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Oldies Lyrics: No No No No No No, It Ain’t You, Bob.

Posted in lyrics by YTAH on July 21, 2008
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Today, in part 4 of what promises to become The Continuing Saga of Our Feature on Bad Lyrics (AKA “No You Can’t Take the Fucking Weather With You”), we’re going to massacre the discographies of some older, more experienced, more washed-up musicians.

You see, I’ve noticed that there’s something specific and terrifying that happens when musicians reach the apex of their careers. It is especially serious in cases where the artists have achieved a debilitating level of fame and critical adulation, where said summit makes those of their contemporaries look like the hill in that Hugh Grant film (the one about the love lives of British surveyors) when placed next to, say, the Himalayas. (Who’d’ve thought a film pithily titled The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain wouldn’t be a big commercial hit, anyway?) It’s a symptom of what I like to call the Cereal Box Syndrome (CBS), where the artist can take any piece of found text, wrap a melody around it, and then perform it as though singing the complete works of William fucking Shakespeare distilled to five verses and a chorus. Do some independent research if you disagree, and you’ll be surprised how widespread this sickness is. Maybe then you too will be amazed at the fact that this devastating scourge has pervaded the music industry and yet stayed off the Top 40 list of Celebrity Causes. I mean, celebrities are nuts for causes, especially if they involve some kind of debilitating, potentially fatal disease, and (optimally) the celebrity themselves: Muscular dystrophy; HIV/AIDS; whatever disease turned the kid from Family Ties into a retired postmaster with myxomatosis. (That’s the shakes, for those in the slow seats.)

Asses to Asses… What goes around comes around.
Now, in case you thought that my reference to an obscure romantic comedy was made simply for rhetorical effect, or to beef up the word count (The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain? C’mon, that’s twelve – count them, 12 – good words. Twenty-four, if you use it twice), you’d be right – but you’d also be wrong. (I suppose that means you’re partly right, but that’s five words less than “you’d be right – but you’d also be wrong”. See how this works?) But no, there are a number of reasons for mentioning the film here, quite apart from the fact that I rather enjoyed it. (At the time, anyway. I haven’t seen it for several years, but back then I thought it had the unhurried, airy charm of a PG Wodehouse book. So if in the interim it has somehow morphed into a piece of Richard Linklater’s left-over crap, please fail to keep me informed.) Firstly, it serves as a gentle reminder, dear readers, that what goes up must come down. As with gravity, so with the careers of the once-talented. And there is nothing more indicative of a sudden, precipitous decline than lines like the following, courtesy of His Bobness, Earl of Dylan. In the aptly titled “Floater”, for example, he sings:

My grandfather was a duck trapper
He could do it with just dragnets and ropes
My grandmother could sew new dresses out of old cloth
I don’t know if they had any dreams or hopes

I mean, what the fuck, Bob, what are you on about? Is lucidity too much to ask? Enough with the old-timery bullshit, and get on with the goddamn song already.

Or on another Love and Theft track:

Knockin’ on the door, I say, “Who is it and where are you from?”
Man says, “Freddy!” I say, “Freddy who?” He says, “Freddy or not here I come.”

“Po’ Boy”? Poor listener. Fuck, Bob, what are we, 12? You keep this up, you’ll be knocking on heaven’s door much sooner than you’d like. C’mon, that’s just lazy. The only reason he’s recording these hopelessly pointless lines is that no-one would dare to call him on it. Lazy writing? Dylan? God no, he’s a fucking genius, therefore unassailable – like Mount Everest.

‘Nuff said.
Of course, the Beatles also famously dabbled in recreational CBS, Lennon being the most prominent exponent. After all, he cribbed the incomprehensible “I Am the Walrus” from Lewis Caroll, and stole the lyrics for “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” from a broadsheet advertising a Victorian circus. Hey, fellas – give up your jobs as copyrighters, and come write songs for us instead! (We hear Bernie Taupin’s retired, and that old slag Elton will sing any damn thing.) McCartney’s songs were often hackneyed and sentimental, but at least they were his own. George Harrison didn’t steal lyrics – apparently he only stole other people’s tunes. My sweet lord, indeed. (Although admittedly even the judge thought it was an accident. Lennon, never the most well-adjusted Beatle, promptly started acting superior, because GOD KNOWS his immaculate majesty would never plagiarize anybody. Any wonder that Ringo Starr is now my favourite member of this band?)

