What does that song mean?

Search Login

Bikini Kill vs Weezer : The Revolution Will Not Be Reverbed

Posted 6 days, 15 hours ago by Penguin Pete

Ready for the hottest music take of Black Friday 2021? Here is the Tobi Vali tweet that got Weezer trending Sunday afternoon, November 20, 21:

Ah, *chef's kiss*, so much to unpack here! The tweet started one heck of a thread, like all the best provocative music conversations do. It also makes great chum for your Thanksgiving Week low-effort fluffy post.

Punk Rock Hates Cuddly-Pop : Film at Eleven

Look, Weezer is a great band and all and had its day, but it's not exactly correct to call them Shoeglaze. They're more of a Nerd-Pop band than anything else, often called "Modern Power Pop / Emo."

Weezer does perfectly exemplify a sharper point:

Yes, @causticsunset, we know exactly what you mean! Few art-writers articulate this out loud, but there is this "Kidz Bob" effect going on in Western culture where every sharp edge gets filed off until we're left with the intellectual equivalent of baby food. Weezer, and a whole generation of bands in their footsteps, are the Millennial-era wave of bands with broad mass appeal whom first became popular on the Internet.

Hence, I call them "Cuddly-Pop." As safe and happy as a crib full of Disney franchise stuffed plushies. Nothing to upset you, nothing too harsh, everything is safe and happy…

Meanwhile, Tobi Vali is of course the drummer for the punk band Bikini Kill, which places her far on the other end of the music spectrum from Weezer. My my, a band rivalry! Haven't seen that one before! This is like the legendary rivalry between dwarfs and elves in Lord of the Rings. Punk rock pretty much started as a rebellion against mainstream rock in the first place. Vali's tweet falls squarely into the dead center of the punk rockers' political spectrum.

Punk, Folk, and other politicized music genres take the approach that music has a job to do: not just to entertain, but to inform, galvanize, inspire, bring abotu a revolution. We're right here back with Woody Guthrie:

We're giving music a mission, hoping that it changes the world. In opposition to Cuddly-Pop, Punk wants to kick your ass out of your fluffy cocoon and do something about this rotten world already.

Why A Weezer Revival Is Normal

Weezer rose to popularity right at the turn-of-the-century. Their fame spread mainly through word of mouth on the earliest days of the Internet. Their video Pork and Beans," released circa ~2008, even paid tribute to the earliest Internet viral hits and memes, starting from Numa Numa kid through Diet Coke and Mentos.

Millennials, as the very name of their generation would imply, were in their formative years (late teens / early 20s) during the late 90s to early 2000s. The first few Millennials are now starting to taste their 40s, which is the naturally perfect time to begin pining for the stuff they liked as kids.

Every generation does this! Generation X spent the 2000s mooning about the 1980s. Baby Boomers took over broadcast radio to make it the Summer of '69 forever and ever - that Cadillac with the deadhead sticker on it is never going to pull over! Gen Z is about a decade away from getting misty-eyed over Mythbusters and Fidget Spinners. We habitually do this at regular intervals in our lives; indulging in nostalgia even has psychological benefits.

Escape vs Reality

So why does Ms. Vali say that this is an inappropriate time for comforting pop bands to be popular? She points out the spirit of the times, all the awful stories in the news (not her exact words, but fill in your crisis du jur, same idea). She concludes with the immortal line "The guitar pedal industrial complex is not the sound of the revolution." Perfectly echoing the late Gil Scott-Heron. The Revolution will not be reverbed!

And of course, Bikini Kill and bands of their ilk are the fundamental building blocks of politically engaged culture. Bring it on, dancing Communist ballerinas of "Rebel Girl!"

So yes, punk rock has a tradition right back to Jello Biafra and the Sex Pistols for not just singing about, but sometimes straight-up screaming about, divisive political and social issues. The opposite of Cuddly-Pop, Punk abrades and erodes, slaps you around and wakes you up.

