“We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” (Queen)

In his review of Queen’s Jazz (1979), Rolling Stone critic Dave Marsh famously wrote that the two-year-old anthem “We Will Rock You” “is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you.” “Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band,” separating out “who is superior and who is inferior.” (Marsh’s straight-faced critique predates Pete Wylie’s more tongue-in-cheek approach toward “rockism” by two years). As others have pointed out, however, this trax and its linked partner, “We are the Champions,” are just as easily read as barely-coded gay insurgency. The timing is certainly right: in England in 1977, workplace rights for gays and lesbians were on the agenda for the first time at the annual Trade Union Congress, and the International Gay Association was founded in 1978. Both trax evoke the comic book ad figure of the ninety-eight pound weakling having sand kicked in his face. (The Rocky Horror Show’s “I Can Make You a Man,” from 1973, covers similar territory.) “We Will Rock You” comes with a promise of being “rocked” by the sound of an arena’s stomping and clapping, and perhaps being turned into a piece of granite. From now on, according to the song, you will be hard—hinting at the rise of the muscled, mustachioed Castro clone, and prefiguring Freddie Mercury’s adoption of the look in 1980. Today, the emergence of the figure of the clone is frequently criticized as foreclosing a more diverse, queer seventies community. On the other hand, there’s no doubt a practical side to the practice, since the clone was less vulnerable than the queen on the street. “We Are the Champions” continues the basic theme, but with the added barb that got under Marsh’s skin: “no time for losers.” So are Queen on the verge of genocide? Perhaps it all depends on the status of “we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end.” If you’re in a fight as part of a community, then of course there’s “no time for losers.” You have to stand up and pick a side, and if you can’t do that you should just go home. If fighting and its necessities are fascistic, then we’re all fascists. Every community and every state is grounded in an unprecedented act of original violence, in “us” and “them,” in risk and sacrifice. And every older community would like to bury this knowledge, and imagine that only the latest dust-ups are existential threats.

 

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“Behemoth” (Tad)

As with any bloodsport, ideas concerning representation and authenticity are both solidified and dislodged. Tad’s ascendance came with the attendant Sub Pop marketing, firming up the label’s reputation while playing up an image of the band, as Kim Thayil contends, that deviates too far from their “smart[ness].” This radio-unfriendly trax insists, however, on the “strange new sound” that emerges from such forms of violence. Rather than “stay[ing] to hear” what’s been produced for “no reason,” those subject to the “behemoth” of institutionalized sound—or the vice-like “leather straps” cinching the cranium—will ideally live to see it “fall down.” This isn’t an undressing and it’s certainly not a recovery narrative. Occasional fuzz bass, solid-state distortion, and tightly controlled distortion erupt from within. Anticipating the birth of grunge, we witness its birth and evisceration. The necessary joy of quixotic, preemptive sonic battles.

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“Thrown to the Wolves” (Death Angel)

JoAnna Russ’ narrator in We Who Are About to . . . attempts to practice ars moriendi while her companions on a possibly uninhabited planet are preoccupied with the survival of civilization. While she doesn’t realize that her antagonists are also practicing the art of dying in a modern way, there is the realization that either option demands extreme violence. Analogically, different iterations of the christian guidebooks—or, currently, “best practices” manuals—to ars moriendi, at times, rehearse familiar debates about the propriety of innovation. This trax, from the album Ars Moriendi, exploits this tension by refocusing. The “pack” coming for you values “no compromise,” and managed banishment is their praxis. You won’t be left alone. The assault is constant and demands ritual sacrifices of whatever type of family you’ve culled together. There are no future decisions. One remains “hiding,” “choking,” and “beg[ging]. The key is that you’ve been “betrayed,” as there once was a promise since withdrawn by the state. What can be picked from the remains? Here, it’s the interruption of “worth” and the “dignity” of it all.

 

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“Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (For 52 Strings)” (Rome Symphony Orchestra)

The gift of the lament need not be representational in order to give (itself) over: bodies, decisions, and stockpiles); surely, the air-raid sirens, buildings imploding, and two tone-cluster passages mark time, but the destruction never creates a silence. At the zenith of this Penderecki piece’s zenith (twenty-five total seconds), a single violin sounds, sustained without adornment/ornamentation. Barren, all fifty two strings sounds approximate pitches and durations, holding at bay that memorialization which aggrandizes certitude.  Like the 2003 Hiroshima commemoration, the generation (of shared listening) should compress distance while remaining proximate: close enough to the event for commitment.

 

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“Bird Seed” (Whitehouse)

Peter Sotos collage of voices of prostitutes, abused children, parents of kidnapped and murdered children, and the ubiquitous, soothing voices of social workers and media interviewers. Sexual abuse has been “hidden in the closet too long,” says one voice. While this taped testimony is “out,” perhaps, it is being disseminated within something else: a legal buyer’s market for the pornographic, under cover of a media-induced “therapy” of expression and positive thinking. In an abuser’s pecking order, the State and the media come first.

 

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“Dolores” (Eddie Noack)

Country music has turned up its fair share of specialists in criminal psychology, such as Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, and Porter Wagoner. No matter how vile the material, what unites such trax in an overarching economy of life involving God and guns, sinning and supplicating. Even prospective prisoners are full of sorrow, or at least polite (see “Pardon Me, I’ve Got Someone to Kill”). Perpetrators of violence narrate their fall with respect to the seven deadly sins, admit their guilt, and accept the logic of the death penalty. Perhaps some of these criminal singers already have been subjected to a social worker or a minister, shaping their narratives toward identity coherence and narrative closure. Then comes Eddie Noack, a no-chancer who forever altered such stories of closure via a pair of nearly forgotten trax: “Psycho” (1968) and “Dolores” (1969). In the latter, the singer tells his girl that a “berserk” serial slayer is on the loose, and she needs to stay home tonight. She doesn’t, of course, and soon he’s at the morgue, identifying her body. But wait! It turns out the singer is also the killer, and the police don’t have a clue. The singer therefore finds himself split between two identities, and the trax broadly belongs to the tradition of the recursive detective (Oedipus, for instance, or Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me [1952], or Philip K. Dick’s The Man Who Japed [1956]). “How could I know that it was you?” he asks, shuttling between the man who knew her well, and the one to whom she was a stranger. He’s broken into pieces that never were and never can be knit together, and all signs point back toward his original monstrosity.

 

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