October 03, 2007

Comparative reviews: someone else's lyrical boner is always bigger than yours.

In response to my beloved sister's intensive analysis of Interpol's lyrical failings, I offer something which proves that, while Interpol does write some fucking awful lyrics, they are not breaking new ground in embarrassing their audiences. It is always possible to find something a) older and b) dumber, and I am doing so here with a song that, frankly, Katie can probably sing from memory. But lest you think I'm on any kind of musical high horse here, the reason I am able to offer this to you is that I own it, listen to it, and have had it stuck in my head for long enough to get to really thinking about it. Ladies and gentlemen, the Traveling Wilburys.

Tweeter and the Monkeyman were hard up for cash
They stayed up all night selling cocaine and hash
To an undercover cop who had a sister named Jan

Lucid so far. This isn't really a wise business practice in the long run, but at least we're honest about it.

For reasons unexplained she loved the Monkeyman

Error! We are a ballad; we have the benefit of omniscient perspective. We do not have any excuse not to elucidate these putative reasons, and we sound pretty dumb for failing to do so.

Tweeter was a boy scout before she went to Vietnam
And found out the hard way nobody gives a damn

If we could only trust them to be writing these lyrics thoughtfully, this might be a perfectly good line that neatly hints at Tweeter's gender status and life history. But I've always just thought they were either confused or throwing around pronouns without referents.

They knew that they found freedom just across the Jersey line
So they hopped into a stolen car took highway 99

Fine. Fine. Whatever. I'm not even asking who all these theys are.

And the walls came down all the way to hell
Never saw them when theyâre standing
Never saw them when they fell

I mean, a) it doesn't make any sense. What walls? Where? The soundwalls on Highway 99? How far do walls have to go to get to hell? And b) why can we not stay consistently in the past tense here??

The undercover cop never liked the Monkeyman
Even back in childhood he wanted to see him in the can

Now that's just impolite. Some things should be private.

Jan got married at fourteen to a racketeer named Bill
She made secret calls to the Monkeyman from a mansion on the hill

Evidently this song is chock full of Bruce Springsteen references, including this line. That's fun. But it's still a complete red herring. It's like that assignment you get in elementary school where you have to write a story using all 36 vocabulary words and so you throw in these totally unnecessary and frequently incoherent story arcs about rhyming dungarees just to get the damn words in.

It was out on Thunder Road - Tweeter at the wheel
They crashed into paradise - they could hear them tires squeal

This is always a metaphor for everyone dying. Always. Unless it's a metaphor for sex. Neither way makes the rest of the song make any sense.

The undercover cop pulled up and said every one of youâs a liar
If you donât surrender now its gonna go down to the wire

Hard to be a liar if you haven't actually had any lines yet. And if they've crashed into Paradise and the walls have come down, isn't it kind of implied that it's gone down to the wire already?

An ambulance rolled up - a state trooper close behind
Tweeter took his gun away and messed up his mind
The undercover cop was left tied up to a tree

Okay, that's allowed. I actually guiltily really like that middle line. Maybe it's just the way that Bob Dylan sings it*. You know, it's action. It's gritty. I can handle this.

Near the souvenir stand by the old abandoned factory

No. What? I understand souvenir stands. I understand abandoned factories. But why in god's name would you combine them? What are you selling? Churros and rusty disused industrial equipment? Keychains and toxic chemicals? No.

Next day the undercover cop was hot in pursuit
He was taking the whole thing personal, he didnât care about the loot

Reasonable. I take it personally when people leave me tied up to trees, too. But what loot?

Jan had told him many times it was you to me who taught
In Jersey anythingâs legal as long as you donât get caught

You are NOT allowed to transitive that way. If you can't figure out a way to make it rhyme and still be English, you lose all the points you just earned with the gritty Jersey stuff.

Someplace by Rahway prison they ran out of gas
The undercover cop had cornered them, said huh, you didnât think that this could last

More Bruce Springsteen, apparently.

Jan jumped out of bed said thereâs someplace I gotta go
She took a gun out of the drawer and said its best if you donât know

Who what? How? Is she psychic? Anyway, she doesn't need to worry, because I don't know. Anything.

The undercover cop was found face down in a field
The Monkeyman was on the river bridge using Tweeter as a shield

I can't figure out what these tenses are, but I know they don't match. Is the action still going on? Are we sorting through the wreckage later? It's all a blur.

Jan said to the Monkeyman, Iâm not fooled by Tweeter's curl
I knew him long before he ever became a Jersey girl

Curl? Just one, like the girl in the nursery rhyme? And is Tweeter's hair really the most pressing issue here while zie is being used as a shield?

Now the town of Jersey city is quieting down again
Iâm sitting in a gambling club called the Lionâs Den
The TV set was blown up, every bit of it is gone
Ever since the nightly news show that the Monkeyman was on

I don't even know where to start with this. The action is over and we don't know what happened, the dramatis personae are appearing on talk shows, and all of a sudden we have this first-person narrator who was never here before and may or may not have been the one to destroy a perfectly good household appliance because it was showing the Monkeyman wearing a bad suit and making small talk with Barbara Walters. Or whatever.

I guess Iâll go to Florida and get myself some sun
There ainât no more opportunity here, everythingâs been done

Fine. You do that.

Sometimes I think of Tweeter, sometimes I think of Jan
Sometimes I donât think about nothing but the Monkeyman

I really hope you're prepared to share with the class what it is about them that you're thinking, because we certainly don't have a lot to reflect on. Gosh, it's a shame the way they wound up, you know, with Tweeter [blank] [blank] the [blank], and the Monkeyman [blank] in his [blank] to [blank], and poor Jan, she just [blank] and [blank] after the [blank] at [blank].


(*For those of you not familiar with the Traveling Wilburys, they were a short-lived, though not short enough, supergroup composed of the following individuals who should have known better:
Bob Dylan
Roy Orbison
Tom Petty
George Harrison
Jeff Lynne
And possibly a lot of drugs.)

Posted by dianna at October 3, 2007 11:37 AM

I've never really taken the trouble to familiarize myself with the use of non-gender-specific pronouns (I'm generally more worried about remembering the official gendered pronouns in various languages), but I think that was a perfect use of "zie." I'd forgotten about Tweeter's hairdo, stint in Nam, and untimely end as a human shield.

I can't believe we used to listen to this in the car with Mom all the time. Weird. This is probably why, as an adult, I can't listen to anything that any of these five guys have ever done.

Posted by: katie at October 3, 2007 11:58 AM

I'd feel better if we knew it was an untimely end. I mean, for all we really get to find out, Tweeter turns out to be like the Terminator Mark II who can extrude bits of indestructible metal and therefore makes a great shield, and the Monkeyman didn't know this all this time and was so horrified to find it out that despite Tweeter's valiant work in protecting him he up and jumped off the river bridge to his own untimely end, and Tweeter was racked with guilt but, being a robot, couldn't commit suicide hirself and was doomed to wander the earth crying tiny metal tears forever.

Also, remoldable metal bodies make sex changes easier, I imagine.

Posted by: Dianna at October 3, 2007 05:11 PM