Saturday, December 29, 2012

Two songs: Sheryl Crow versus The Jesus and Mary Chain -- a case study in responses to late monoply capitalism

So I pretty much wrote this yesterday evening. It should be clear early on why I failed to complete it then. So today, fresh from another trip to the bottlo, I have tidied it up and I post this discussion on two responses to the horror of late monopoly capitalism for your consideration. *TRIGGER WARNING* Features Sheryl Crow.

* * *

For reasons I'm not sure I can explain rationally, I listened to the two songs discussed below one after the other. I *should* point out that I did leave my home in the mid-afternoon to go for a walk -- because anyone who knows me will tell you straight up how seriously I take exercise. And, strangely enough, I ended in the local pub where I drank a couple of beers with a whiskey chaser, all the while reading the new Rebus (YES! HE IS BACK! AND HE IS AS "DRINKING-TO-FORGET-HOW-HE-FUCKS-UP-ALL-HUMAN-RELATIONSHIPS" AS EVER!!!).

"Whiskey Make Crazy", so sung those Celtic punk legends The Tossers, which helps explain why, floating through a lovely whiskey-and-beer-haze, I ended up, while in the supermarket afterward shopping for dinner, seeing a cut-price pre-prepared-for-roasting chicken all tied up with string with some sort of horrible sauce/gravy type thing already so unkindly added, and concluded WHAT A GREAT IDEA!

And then I get the fucking thing home, more booze at hand, and think how fucking LONG does it ACTUALLY TAKE to roast a fucking chicken??? And the answer is TOO FUCKING LONG!

And then, after some more waiting-and-drinking, there was an "incident" with the oven during the attempt to cook the fucking chook, of which my lawyer has instructed me to make no further comment, and the fucking chicken ended up in the frying pan. So, I guess it was really no longer roasted exactly. Or two thirds roasted, one third fried, or something -- LET THE PHILOSOPHERS DEBATE IT, ALL I KNOW IS I JUST I *ATE* THAT GODDAMN "FROASTED" CHOOK! (you see what I did there?)

My point is, I was feeling a bit odd. By which I mean, pretty fucking happy, thanks to that beer-and-whiskey buzz. And yet... with this underlying sense that the word remains extremely messed up. I mean... we are racing towards a climate catastrophe of a scale it is hard to comprehend... and like, how do you DEAL WITH THAT SHIT, you know?

And I felt a strange compulsion to listen to the one song that I know of that perfectly captures the desire for hedonistic escape, just to lose yourself in the NOTHINGNESS of intoxication while the outside world goes about its pointless, ritualistic... well FUCKING RITUALS... YES you know what I am talking about... Sheryl Crow's 1994 hit "All I Wanna Do is Have Some Fun"!!!

Yeah. See, Sheryl meets Billy in a bar and it is midday on a Tuesday and they decide to *just drink*, while sitting opposite a, and I quote, "giant car wash". I know right? (or, as the kids say, "IKR?" -- see, I am down with them).

It is actually, surprisingly, for a song with such a fucking irritating chorus and hook, quite ... poetic. Which it should be, seeing as the verse were taken, almost entirely wholesale,  from a 1987 poem called "Fun" by American poet Wyn Cooper. Here are the words to Sheryl's hit:

Hit it!
This ain't no disco
And it ain't no country club either,
This is L.A.

All I want to do is have a little fun before I die
Says the man next to me out of nowhere
It's apropos of nothing he says his name is William
But I'm sure he's Bill or Billy or Mac or buddy

And he's plain ugly to me, and I wonder if he's ever
Had a day of fun in his whole life

We are drinking beer at noon on Tuesday
In the bar that faces the giant car wash
And the good people of the world
Are washing their cars on their lunch breaks
Hosing and scrubbing as best they can
In skirts and suits

And they drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks
Back to the phone company, the record stores, too
Well, they're nothing like Billy and me


All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I'm not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feeling I'm not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over
Santa Monica Boulevard

I like a good beer buzz, early in the morning
Billy likes to peal the labels from his bottles of bud
He shreds them on the bar then he lights up every match
In an over-sized pack letting each one burn
Down to his thick fingers before blowing and
Cursing them out, he's watching
The bottles of bud as they spin on the floor

And a happy couple enters the bar
Dangerously, close to one another
The bartender looks up from his want ads

But all I wanna do is have some fun etc etc etc

Otherwise the bar is ours, the day and the night
And the car wash, too, the matches and the
Buds, and the clean and dirty cars,
The sun and the moon ,

But, all I wanna do is have some fun etc etc etc

Yeah, IKR? Fucking poetry. The full poem, unabridged and without a chorus written to for radio with the sole purpose of INFECTING OUR BRAINS, is actually marked by its contradiction between an outsider wanting to sneer at the world around them, while also feeling below the  world around, drowning that tension with beer and hiding behind an aggressive declaration that the "city is ours" (ie the drunks)

Hell, if it wasn't for the fact that Sheryl Crow chose to weld those words to what surely must be a strong contender for the MOST ANNOYING CHORUS EVER in the history of popular music...then we would have ourselves a FUCKING GODDAMN *SONG*, yeah?

