We kept plowing through our repertoire.
“KEEP WALKING”: A CONSCIENTIOUS UPDATE
“Contemplating, nature can be fascinating/Add to these a nose that I can thumb
And a mouth by gum have I/ To tell the whole darn world
If you don't happen to like it, deal me out/ Thank you, kindly pass me by”
And a mouth by gum have I/ To tell the whole darn world
If you don't happen to like it, deal me out/ Thank you, kindly pass me by”
The Apocalypse Krew, any way you slice it, are a dark fucking animal; Think of it this way----it's a world gone mad----popping out of every corner you've got homicidal valentines, soulless politicians lying through their teeth for the privilege of running your life and blowing you up in a nuclear war, scapegoating, bullshit, self-deception, bigotry-as-virtue, religion as commerce, workplace rage and garden variety stupidity and the Krew are kind of like your guides through all of this----stick close to us and we'll get you through to the egress. We hold the funhouse mirror up and society gets to see a really ugly reflection of itself.
We did two demos of “Keep Walking”----the earliest one was a very strange piece of music----Mike banged on an electronic drum kit (which sounded like a synth) and I grumbled the vocal through an octave divider, sounding like something that crawled out of a pond. It was kind of a hoot.
The second demo was more fleshed-out and it was obvious Mike had rebuilt it to be more of a legit song and not just an oddity. Most of its deficiencies were mine....the whole bit about “don't be fooled by the shit you read in magazines” was tackled in a way that (in my fevered imagination) was similar to the vocal interplay between Bob Mould and Grant Hart of Husker Du, who I worshiped at the time. My version sucked, long story short(I actually carried it off a lot better on “Kid Eternity”, a song I'll talk about here in a bit).
The new rendition Mike had recorded was actually very similar to the second demo----straightforward and stripped-down, a good foundation for what had become a really solid hard rock song. It was one song, though, that I felt like I had to revisit and mess with on moral grounds.
This is the back story to my rewrite of “Keep Walking”.
The Guy-who-doesn't-get-laid lyric was kind of a staple piece of subject matter with us. For every such lyric that made the cut there were 5 or 6 that didn't. “Keep Walking” was one that made the cut.
A friend once said he believed political correctness was a social contract---you were agreeing not to use hurtful language. As a writer, I want words to hurt, but I think it's important to be able to understand why they hurt and the reason behind using them. If you can't wrap your head around context, you're in trouble.
I go into anything I create knowing x number of people aren't going to like what I do for one reason or another, and I'm fine with that....but if people are going to hate what I do I want them to hate it for the right reasons----not because they didn't understand something. Nothing pisses me off more than not being understood.
The thing is this, though----I'm not the same person I was when I first helped form this band and wrote these lyrics. Are you the same person you were ten years ago? One year ago?
What happened with “Keep Walking” is that I heard, one morning, that a guy walked into a gym and gunned down a bunch of women because he was an Incel.
Incel, I learned, is jargon for “Involuntary Celibate”, e.g., a guy who can't get laid. From there I fell down a rabbit hole of Incels, MRAs, TFLers, MGTOWs, PUAs and other mental and emotional cripples. It's insane. A lot of these jokers watched “The Matrix” and apparently thought the shit was REAL. They ramble endlessly about the Red Pill and the Blue Pill as if any of it actually MEANT something! As frustrated and bent as I ever got back in the day (and I got to be one fucked customer), I never blamed an entire gender for my problems. And I had some fucking problems.
Going over the whole thing with my wife she recounted a lot of her early days of sexual frustration (That's right, incels, girls go through it, too) and said, yes, likewise, she never blamed all guys for what she was going through.
So there's no excuse.
I'm never going to apologize for swell-if-tasteless jokes like “First Stare” but I definitely thought, rather than make myself the poster boy for every psychotic charter member of the He Man Woman Haters' Club, I'd take an opportunity to inject some brains into the conversation.
The first part of the song is mostly part of what was in the early demos:
“I see you coming, you're like everyone else/
Don't look at me, don't bother with me/
None of your friends do, no, none of your friends do/
Keep on walking, turn your head, I'm not what you're here for/
Too uncool, trying to make the scene/
I'm on the outs if you know what I mean/
You're fooled by the shit in the magazines/
The real thing runs deeper than the screen/
I'm just a bug that got caught in your eye/
If you don't happen to like it, you'd better pass me by”
Inside tidbit: This last line references an old Peggy Lee song I used to hear a lot as a kid....lyrically, it's actually the same thing as “Keep Walking”, but more jaunty and carefree in its tone.
Ugly! Smart! Nothing you want/
Keep Walking, keep walking/
You're all alike, I know your type/
Keep Walking, Keep on walking”
The original line was actually “You're all alike. You're all the same”----the ultimate calling card of frustration and rejection. I play this out further and expand on it in the second chorus.
