Denny Sinnoh's "Akihabara Starlight"

Posts tagged ‘Songwriting’

Denny’s Classroom — Two centuries of British songwriting, Part 27: “Bodies” by the Sex Pistols

british song

Good morning class. Today in “Two Centuries of British Song and Poetry” we travel back to the late-twentieth century. We will study the origin and development of  “punk rock” theory. (Denny rustles lecture notes on the podium.) We will celebrate and explore the musical and lyrical genius of Mr. Johnny Rotten and Mr. Sid Vicious (now deceased). The song is “Bodies” from the “Never Mind The Bollocks” album by The Sex Pistols, released in October 1977.

Abortion is a serious and controversial topic. There are relatively few pop songs which cover the issue however. Who else to explore this debate than with these preeminent and prototypical late 1970s punk rock icons? (Ahem.) Perhaps it is best if we play the song first. Please hold your discussion points until AFTER the song plays. (Denny senses some distracted students.) The lyrics are here for you to follow along with.

She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion
She was a case of insanity
Her name was Pauline  (she lived in a tree)

She was a no one who killed her baby
She sent her letters from the country
She was an animal
She was a bloody disgrace!

Body! I’m not an animal
Body! I’m not an animal

Dragged on a table in factory
Illegitimate place to be
In a packet in a lavatory
Die little baby screaming!!!
Body! screaming fucking bloody mess
Not an animal
It’s an abortion 

Body! I’m not animal!
Mummy! I’m not an abortion!

[Spoken]
Throbbing squirm,
gurgling bloody mess
I’m not a discharge!
I’m not a loss in protein!
I’m not a throbbing squirm!

Fuck this and fuck that —
Fuck it all and fuck a fucking brat
She don’t wanna baby that looks like that
I don’t wanna baby that looks like that
Body, I’m not an animal
Body, an abortion

Body! I’m not an animal
Body! I’m not an animal
An animal
I’m not an animal…..
I’m an abortion…..

Mummy! UGH!

We should also enjoy this lovely live version from way back in 1978. This really really takes me back to my youth. I’m the guy with glasses in the third row. 

The lyrics – which are tame by today’s standards – were quite shocking in 1977, as were the Sex Pistols, as was British punk rock music in general. The protagonist of the song is an unborn fetus. It pleads to its insipid mother that “I am not an animal”. To no avail. It dies a “screaming bloody gurgling mess” during an illegal abortion. If you watch the live version, note that at one point Johnny Rotten twists his microphone cord around his neck to symbolize the abortion procedure against the unborn child. Sid Vicious was cutting himself on stage by that time, so the extra blood further illustrates the poetic complexity. The last lyric line is simply “Ugh” — the death of the would-be human baby.

rotten twisting abortion

What would the world have been like if the mother of John Lydon had an abortion?

The music is exemplary punk rock music. When I young musicians, and they sometimes tell me that “the Pistols” are one of their influences. I always say “Do you know what the Sex Pistols were really like?!?” It is true, their album is full of what would now be considered punk clichés. They invented the punk rock standard.  (I suggest that readers view the interesting mocumentary “The Great Rock-and-Roll Swindle” for a fuller story.)

The lyrics do open up a number of questions of course …

Now, I know what you are thinking: How right-wing reactionary they must have been …  writing an anti-abortion song. Of course, the Sex Pistols were anything but conservative – they were very much the opposite actually .. despite the Pro-Life message of this song.

20 week fetus

The 20 week fetus: I’M NOT AN ANIMAL!

I think the reason why they presented this horror show was to shake up the complacency of British society. Abortions by this time were legal, although restricted, in Britain. Middle and upper class British women having abortions would just be another thing for Mr. Rotten to be critical of. He would also be critical of “all the bloody starvation and oppression” in the world as well.  The ant-abortion statement here, I believe, is just another way for him to say “Fuck you England – you’re stupid”. Whatever is the norm, he would seek to tear down. Anything against the British majority — which would make him correct only 80% of the time! (Denny looks out at students to see if anyone is challenged by his last statement).