So: Which is it better to be? Amid the chaos of modern strife, during a once-in-a-century global pandemic, no less, is it better to splash your face every morning with a cold douse of reality, or to retreat to your safe and soft cocoon? A philosophical question.

Sorry for bringing up the "P" word! Philosophy is an aspect we don't think of enough in music.

Now, logically, we should not infer a connection between a person's level of engagement with society and their music choices. Listening to activist music doesn't make you an activist. Counterwise, you can attend a protest rally, canvas for a candidate, and rock the vote, while just as easily having good-times happy music playing in your headphones.

One reply bt @chrissherman01 even says so in so many words.

Final Verdict:

Well, yes, Weezer and bands in their wing are guilty of being light-weight, un-challenging fare. Music critics have said as much and more about popular music since, well, it was popular. However, the charge is needlessly loaded: we really can't point to the concrete benefit of music with an Important Message, be it Folk, Protest, or one of the many forms of Punk. I'm going to guess that you all first heard about global warming, racism, shootings, or wanton tax evasion long before there were songs abotu the issues.

Tobi Vali did apologize for being "so grumpy," but there's no harm, no foul there. She is being a true punk, whose whole philosophy is to face our man-made Hell with eyes wide-open and demand progress.

Both kinds of voices have a place in culture. Even the most anxious of us needs to sit back and chill for a moment, and of course those of us who chill all the time could use the occasional wake-up call. A balanced attitude towards life might suggest that we are all at our best when we strive to improve the world (Punk) while also taking the time to smell the flowers and count our blessings (Power Pop).


Song Analysis Corner : Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody

Posted 1 week, 4 days ago by Penguin Pete

"Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen is one of those songs that define the peaks of rock and roll history. It still has amazing popularity today, bolstered along by the late Freddie Mercury's enduring legacy extending to the movie Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). And how many songs can say they have a whole movie named after them (taking notes for future list post)? Of course we also have the Wayne's World (1992) homage / parody…

See, I have never been sitting on a bench on the street grogged out when a carload of bros loads me in and forces me to lip-synch opera. I don't know what I'm doing wrong.

How "Bohemian Rhapsody" Came Together…

The movie makes an effort to show us how the song was recorded in studio. This is a fictionalized account, of course, but surprisingly faithful to the story as it has come out.

Frank Moriarty's book Seventies Rock : The Decade of Creative Chaos lays out the definitive story of "Bohemian Rhapsody"'s composition. This book just so happens to have a forward written by none other than Queen guitarist and songwriter Brian May (check out Brian May's website! He even blogs!), so we can be confident that Moriarty had a good source. On "BR," we hear the story from Queen's longtime producer Roy Thomas Baker…

> "Freddie was sitting in his apartment] [and said 'I've got this idea for a song' and he sort of sat down and he sort of started playing the song. He was playing away and he stopped and he said 'Now dears, this is where the opera section comes in.'

> "We left a blank piece of tape to do the opera section. When we started doing the opera section properly, it just got longer and longer and we just kept adding blank tape to this thing and it got bigger and bigger and bigger. Every day we just sort of thought 'oh, this is it, we're done now' and Freddie would come in with another lot of lyrics and say, "I've added a few more Galileos here, dear' and so we would put on a few more Galileos and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and in the end it became the epic we all know."

The recording procedure, combining all these overdubs, pushed the limits of recording technology at the time. The tape was starting to wear through from all the playbacks. The song was included on their album A Night at the Opera, and would go on to break chart records in every direction, including a resurgence in popularity after Freddie Mercury's demise. Legendary Beach Boys producer Brian Wilson admits to an almost religious respect for the album.

Theories of Bohemian Rhapsody's Meaning

First off, we have the typical musician assertion, reportedly uttered by Freddie Mercury himself, that the lyrics are just "rhyming nonsense." Sure, but that's what all the rock stars say.

