeah, on closer inspection, Radiohead does deconstruct masculinity pretty consistently from Pablo Honey to at least In Rainbows: True Love Waits, as far as I can tell, is from a woman’s perspective and not in the way that Jane Says patronizingly quote’s Jane throughout; in Let Down, the protagonist feels hysterical and useless, not at all manly, and, rather than doubling down on violence, instead fantasizes about a chemical reaction that will grow wings; and I truly feel like Where I End and You Begin (The Sky is Falling In) is a song where a man talks directly, earnestly to a woman – without the male gaze shaping the way he presents himself. But, I might be wrong.
And then, when I got back in my car, The Cure‘s Killing an Arab played. Three gun songs in a row. Now a man of color lies dead on the beach, and the white shooter can’t even say why he did it.4
Because, after all, every gun is Chekhov‘s, so…
- but not so much the icky drug thing…
- From a comment on the NYTimes exposé on Vice Media:
Emma: “…I grew up in circles of teenagers who were Vice’s prime audience: skaters, marijuana smokers, casual rec drug users, politically left, and destructively sexist… Drug culture, hip hop, the party scene, the bit of anarchist culture I was exposed to, it was all poison for women and as a adult I realize it’s poison for young men, too. Vice distills and celebrates our youth culture’s macho obsession with being “cool”, “edgy” and “extreme” while completely neglecting the need for empathy, gentleness and moderation…”
- MTV as a marketing strategy was damned effective.
- Albert Camus, The Stranger, 1942
Meursault: “I knew I’d shattered the balance of the day, the spacious calm of this beach on which I had been happy. But I fired four shots more into the inert body, on which they left no visible trace.”