“God save the Queen – because this is a FASCIST regime … there is no future for you …. and England’s dreaming …”.

(cough). Oh, that one is actually another song for perhaps another lesson. It is thematic of the entire record however. (Denny desperately trying to get a student reaction.)

Now would that also be true for …

(Bell rings: Sound of students packing, getting up, leaving, talking.)  … As a reminder … (Denny speaking over the clamoring sounds of students packing)  … class … please post your comments to the course message board by Monday at 9:00 am. Oh, and I will NOT be in my office on Tuesday … but I will hold an extra hour after my regular office hours on Thursday.

Starlight: 1977 … Hmm … For right or for wrong … the Sex Pistols and punk rock were part of my transitioning to reject drugs, my neighborhood, my school, and my hometown.

Pokémon Nicknames: Electrode and Voltorb

Electrode and Voltorb cosplay guys

Voltorb (in Japanese: ビリリダマ  “Biriridama”) is an Electric-type Pokémon of course. It appears to us like a Pokéball:  a ball that is red on top and white on the bottom.  Voltorb evolves into Electrode (In Japanese: マルマイン  “Marumine”) at level 30, where it remains an electric type. Electrode also looks like a Pokéball, except that Electrode is white on top and red on the bottom. Um …

voltorbwhitetopredbottomorthe otherway

I will admit, I often forget if Voltorb is red on the top and white on the bottom, or the other way around.

I think that the PERFECT nickname for this Pokémon would be “Cyrkle” or “The Cyrkle”.  This pop trio had a great pop hit in 1966 called “Red Rubber Ball”.

Here is the music video of The Cyrkle.  Sorry for the low volume on the first one. This particular YouTube post was apparently designed for the hearing impaired. It does have the lyrics subtitled in a large, easy-to-read font. This makes it easier to sing along with … at least for those of us who remember the single.  Note the “red rubber balls” in the back ground set. Could these really be Voltorbs in disguise? You know …  similar to how they hide themselves in buildings, such as the Team Rocket hideout?  You think it is a Pokéball ,or an item to pick up, then ZAP — you have to battle the electric balls!

This is a much better sounding YT vid. This does better justice to this proto-power-pop song.

“Red Rubber Ball” was written by legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). I think it is a well-crafted, perhaps almost “textbook” mid-sixties song. It clocks in at two minutes twenty — leaves you with the hook, and you want to play it again! Although I was just a larva in 1966, I loved listening to my transistor radio under the bedcovers at night. AM radio-pop songs were great at that time. I think that the song composition style of mid-1960s music is the template for everything I would like later.

Unfortunately, Mr. Simon did not like his own composition. He wrote the song for a publishing house, and referred to it as a period when he was a “hack” songwriter. I think it is great. In fact, I like it better than “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. (What is that one really all about anyway?)

Check out these lyrics from RRB: “The roller-coaster ride we took is nearly at an end – I bought my ticket with my tears, that’s all I’m gonna spend”.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel only performed the song as a “novelty” song at just a few live performances. You can listen to that Simon and Garfunkel version linked here. Pretty cool stuff for we pop music historians!

Oh, right … electric balls again …

I named one “Cold-Hearted” as in “cold hearted orb which rules the night” line from the famous poem “Late Lament.”

“Voltaire” is a literary reference for any sophisticated Voltorb trainers.

Other names I have seen for Voltorb and Electrode include:

“Da Bomb” “BOOOOM” or “Ka-Boom” and the like are common, as Voltorb may use moves such as Explosion and Self-Destruct. Some players have named Voltorb after terrorists/suicide bombers — because they blow themselves up.

101_electrode_terrorists

“Thunderball”, or “Oddball” may be good. How about “RollerBall” as in the classic1975 sci-fi film? Pretty cool metal ball!

rollerball poster japan 1975

Regarding the “balls” names: If you want, add an “s” or “z” to the end as in “Lectro-Ballz”.

voltorb electrode

Other names for electric types such as “Shocker” or some variant would be OK. I might suggest the name “Shockey” as in the former NFL tight-end Jeremy Shockey.