Theory #1: Murderer's Lament

The most face-value interpretation is that the song is a Faustian opera about a man who has accidentally killed another man, and is either on trial and sentenced to the death penalty, or has made a bargain with the devil to escape such fate. Whatever, this song is his lament and spiritual epiphany, on the eve of the subject's execution. Comparisons are made to Albert Camus's novel The Stranger, which has a similar plot.

Chris Smith, from the band Smile (the band which broke up and reformed with Mercury as Queen), relates that Mercury would often play snatches of songs he was thinking about and the second section of "Bohemian Rhapsody" ("Mama I've just killed a man") was originally something Mercury called "the cowboy song." This would have been an idea based on many an early Country & Western song in which the singer laments a life of crime and confesses to murder. For one example, see "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash.

Theory #2: Word Salad

On the side of arguing for "rhyming nonsense," the opera section does indulge in some playful allusions to more famous works, kind of a meme-hash of opera, historic, and mythology tropes.

  • Scaramouche - A stock clown character in Italian commedia dell'arte theater.

  • The fandango - A couple's dance

  • Galileo - Often thought to be astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei, but might also be Italian designer and decorator Galileo Chini or Italian physicist and electrical engineer Galileo Ferraris

  • Figaro - Protagonist of The Barber of Seville

  • Beelzebub - Mythology figure which is variously interpreted as another name for Satan, a major demon, or the modern personification of the the Canaanite god Baal.

  • "Bismillah!" - An Arabic exclamation meaning "in the name of God!"

So this part throws us into a tangle of potential hidden meanings and interpretations, or it could simply be a case of "it sounded good with the music."

Mercury himself once said in a 1985 interview that this song was merely three song fragments that he wanted to do, and they ended up being mashed together.

Theory #3: Coded Personal Exploration of Mercury's Issues

Now we get down to brass tacks: Mercury, as we all know, was gay, and had issues with that identity based of course on the social stigma which that identification experiences in society, even in the UK. Music scholar Sheila Whiteley in her book Queering the Popular Pitch writes that Mercury had a turning point in his life when "Bohemian Rhapsody" was written. He had been living with a woman, Mary Austen, his "beard," but had just left her after seven years to embark on his first affair with a man. Whiteley indicates that the "mama" in the song is Mary Austen, while "I just killed a man" is his confession of love for a man.

Thus the whole song is a metaphor for "coming out" and facing the sodomy laws at the time. Is this reading too much into it? Freddie Mercury's lyrics never were that straight-forward, Mercury being far more concerned with the heat and energy of the song while focusing less on the lyrics.

Final analysis: Nothing Really Matters!

As anyone can see… "Bohemian Rhapsody" is first off a fiercely creative work which was at the time a feat of recording engineering beyond anything attempted before. It is also one of the most atypical rock songs, with its various sections and shifts in tone. So even if it is truly "rhyming nonsense," it still justifies its existence as Queen proving that they could do anything they damned well pleased.

"Any way the wind blows."


Cartoonist Robert Crumb : Vintage Music Hipster

Posted 1 week, 5 days ago by Penguin Pete

Robert R. Crumb was one of those lucky individuals in history who was at the right place in the right time with the right talent. A Baby Boomer of the first water, he came of age in the tumultuous 1960s, in a unique position to document the changing cultural times with his fertile imagination. He pretty much birthed the underground comix scene, gave popular culture some of its first memes…

...and was peeper-deep into the hippie cultural movement. You know Crumb as the controversial, edgy cartoonist and illustrator. But today we're here to talk about another aspect of his cultural influence…

R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders

Yes, this was an actual band, with R. Crumb providing lead vocals.

The Cheap Suit Serenaders were Crumb and a colleague of his from the underground comix scene, Robert Armstrong, plus documentary film maker Terry Zwigoff, Al Dodge, and a few other hangers-on. They were initially billed as "R. Crumb and his Keep on Trucking Orchestra," circa their first actual record contract. The band was naturally a Ragtime / Jazz revival group, with - natch - Crumb providing the cover art.