“The boys and the girls are all choosing their teams/
And if you're on the outs, then you know what I mean/
Don't wanna break their powder puff dreams/
Just two words---keep walking/
You're dodging a bullet, man, you're dodging a bullet/
Don't waste your time, Keep Walking”
Here I go from being the speaker addressing the girl he'll never win to being the guy who's seen it firsthand addressing the boys---and the girls----who are currently going through the same thing....you tell the people who are turning up their noses at you, “fuck off----keep walking”
“They're all alike, you know their type/
Keep Walking, Keep Walking/
Shallow, vapid, you heard what I said/
Keep Walking, keep walking”
And at the same time, “Keep Walking” becomes a phrase of encouragement. Don't let anyone make you feel like less than you want to be....stand up tall....keep walking.
“Don't let it bother you, I know you got this/
Keep Walking, keep walking”
We're walking an odd line, here...yeah, yeah, yeah, “Postal Rock”---but I told you about all the Free Speech Poster boys I don't wanna be thrown in with. The Elliot Rodgers of the world aren't going to get my help or support.
HOWEVER, we set ourselves up very early on as mouthpieces for disenfranchisement----so is there a middle ground? The world merrily going about its oblivious business like the big, dumb juggernaut it is won't stop alienated people from snapping, so what do we do? How can we bring the disenfranchised back into the fold and make them healthy participants?
What I would tell these Incels and other basket cases is that you need to go forth in life and find your voice, find your tribe, and apply your lives to something you're passionate about. Because if the only people you're ever running around trying to impress are people who don't know what you're about and who won't ever be able to relate to you, you're just gonna keep getting where you are now---NOWHERE. Nothing blows more than a loop of self-perpetuating failure. The further I got into music, art, writing, publishing and video---all the things I was actually good at and cared about---the more people I had that commonality with----the better things worked out for me. Do what you're built for and find your fuckin' tribe.
And work on your personality, goddammit. No----not your looks----I know a lot of you are down on your looks. Work on your personalities---I've seen a lot of ugly bastards get laid---I've seen a lot more guys who can't because they've got stank-ass personalities.
I tackled “Keep Walking” in much the same way as I tackled “Threats and Warnings”---pulled my punches, hung back and tried to let the words to the song breathe. My missteps were some screeching I did going into the last part....back in the 90s I might have been a little handier at hitting the high-pitched shit. Nowadays? Forget it....
“23”: THE SOFT ONE
“I'm a fuckin' artist! I'm sensitive as shit!!!!
----PHILTHY ANIMAL TAYLOR
“23” was a weird one---by our standards---by anyone's. I had initially wanted to make it the very last vocal I cut---after all the really hard, extreme stuff---when my voice was absolutely in shreds.
“23” is a ballad, for lack of a better term, and because I'm a bad singer, my prescription for a ballad is to lay my voice absolutely naked and raw and open up as many of its weaknesses (which are, of course, legion) as possible. Following the David Byrne line of thought for singing, be as vulnerable as possible, because the listener hears a bad voice and it's more human.
There were actually TWO demos for “23”---the original and an alternate take---they may have had the same instrumental track (I'm FAIRLY CERTAIN of this) but the vocals (and the lyrics) were different.
I hated the original vocal----I recorded it with a heavy cold and you can tell, when you listen to it, that I'm congested. You can hear my stuffed-up nose. I was also of the belief, at the time, that the lyric, and the vocal, were too wimpy. I wrote an angrier lyric and recorded a more strident vocal-----I heard it once and never again---”23” version 2 was lost to the ages, so all you get is me trying to be sentimental and sincere through a stuffed up nose.
Until now, anyway.
“23” was another song that remained fundamentally unchanged from the early days----same arrangement, same everything.
Listening back on it, I decided the first lyrics to “23” were actually among my best, and I chose not to change a thing from the original. Newer, meaner version? Hell with it.
The one difference in the new “23” is simply how much better Mike McAdam is. Musically it might be comparable to something like “Kangaroo” by Big Star, and I know that's a hell of a comparison. I'm no Alex Chilton, but that's not to take anything away from the song. It's a quiet, beautiful song dominated by layers of chimey guitar---Mike's creating all kinds of subtle insanity going on in the nooks and crannies.
There's a lot of quiet drama going on in the song---I am not the “Speaker” in “23”. I came up in an era of straightforward, minimalist poetry that came from the gut. Academics told us that confessional poetry was the earmark of an immature voice----our response was, “if not confessional, then what, and why bother?” If you weren't speaking from your own experiences, you were a pretentious phony. In my old age I'm more ambivalent to that stand, because these days I'm more interested in telling stories and conveying ideas than I am in spilling my guts. At any rate, the guts in “23” are just practical effects. A friend at the time had just turned 23 and she was bemoaning the fact that you could find a song dedicated to almost any age, but no one had ever written a song about being 23----so I took that as a challenge.
“Burning at 23/ Nothing was made for me/
I couldn't get with the program/ Or buy the complacency/
I beat my head against the wall/Called it catharsis, shutting you out”
One thing we seldom give credence is that once a kid turns eighteen they may legally be an adult, but they're not necessarily “grown up”. The young adult fucks up a lot---there's a lot of trial and error before you emerge mature.
And busting out of that chrysalis hurts most of the time.
“Screamed and I bled just to make you get human/
To see that screen flicker, just once”
THE SICK JOKE: “KID ETERNITY”
“Society nods its head at any horror the American Teenager can think to bring upon itself!”