And don’t get me started on The Rolling Stones, that merry band of Beatle-wannabes who stole the idea for an entire album (Their Satanic Majesties Request) from The Beatles. Why, those bastions of originality; who could have predicted that they’d be living out the latter part of their career as a stadium covers band. How the mighty have … rolled gently downhill. “Why don’t we sing this song all together/ Open our minds let the pictures come/ And if we close all our eyes together/ Then we will see where we all come from.” Wait, is this a pastiche of hip(pie) psychedelia, or a parody? Not that they were ever above “borrowing” from their inspirations; after all, they once lifted an entire chorus from a song by Love. I don’t know what’s worse – when they try aping the Beatles’ psychedelics, or when they copy their fellow Brits’ pale attempts at rhythm-and-blues: “In the silk sheet of time/ I will find peace of mind/ Love is a bed full of blues.” The silk sheet of time, Mick? What part of the blues says “contour sheets” to you? Also, what is it about their ability to write song titles so potently awful that they spawn horrible films? (Has anyone even seen Moonlight Mile? God, what a pretentious, boring wankfest.) And yet, the worst part of “Jumping Jack Flash” wasn’t the terrible movie, but lyrics like this:

I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead
I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled
I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread
I was crowned with a spike right thru my head

What part of drowning cuts your feet open? And a crown’s supposed to go on top of your head, dumbass. “It’s a gas! Gas! Gas!” Not for the rest of us. At least, not a gas that isn’t methane, or emitted by active volcanoes.

No-one’s there movie poster.
My second reason for mentioning that Hugh Grant film is that there is also something dangerously pompous about someone once they’ve reached this stage in their career. Hence my oblique reference, in last week’s teaser, to the lyrics for The Beatles’ ode to themselves, “The Word”:

Say the word and you’ll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I’m thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?

I’m thinking of a few words too, guys, but what I’m thinking is “self-satisfied gits”. With Dylan, this monumental self-confidence affects even those who attempt cover versions of his songs. Where the cover artists may otherwise have generally been willing to admit the possibility that they are rather insipid and therefore need to make a decent effort at hacking out a sensible tune, many people who cover Dylan songs automatically assume that they themselves have somehow become deified, and subsequently have no qualms about subjecting their listeners to the most over-inflated, self-involved, badly-processed, pompous fuckery ever recorded on any form of media. There is no better acid test for a dyed-in-the-crotch cunt than a Dylan cover. If they suffer from any approximation of self-respect, they may escape unscathed; otherwise, they will come out reeking of second-hand processed shit. Just check out Tom Verlaine’s cover of “Cold Irons Bound” on the soundtrack to the new movie, and then compare it to Tracy Chapman’s cover of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – a record that revitalized an over-familiar hit, making it sound fresh and rebellious, and simultaneously launched her career.

Of course, it’s one thing for an artist to believe in their own genius and their ability to craft works of true magnificence. It’s quite another for the fans to proclaim their hero some kind of god and worship at the altar of their cleverness. Or, as some fat American movie critic has it in his review for that film I keep mentioning:

Mountains must be at least 1,000 feet high. Anything smaller is a large hill. The locals are aghast: Their ‘mountain’ has been a mountain since time immemorial, and any suggestion that it is otherwise would be a calamity.

To wit, there are many people to whom His Dylanesque genius is unassailable, as if it were Michelangelo’s David, or the Mona Lisa, or the ten fucking commandments. To me, it’s just one more monument to his inflated ego, and the insanity of all his fans. Yes, the man has some truly magnificent songs – a lot of them, in fact – but “Just Like A Woman” is not one of them. Not with lyrics like “It was raining from the first/ And I was dying there of thirst/ So I came in here…” Well you can get right the fuck out again. “And your long-time curse hurts/ But what’s worse/ Is this pain in here/ I can’t stay in here/ Ain’t it clear…” No, Bob, sorry; there are hip-hop lyrics more insightful than this.