Crumb's primary motivation in creating the band was not so much to become a rock star, as to have a hand in preserving and staying connected to the early 20th-century music scene. Crumb has also continued dabbling in music, playing mandolin in Eden and John's East River String Band, appearing on three of their albums well into the 2000s.

R. Crumb's Music History Preservation

He has since established himself, as a side gig, as one of the most passionate music historians invested in early 20th-century recordings. He has even gone so far as to publish extensive works of music preservation. As late as 2006, he produced R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country, a book with an accompanying CD.

He also produced a set of trading cards called "Pioneers of Country Music," with 40 pieces in total.

Perhaps at this point we should interject that "Country music," the genre, had just about the opposite reputation pre-1970s that it does today. Country was then a derivative of folk, jazz, and blues styles, and in the 1960s was mostly the domain of long-haired hippies. It wasn't until later that Country & Western fell to the rednecks and became all Republican jingoistic anthems.

Anyway, further education resources on early 20th-century music curated by R. Crumb include the compilation albums:

  • That's What I Call Sweet Music (1999)

  • Hot Women: Women Singers from the Torrid Regions (2009)

  • Chimpin' the Blues (2013)

Many tracks on these works constitute the only known digital recording of these songs preserved from their original 78-RPM record publication.

Crumb's Further Music Culture Tanglings

Of course, Crumb is also known for providing cover art for albums on a strictly freelance basis. The most famous being Cheap Thrills by Janis Joplin's Big Brother and the Holding Company:

This explosion of illustrated artistry manages to incorporate track titles and band credits into an action-packed comic page split into a spider-webbed layout. The original album cover idea was to have Joplin and company pose nude, piled onto a bed, but that idea got vetoed by the publisher, Columbia Records. Party poopers! Joplin was already a huge comics fan, so she opted for Crumb's artwork as a plan B. Here it is in more or less the same form in a Crumb interview:

Crumb may have turned down Mick Jagger out of pure pettiness, but he was down with the Grateful Dead. Enough to supply art for a tribute album:

He would go on to draw cover art for at least 17 albums produced by Yazoo Records and Blue Goose Records, among many other projects. And then there were plain old musicians Crumb paid inked tributes to, such as Frank Zappa.

Robert Crumb Knows What a Hipster He Is!

Modern readers might assume, given R. Crumb's prominence in counter-culture, that he was a free-wheelin' fan of Flower Power. But actually, he was notoriously conservative and cranky when it came to music, championing the WWI era and deeper roots while practically spitting on everything that has come after.

Nevertheless, Crumb is the kind of character who owns his flaws and warts rather publicly. This includes his crusade for music preservation, which he himself self-parodies in this panel:

Make no mistake, Robert Crumb knows exactly whom he is. His comic works reflect all his obsessions and quirks, including a notorious, sharply warped sexuality. He doesn't apologize for it, but own it, he does.


8 Awesome Parts of Leonard Nimoy's The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

Posted 2 weeks ago by Penguin Pete

Leonard Nimoy is trending lately, which just gives us this excuse to publicly stan his brief, but distinguished, singing career. Starting with the album…

[1] Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy (1968)

After his earlier hit album Music From Outer Space (1967), Leonard Nimoy followed up with this project, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy. Once again we see the playful way he set off his typecasting, driving it into fans' heads that he's not Mr. Spock. As any vintage film and TV fan can tell you, Nimoy had a prolific career before Star Trek, as did most of the Trek cast. So we can see where you'd find it irksome to be remembered for just that role.

This album bore the world the magical "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," based on Tolkien's famous work that would later become Ian Holme's most celebrated role.

[2] Rainbow Kids!

The dancers in this video are outfitted in these knock-out printed sweatshirts with each in a different primary color. They're just too groovy to the max, you know? Then they march off in color-wheel spectrum order to show off their dance moves. They don't make 'em like they used to.