Electrode has no Mega-Evolved form. If someday there is one, I hope that it will be a Steel and Electric dual type, and look something like the RollerBall in the movie poster.

What do you name your electric balls of steel?  Please comment.

Image

A song for all you cheating husbands out there …

toledo phrase

“Toledo” by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach teamed up for the great album “Painted From Memory” in 1998.  The record is arguably the greatest of Costello’s collaboration albums. The album is loaded with songs of bittersweet memories, sorrowful memories, love gone lost, emotional pain, and hopeful wishes of new love. There would be so many great songs to share and discuss with you otherwise. I could not find the studio version of “Toledo” on YouTube. Instead I will share this live performance.  The lyrics are slightly different in the live recording, so I have provided the original lyrics at the end of the post. There are a lot of interesting, but painful moments to discuss. I will have to interpret, and perhaps extrapolate a little on the meaning of the lines.

This is the story as I see it:

A man had once cheated on his wife when he was on a business trip to Toledo, Ohio.  They are back together, and even though his wife has forgiven him (to some extent), the affair is always in the back of their minds. His travels take him to Toledo (not Spain) again. Imagine when he phones home and tells her that he is staying overnight in Toledo. Even if she trusts him now, there would always be that little piece of doubt in her mind.  The damage had been done.

“But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it”

Lesson #1 / Men: Do not cheat. Even if you are forgiven, you will never get the trust 100% back.

Another line says “… and that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me …”.

Lesson #2 / Men: Do not cheat. Men always say that – but that actually makes it WORSE! It would be one thing to actually fall in love with someone else and have an affair, it is another thing to be promiscuous for its own sake. It means that the cheater is not romantic – he is an asshole.  At least he is now. 

I think that it is a very strong song. You can feel the pain in the lyrics. Pain that was self-inflicted. He hurt his wife, he hurt himself. He is still haunted by the fight they had the first time: You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”

Other lyrical imagery describe of how he walks around outside, and all the young people, and young lovers are happy.  “How can they be like this?”, he thinks. Don’t they understand what I have lost?!?!?  Of course, it is an irrational thought, but I think that it underscores that all is not right with the world once his vows were broken. The lyrics demonstrate that the guilt may be all-consuming.

Lesson #3 / Men: Do not cheat. Try to learn from this fool. 

———————————————

There is one other item I have never heard discussed about this song. Why did Costello choose “Toledo, Ohio” as the place where the protagonist fell? If you are a Costell fan, you know all about his famous drunken incident in Toledo. Costello and his bandmates had a fight with an American band staying at the same hotel. Costello said something outrageous.  I won’t repeat what he said here. The quip was picked up by the American press, and it haunted him for years. There is no doubt, it affected his lack of commercial success in America for so long.  

———————————————–

“Toledo”

All through the night you telephoned
I saw the light blinking red
Beside the cradle
But you don’t know how far I’ve gone
Now I must live with the lie
That I made

But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it
But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But it’s no use saying that I love you
And how that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me
For if anyone should look into your eyes
It’s not forgiveness that they’re gonna see

You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”
You hear her voice – “How could you do that?”

So I walked outside in the bright
Sunshine and lovers pass by
Smiling and joking
But they don’t know the fool I was
Why should they care what was lost
What was broken?

But if I call, I know I won’t have to say it
You’ll hear my voice – something is bound to betray it
But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But it’s no use saying that I love you
And how that girl really didn’t mean a thing to me
For if anyone should look into your eyes
It’s not forgiveness that they’re gonna see

But do people living in Toledo
Know that their name hasn’t travelled very well?
And does anybody in Ohio
Dream of that Spanish citadel?
But we still have Florence, Alabama
We don’t have Paris, and we don’t have Rome.

Starlight: I bought the record the week it was released. I was still a Costello fan back then.

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