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This post is a “motherf***er”

November 7, 2011

I heard the offending track on Eels' Live at Town Hall CD

*Warning: This installment contains more than a few words that George Carlin and others before me have used many, many times.

I was listening to the band Eels one Sunday recently. I’d been meaning to check them out for a long time and borrowed their Live at Town Hall CD from my local library.

Midway through, I heard one of those songs that just make you stop washing dishes or surfing the Internet so you can pay close attention.

“It’s a Motherfucker” is about loss, presumably a break-up, about thinking of times good and bad, about getting through a Sunday alone. The lyrics couldn’t have summed up my day any better.

I was surprised at how moved I could become in only two minutes, and I think the title had something to do with it. Sometimes, life is just a “motherfucker” to you, and there’s no better way to say it. I really need to check out more of the Mark Everett’s songs.

These days, swearing has become commonplace in popular culture, maybe a little too commonplace to have much impact. Maybe if we’re simply freaking out less about F-bombs and ass-bleeps, and freaking out more about racist, ethnic, sexist or homophobic slurs, it’s a sign of progress.

But maybe I’ve already been corrupted. One of the great musical moments of my life was at age seven when my sister played me the Stones’ Goat’s Head Soup album. I know it had the misfortune of following on the footsteps of Exile on Main Street, but I still have a soft spot for it, especially the ending. “Star Star” is a throwaway bar rocker, but for a kid in Grade 2 who wasn’t even allowed to say “Jeez,” its chorus of “You’re a star fucker, star fucker, star fucker…” was a delicious, forbidden fruit. I’ve been a Stones’ fan ever since.

Despite all the obscenities dropped over the years by hip-hoppers, punks and the like, the MC5’s “Kick out the Jams” has to be the template, as the Detroit proto-punks urged the youth of 1969 to “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers.” (Apparently, the lyric really wasn’t the cry for revolt it’s assumed to be, but only an exhortation directed at another band they frequently shared the stage with to quit jamming and get off the stage. This is the story according to guitar player Wayne Kramer.)

However, the real grandfathers of obscenity and rock – at least the earliest ones I can think of – had to be the Fugs. They were a band I knew little of, other than their name, which was apparently a reference to the euphemism pugilist-author Norman Mailer banged out, back in the good old days when the F-bomb might get your ass-bleep hauled before the courts.

I finally checked out the Fugs when I noticed my sister’s partner James owned a couple of CDs by the band. Oddly enough, a friend of mine and I had once played the Sun City Girls’ song, “CIA Man,” on our radio show. We thought its chorus of “Fucking-a, Man! Fucking-A! CIA!” might land us in some $#!+ with the CRTC, or even – help me, Jeez – the Central Intelligence Agency.  But it was college radio, so we were ignored. Only later, when I picked up James’s CD, did I realize the song was a Fugs original from the mid-1960s.

A lot has happened since the Fugs were their heyday, and obscenity in popular music hasn’t gone unnoticed, most notably during the ’80s and ’90s when Tipper Gore and her Parents’ Music Resource Centre forced the recording industry to slap warning labels on records containing “offensive” material. (Oddly enough, I worked at a record warehouse at the time and don’t recall Goat’s Head Soup ever being forced to wear the badge of shame.)

Time has changed a little, and whether it’s for the better is subject for a debate elsewhere. I’m glad Mark Everett and Eels were able to give the world “It’s a Motherfucker.” However, it’s only the second most moving song I can think of with some variation of this obscenity in the title.

That honour goes to Martha Wainwright’s gut-wrenching “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole,” or as it had to be listed on the back CD cover: “Bloody Mother F***ing A**hole.” I guess there’s still a little progress to be made, but what can you do?

Sometimes life is just a motherfucker.

From → Essays

One Comment
  1. Barbara permalink

    I enjoy this blog so much but especially this one. It brought back a lot of good memories of life and of music.

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