[3] The Insane Little Hobbit Dance

If you only know Hobbits through the Peter Jackson trilogy, your first encounter with this 1968 conception of them might be alarming. This dance is actually based on interpretations of the literature at this time. Though The Hobbit had been published back in 1937, it was already breaking ground as a beloved classic some three decades hence, but still before Hollywood caught Hobbit-fever. Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings was still a decade in the future, the Carter years of 1978.

Therefore this dance is canon. Hobbits really move like that. You don't have to like it, but this is what peak Hobbit performance looks like.

[4] The Buttons

In yet another odd production choice, some of the kids wear large construction paper buttons with handwritten slogans. The one in this picture reads "Admit Middle-Earth to the U.N.!" Others worn by Nimoy himself and another kid read "What's a Leonard Nimoy?" and "Hobbits unite!" At the time, they played up Nimoy's current Star Trek gig (season 2 TOS was filming at the time of this video), sort of like they were trying to tie the 2 fictional universes together.

Note also that Nimoy is almost identical in appearance here to his Mr. Spock role, neat as a pin but not in uniform. Of course, the kids sport Vulcan ears, because people tend to do that around Leonard Nimoy.

[5] Singing in Mind Meld

Nimoy hoists himself up a rope to climb up to the kid perched above, only to playfully boop heads while he goes on lip-synching his lyrics. His role of Mr. Spock, as a half-alien with quasi-psychic powers, gets just a hint of a reference here. You can tell Nimoy had the time of his life filming this.

[6] The First Music Video!

No, we're kidding, it doesn't really qualify as the first music video in history. If you define "music video" loosely enough, they go back to the beginning of camera technology. This was a promotional song coincided with the release of the aforementioned album, produced for the ABC variety show TV series Malibu U. If you view the amazing intro from this show, you can guess that they filmed the show in Malibu, California, with an amazing collection of prop cars from every decade of auto history. The primary filming was done at Leo Carrillo State Beach, right on PCH. This was also used as a filming location in everything from Grease (1978) to Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957).

[7] Malibu U Also Hosted The Doors' Light My Fire

You might want to tie a scarf around your head so your jaw doesn't hit the floor, but The Doors themselves were also guest stars on Malibu U, which was more of the American Bandstand of its day. You can tell it was aimed at a teenage audience. Seriously, surfing, the unspoiled California beach, and beach-side music videos filmed every week? How come this show even got canceled?

Many more famous music acts of the day were on Malibu U. They include Marvin Gaye, Dionne Warwick, Buffalo Springfield, Don Ho, Paul Lynde, Neil Young, The Turtles, to name a few. The show was also hosted by teen heartthrob stars of the day, Ricky Nelson and Annette Funicello. So yes, dig into some music history and find someplace to stream all 7 episodes of this show, it's worth the hunt.

[8] Leonard Nimoy Almost Gets Clocked by a Shoe

In the song's bridge, Nimoy's lyrics describe several events from The Hobbit:

> "Well he fought with the goblins!

> "He battled a troll!

> "He riddled with Gollum!

> "A magic ring he stole!"

Meanwhile, the kids are all squatting behind the sand ridge acting out the action in the most hilarious and hammy way. They end up throwing bushes, branches, and several articles of clothing, punctuated by stunts like popping their head over the edge with a Gollum impression that will steal your heart. Neigh about the minute-28 mark, you see Nimoy lean back slightly while an article of clothing whizzes past him. It's close to the camera and mostly a blur, but we're going with "shoe." Right after that a hat sails even closer to Nimoy before the scene cuts to kids dancing, so maybe that was a hit?

Join us next time on Lyric Interpretations and maybe we'll dive further into Malibu U if the fate warrants.


The Forgotten Art of the Animated Music Video

Posted 2 weeks, 2 days ago by Penguin Pete

We try to aim most of our music lists around here towards playlist filler for you busy iPod listeners on the go. The trouble with that plan is that we seldom get the chance to emphasize the visual aspect. MTV has come and "gone," more viewers today cutting the cord and going all-streaming - including yours truly.