But no, Sheryl had to go and add a dull, repetitive and, worse, SMUG AND SELF-SATISFIED chorus, and add in a film clip where she does nothing but look SMUG AND SELF-SATISFIED ... and all despite the fact that runs DIRECTLY COUNTER to the goddamn WORDS she is singing from a poem she nicked!

Sometimes, a chorus or the general tone of a song is deliberately in contradiction to the bleak nature of the words. Say, of many examples, The Gin Blossom's Hey Jealousy, or famously Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA. That is a possibility here, except for the seemingly straight-faced way she delivers lines about "the party has just begun."

If you ignore the chorus, the actual verses impart actual desperation, of a desire to use intoxication deliberately to block out the world, to pretend it doesn't exist, to "have a little fun before I die", a comment made poignant by the fact the character who utters it "out of nowhere" makes Sheryl "wonder if he has ever had a day's fun in his whole life".

Yeah. Profound. JUST IGNORE SHERYL'S STUPID GRIN. (Like seriously, does she EVEN LISTEN to the words she is singing?)

So that is one response to the horrors we face. In the face of society's horrors, a retreat to the bar, to the sweet lullaby that Sheryl describes as a "good beer buzz, early in the morning".

And WHY? Because "all I wanna do is have some fun" while the "good people of the world" are "washing their cars on their lunch breaks"... FLAUNTING THEIR MIDDLE-CLASS EMPTY LIVES JUST ACROSS THE ROAD FROM WHERE SHERYL AND BILLY ARE DRINKING!!!

The imagery could not be starker. Hedonism is counter-posed to the grinding life of the average pleb "in skirts and suits" under late monopoly capitalism, with its "giant car washes"!


Sure, a "happy couple enters the bar" who are "dangerously close to one another", threatening the sanctuary of the bar with all their "happiness" and "closeness"... but fear not! For "Otherwise the bar is ours..."

Sheryl and Billy are alienated from that outside world of happy couples and suit and skirt wearing folk with their "shiny Datsuns and Buicks" who are "hosing and scrubbing as best they can", before the suckers go "back to the phone company..." (oh, OUCH! Probably one of those call centre jobs too... you know, where you not just deal with arseholes constantly the entire shift wanting to know how to plug in a fucking phone extension cord or blaming you personally for how the privatised company has cut every conceivable corner, including the corner that used to be marked "MAKE THINGS FUCKING WORK" in the pursuit of the greatest profit for the cheapest outlay imaginable, but all while the bastards monitor your fucking toilet breaks and sack anyone who even *mentions* the phrase "union" on company premises... )

FUCKING SUCKERS! Billy and Sheryl are right across the road, in that darkened dive bar, getting pissed and it is only 12pm on TUESDAY! What MOTHERFUCKING REBELS!

The song depicts a desire for a somewhat extreme binge that lasts from a "morning beer buzz" right through to when the "sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard". (Interesting side point here, until I had to google the fucking words for this blog post, I had no idea what Crow was singing there, like I thought it was something to do "sitting on a couple of bars", but that never made any sense.)

And yet the ultimate tragedy, of which the story's narrator (if not the actual singer) is all-too-aware, is that the only outlet they have found to express their rebellion is alcohol abuse.

And, what is more, the actual "fun" activities, despite the presumably constant drinking, that are mentioned involve peeling labels off bottles of beer and shredding them (admittedly, this is one of my favourite pastimes), then lighting matches from an "oversized pack", letting them burn right down to Billy's "thick fingers" before "blowing and cursing them out."

Then, when that gets boring, Billy watches the empty beer bottles as they spin on the floor. Wow! No wonder Sheryl notes in the chorus that she's "got a feeling the party has just begun".

Perhaps sensing the one-sided inadequacies of Sheryl Crow's 1994 chart-topper, YouTube offered in its right-hand side bar of suggested related songs, for no other explicable reason, Jesus and Mary Chain's "Darklands".

In this song, the miserable Scottish bastards that are the brothers Reid actually *embrace* wholesale the misery that surrounds them. Far from hiding in some dodgy pub for a whole day or two, they CALL FOR THE HORROR TO COME AND FUCKING MEET THEM!