At some point, “Kid Eternity” felt like a fine one to do.....it's a solid favorite of mine, hinging on an abrasive stack of riffs, a mean spirit and a sick sense of humor. If I were to give you a short list of songs to listen to as a basic crash course explanation as to “what are the S.E. Apocalypse Krew and what's a ballpark definition of their sound?” I'd probably throw you “Kid Eternity”, “Threats and Warnings” and “Pig” (which I'll write more about in another blog) and that would be a good nutshell picture.
“Kid Eternity” was going to be another basic one----there aren't a whole lotta frills in it or any need to be subtle or exotic....and it was another one where, arrangement-wise, it hadn't changed significantly since we'd cut the demo. I hadn't done any re-writing, here, I wanted to keep “Kid” as pure as we could.
What made “Kid” an interesting one to tackle was that I'd be doing two vocal tracks and playing against myself in kind of a schizo-vocal duel.
“Overdose on a stockpile of valium and gin/
Wake up with a rubber tube jammed down my throat/
looks like the kid loses again/
and everybody acts like it's my fault”
I start off squawking in unison with myself on the phrases, “Overdose” and “Wake Up”...in both cases the vocals aren't exactly harmonized---they're slightly off each other, giving it that chaotic feel...I will always love you, Husker Du...when it comes to the third line, the first vocal barks, “looks like,” and on the second vocal, I follow it immediately with a very sharp scream, “LOOKS LIKE!” and then the first vocal picks up again after a brief pause with a third, resigned, grudging “looks like” before I double myself again with “Everybody” on the last line.
On the chorus, I'm doubling myself in the early lines....on track one I'm singing,
“Brought back to a world where I don't wanna be,”
And with the second track I'm just rasping in unison, “Brought BAAAAAAAAACK....”
The effect, I hope, is pure audio venom.
The protagonist of the song engages in serial failed suicides, less in a miserable attempt to end his existence and more in a pathological “fuck you” to everyone around him. He expresses only dripping contempt for the people who are trying to help him, as well as the people who would be forced to deal with his violent departure:
“Shrink says, 'life is what you make it, son,' /
I say, 'fine----then let me make it go away' “
This was my one actual personal statement in the song...in the 80s, as an angsty young adult Asperger's case, most of my whining was met with the stoic phrase, “well, life is what you make it,” and I hated being told shit like that. The people who told me things like that never included me in their reindeer games, so in my opinion, they were the world's worst hypocrites.
And yes, of course, ultimately, you are in control of your own happiness and you do have a degree of control over your own life (A degree---never total). But in my late teens/early-to-mid 20s I was very far away from that realization.
“Take Dad's gun from the drawer and aim it at my head/
they'll sue Ozzy and be happy to have someone to blame”
And yeah----we had to go there! I know, once again, I'm dating us with the Ozzy Suicide reference, but is the stupidity of scapegoating ever NOT a relevant subject? It might be Ozzy, it might be Judas Priest, it might be Marilyn Manson, Eminem, Coldplay (okay---it probably won't be Coldplay) but some opportunistic Culture Warrior out there is always ready to point a finger at the arts when something goes south in the world of youth. And like I've already said, I've spent my whole adult life sharpening my blades for THAT fight.
Our hero doesn't stop at plaguing his doctors or his parents, though;
“Ex-girlfriend comes to visit me/
'We all care about you,' she says/
'stop trying to take your life!'
'You care so much you dumped me, bitch,'
and then I laugh and say goodbye”
In the end he's cutting off his nose to spite his face.
“Cut my wrists, blood all over the bathroom floor/
all stained---guess Mom's gonna be really sore/
Getting real sick of hearing everyone's shit/
Cut my ears off---now I don't listen anymore”
This kid's kind of an asshole.
I know this is one of those instances where people won't like it because we're making an ugly joke out of a very serious subject. I've lost friends to suicide and other stupid things, but every time someone blames a recording artist for their unhappy kid's suicide, their denial is making it a worse joke than we ever could...and folks can wring their hands as much as they want, it's still going on, so I guess they're the ones who are mishandling it.
I remember my Mom, who was an administrator in a mental health facility, pointing out my Suicidal Tendencies tee-shirt at that time and saying, “I hate that. Do you want to know why?”
I couldn't imagine. “Because I see it at work every day.”
I'm lousy with follow-through, but if I'd had my druthers, I might have played “Institutionalized” at her and said, “you know why I love this? Because I've felt like that three quarters of my life!”
All I wanted was a Pepsi......
Incidentally, I see what I did, there, and I'm sure somebody will want to try and hold my feet to the fire over it. I altered an original lyric because one group “didn't need any help” with their bullshit and I stuck to my guns with another.
So, in summary: The Elliot Rodgers of the world get no support from me with their demented, self-deceiving bullshit. Lonely kids who see outside the box get a nod because their lives will get better. Kids who are suicidal get a nod from me because they genuinely do need help. They aren't getting it, however, from the Culture War ballscratchers who claim to be in their corner.
There you go.
NEXT: THE FOUR FOOD GROUPS