So we're not doing the top animated videos of all time, because the best of the '80s and '90s are already well-known. Instead, we'd like to showcase more recent animated videos which you might have missed amid your all-Spotify music diet.

Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do

"Look What You Made Me Do" was a 2017 comeback song for Taylor Swift after a year's hiatus. It's a gritty little grrl-power song about revenge, with some twisted psychology applied in the lyrics. The video broke records on YouTube for most views, so it's possible you've seen this before. The animations are nicely realized, a blend of whimsical typography and grindhouse thriller from movies in the I Spit on Your Grave genre. The black, red, and white colors accentuate the menacing tone, while the snake motif plays with the deceptive aspect. Wouldn't this have been perfect for the Kill Bill soundtrack?

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Ghost of Stephen Foster

The Squirrel Nut Zippers are a swing / jazz-age revival band, so it comes as no surprise that the animation would be from that era as well. While this song doesn't make a lot of sense by itself, the video completes it, turning it into a little story. This loving tribute to Betty Boop and other Fleischer-era animation has an innocent couple check into a hotel which is apparently haunted, or controlled by a chaotic caretaker who bends reality just to terrify the guests. The opening, non-animated part is also a tribute, to Cab Calloway and his manic stage act.

Tally Hall - Hidden in the Sand

Keeping with the black and white theme, this song by Tally Hall takes a slightly different approach. Paired with their low-fi, retro song which evokes 1950s South Pacific vibes, the video shows the crew and passengers on a cruise ship dancing up a storm - until a woodpecker somehow sinks the whole ship by pecking one hole in the deck. The animation is curious here, obviously imitating the style of 1930s cartoons, but also done with more modern lines and motion, like a Flash cartoon.

Sparks - The Existential Threat

The band Sparks is an art-pop UK group which has been around for a long time - 24 studio albums and counting. But they hadn't had a charting hit in the US Billboard since the 1983 release of their In Outer Space album. That changed with their album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, which charted in the US again as well as sustaining their popularity in the UK. This video for "The Existential Threat" likely had no small part in that comeback, animated to terrifying and hysterical perfection by legendary visual artist Cyriak Harris. The hyper-paranoid attitude of the song together with the lurching, jerky animation could not have come along at a better time, right at the peak onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Trailer to The French Dispatch (in theaters now)

Director Wes Anderson, darling of the indie movie circuit, directed this animated video. It's a rare turn for him, since he's most associated with live action films with sets unsoiled by CGI. Seeing this video inspired this list, because this is a whimsical trip through an inked and animated France. The trailer reflects the ensemble cast of the film, one of those movies which follow various characters through individual plot threads. It's the rare kind of cinematic animated opening we miss now, because they just don't make 'em like this anymore.

Rick & Morty - Goodbye, Moonmen

This is the part where we challenge your definition of a "music video." Originally, an episode of the disgustingly popular animated sitcom Rick & Morty featured this song in two parts, which was later stitched together with clips of the episode into this full video from Adult Swim. So a little backstory: In this episode, Morty is set up to be a bleeding-heart softy who saves a gaseous alien creature from being assassinated, only to discover that its nefarious motives would have rather justified talking it out. The telepathic alien invades Morty's mind with this song, intended to distract him. It's done as a deliberate parody of psychedelic morphing animation, but is just too funny to leave out.

Hollerado - Americanarama

Finally, we have one of the most original ideas in animation ever attempted, by an unassuming indie jangle-pop band filming in a junkyard. Hollerado states that they wanted to do something "cheap and awesome." What they came up with is described as "human 8-bit," a 6x4 "screen" rendered using people flashing poster-board images (stacked to the left of each assistant) in the cubbyholes of an open building. Considering the imaginative ways they used this to render an equalizer, a video game, bass guitar tabs, and more, it's a shame human 8-bit didn't catch on. This video is 12 years old now. Time for a revival?

That's it folks, blog posts have to stop somewhere. Maybe you can tip us off to more recent animated video greats made this century?


Newer Posts
All blog posts