“Old Age Pension Check” (Roy Acuff)

The invention of social security “turned this country upside down.” All forms of needless striving dissolve: “drug stores will go bankrupt,” because people will feel well, and women will no longer need “cosmetics” to lure a husband. The attempt, today, to privatize the system is premised on our interest to “own” our own future; concerning this, Bush Redux says: “we’ve got to understand the power of compounding interest, the importance of savings, and the beauty of ownership in the American society” (3/1/02). But Acuff had hoped for a “second childhood” in which responsibility wasn’t premised on possession.  Otherwise, we’re all just going back to work (on our leisure).

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“Garden of Eden” (Guns N’ Roses)

Axl Rose’s consistency as a lyricist should never be in question: beyond dispute, he is a “country” singer, regarding the city, over and over again, as a place of diaspora and loss for him. But he does not sing in the genre called “country music,” and for reasons of absolute and complete diaspora. Country boys are nice and simple folk (see “Welcome to the Jungle,” Appetite for Destruction), and such “nice boys don’t play rock and roll” (see “Nice Boys,” Lies).  But, for Axl, that was long ago and far away. Rock is an index of Babylon, of corruption.  “We’re lost in the garden of Eden,” and the “problem” itself is called “rock’n’roll.” But as a mere index, it has no pragmatic utility, and GN’R is not so much irresponsible as not responsible. A declaration of radically innocent corruption, then.

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“(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” (Righteous Brothers)

If, one day, space aliens ponder the history of histrionic, twentieth-century love songs, they will wonder whether the Anglo-American world went completely mad in the postwar period. Boys particularly seem to have been in some form of competition to claim the most complete and greatest love of all, and oftentimes it got pretty squirrelly. Listen to the Righteous Brothers claim: “Without you, baby, what good am I?/You’re my reason for laughing/For crying, for living, and for dying.” Huh? You’re my reason for dying? Is this what a girl wants to hear? Let’s start by doubting this claim: in the first place, no one has a reason for dying. In fact, it’s entirely unreasonable and quite mad that we start dying on the day of our birth. You can’t choose it. No one ever wished to be born. (Or, if you’re in an emo mood, you might cheat and claim your parents as your reason for dying, but, remember: they weren’t acting reasonably when they conceived you.) So perhaps the love-struck Brothers Righteous are saying: you’re the only reason I continue with this suffering called life. Yes, “you’re my reason for living.” Without you, in other words, I’ll kill myself. Again, just what a girl wants to hear. Now she’s been made hyper-responsible for the continued existence of this big lump on the couch. So as soon as you hear a boy break into song, don’t try to be reasonable. Laugh.


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“The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” (The Feelies)

Every time you look to an adjacent dwelling, there’s the potential of seeing another “you.” This could be unsettling or, more optimistically, revelatory in certain ways. Building through a one-minute intro, the trax follows a domiciled narrator, water dripping in the background, the kick drum like a heartbeat, and the first of a repeated, single-note guitar figure (in half-time as compared to the ending’s double time). Through a ploddingly fast beat, we learn that the “boy next door” (who is also the singer) is ushering in a new form of averageness: “he doesn’t plan to work too hard” and, unlike “boys” from the gauzy past, he won’t “make [his] parents proud.” Indeed, “this one beats ‘em all.” What are the “bigger” and “better things” that the both the neighbor and singer are into? A general hostility to parenting and a discrete sense of identity that romanticizes teen angst as lovable irresponsibility. Such irresponsibility—to one’s self and to those enclosures that promote it—as first principle in a gesture toward promising, shared identity.


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