I'm going to the darklands
To talk in rhyme
With my chaotic soul
As sure as life means nothing
And all things end in nothing
And heaven i think
Is too close to hell
I want to move i want to go
I want to go
Oh something won't let me
Go to the place
Where the darklands are
And i awake from dreams
To a scary world of screams
And heaven i think
Is too close to hell
I want to move i want to go
I want to go
Take me to the dark
Oh god I get down on my knees
And i feel like i could die
By the river of disease
And i feel that i'm dying
And i'm dying
I'm down on my knees
Oh i'm down
I want to go i want to stay
I want to stay

Yeah that is RIGHT motherfuckers! William Reid takes on vocal duties ahead of his brother Jim on this one to sing that life MEANS NOTHING! And all things END IN NOTHING!

Listen to that Glaswegian prick! You wanna escape? You wanna seek "refuge" in drink? Well, just you remember, good friend, that William Reid teaches us that "heaven, I think, is too close to hell"!

But even the path of embracing the horror is not easy. William pleads, over a melancholic but nonetheless enchantingly catchy tune: "Take me to the dark".

But "something won't let me go to the place where the darklands are". OH NO! What? What won't let you, William? It is never spelled out. But the poor bastard is "down on my knees, oh I'm down".

All he wants to do is "talk to my chaotic soul". But "I awake from dreams, to a scary world of screams". Oh the poetry of the chaotic soul!

That 1987 classic came from the album of the same name -- a follow up the much-lauded feedback-laden 1985 debut Psychocandy that largely (but not entirely) eschews the feedback noise for a greater focus on the melodies. Dark melodies, OF COURSE.

Now, if you don't believe me, you can listen to the entire 36.09 minute-long masterpiece on Youtube, but let me assure you, the defining characteristic of the album is pointed to in its title. It is dark. Really dark.

It is dark from start to finish. Like, listening to it right now, as I type I am hearing these lines: "As far as I can tell, I'm being dragged from here to hell. And all my time in hell is spent with YOU!"

And that could be any song.

At its absolute brightest, the album manages a kind of melancholic wistfulness. Its happiest point comes in the final song when young Jimmy Reid finally concedes that perhaps "there's something warm about the rain".

I mean, it also makes a point of noting that "people die in their living rooms, but they do not need this god almighty gloom", but, nonetheless, that is as cheery as the fucking thing gets.

And such lines are, as often-as-not, put to truly great pop tunes. I mean, take the sublime April Skies ("As I stand here don't you walk away, and the world comes tumbling down...") or the equally great pop tune and lyrically self-explanatory Happy When it Rains.

I still remember when I first bought that album. It was out at Curtin University in Perth back in say 1998 or early 1999. I was "studying" at Curtin, as in technically enrolled in some first year courses. As was my want when enrolled in first year courses, I did anything except turn up to any classes. In this case, I looked over a second-hand CD stall set up on campus and found Darklands for ten bucks.

I was hung over. I was hung over a lot in those days. Much like *these days* really. A year or so past my first real broken heart, I was a mess of heavy drinking and messed up nerves caused by working too many graveyard shift at McDonald's every week. Too much sleep-deprivation, caffeine and alcohol.

I was an angry, confused, emotional wreck. The album was perfect. I was instantly hooked. I listened to it obsessively for about a year.


Yeah, I get it. But, you know, I am not 19 any more. And I can’t play guitar. And black was never my colour, not with my complexion.

Yeah, I used to go the Goth clubs in Perth, the least Gothiest citizen of that city imaginable. But I'd go, coz in Perth in the 90s, you had a lot of places for rednecks, endless places for yuppies and maybe one or two for Goths. And that was it.

And the key thing was, of them all, the Goths were the least likely to punch you if you nicked their drink when their back was turned. They'd just glare at you, but they did that anyway. It was hard to tell what was a greater crime for a Goth -- nicking their beer when their back was turned or being the sort of pond scum who just didn't look very Gothy.

And, of course, you always got to dance to Love Will Tear Us Apart. But it was mainly the drink thing. And you could score cheap dexies. But that goes without saying.

And in other news....

'I put my shoes on backward on the way out to a dance. Then I had to go back home cause I forgot my pants'


  1. Nice post! Funny thing is that "All I Wanna Do" was the song that really propelled Sheryl Crow's first record (Tuesday Night Music Club). Three singles from the album were released before AIWD and none of them did very well.

    Ironically, Sheryl Crow was unsure about the chorus and felt that it was the weakest track, and didn't want on the album. She changed idea on advice of her brother (a land surveyor!) in the late spring of 1993.

    Eventually she did that song in many flavours. This is probably the weirdest:

    Anyway, turning a poem like "Fun" in a massive pop hit with the right "hook" is still pretty remarkable.

    1. Thank you George (if that really is your name, and, let;'s be honest here, I really have no valid reason for doubting it is).

      That unplugged version is interesting and has the advantage of not featuring the chorus. But actually, it is a bit too low key, ironically. The upbeat style of the original actually works with the verses, becuase it is in conflict with the underlying sadness of the words. It works. The chorus, though, goes too far.

      Her brother is a land surveyor you say? That is the kinda little detail that only... HEY! are you Sheryl Crow's brother???