Avril Lavigne’s home. No-one’s calling her a genius.
I remember someone talking about a Bob Dylan tour to some third-world country where he’d been really hyped in the press beforehand, so that everyone was expectant, fans starved for live music from international acts eager to hear the legend play. Only, the first night, he gave a totally crap concert, got slammed in the press, and then gave one of the most memorably kickass performances ever. Somehow, they took this as a sign that His Merciful Bobness was impervious to critical and fan expectations, and thus somehow cooler. I took it as a sign that occasionally he performs like a tone-deaf asshole with a shitty voice who should probably not be singing in the first place. (Could anybody make out what he was singing on MTV Unplugged? Sekhmet almighty, I’ve heard crickets more lucid.) Most people, though, seem about as willing to acknowledge a chink in the great man’s armour as they would be to disembowel their first-born infants on the dried-up husk of Satan’s cock. Face it, people: he cannot sing, and occasionally his lyrics make about as much sense as the brainfarts of the terminally insane.

This secondary set of conditions associated with CBS leads me to my third point, the next stage of the “so-called legend” disease: the inevitable moment where they give up their decadent ways and embrace religion. This stage in the progress of the disease I’d like to call the Ever-Holy Git syndrome, AKA “the Harrison”, in honour of George Harrison’s opus to his own enlightenment, “The Light That Has Lighted the World”:

The thoughts in their heads,
Manifest on their brow
Like bad scars from ill feelings
They themselves arouse…

The light that has lighted the world? Hardly. If this much self-righteousness was lighting up the world, there’d be all kinds of wars, prejudice, devastation … oh wait, maybe he was right after all. The only feelings you arouse in me, George, are contempt and disgust, and they’re not going to leave any scars on me – but they may just leave some scars on your corpse.

It’s funny how people just won’t accept change
As if nature itself – they’d prefer re-arranged
So hard to move on
When you’re down in a hole
When there’s so little chance,
To experience soul.

Jesus. As proselytising goes, this would be about as effective as hurling humus pies at passersby. No wonder Lester Bangs called the Living in the Material World album “so holy I could scream”. I know how you feel, Lester.

Of course, no-one has ever been struck down more mercilessly – and more famously – by this phase of CBS than Dylan himself. Think Slow Train Coming, think Saved (“saved”! for fuck’s sake); Shot of Love even features a song called “Property of Jesus”. (Retch.) How ironic that a man whose barbiturate habit got so out of hand that Frank Zappa made fun of him suddenly found Jesus, and then proceeded to shove his newfound faith down the throats of all his longsuffering fans, as if buying an album were somehow supposed to be a trial by fire.

Hero of the counter-culture? Fuck off. Not with lyrics like this:

For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears.
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns.

Yeah right. Fuck off, Bob. You and George can both go fuck yourselves. Now you’re reducing me to tears – not tears of repentance, but tears of regret. I hate myself for ever liking your music, and I’ll never make the same mistake again.

Zappa – We're Only In It For the MoneyI think Zappa said it best…
Even Sir Eric the Crapton found God, if you remember, which is why we now have “In the Presence of the Lord” to thank for it. Another wonderful example of an artist cynically exploiting A Life-Changing Moment™ for commercial gain. On the subject of inexplicable acclaim: “Tears in Heaven”? Yeah, great song, Eric. Tears in heaven, money in the bank. Nothing says “soulful troubadour” like making money off a dead kid. Yeah, you’re crying, alright. On the outside. Inside, you’re laughing all the way to the bank. Way to go, Eric. Henceforth you shall be known as the Patron Saint of Money-grubbers. Fucker. Of course, once you’ve milked the hippies, the religious nuts, and the rest of your fans for as much moolah as possible, you can always turn around and conveniently “forget” your drug use, your religion, and your shitty songs, and continue milking your talent for monetary gain.

The moral of this story? You too, my friend, can be a genius, if you’re willing to be a cunt.

[Originally posted on www.africans.co.za on Tuesday, May 20, 2008.]

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