April 8, 2006

You Know I Hate Stupid Phones

Hate songs are tough to write. They have the virtue of rarely being cheesy, but they just as rarely manage to capture hate in a way that allows them to endure as the most enduring love songs have. Here are seven that try.

Hate Song / Daniel Johnston

The directness of hate makes for great gags and great names. "You Know I Hate Stupid Phones" (Liars). "If You Hate Your Friends, You're Not Alone" (Pretty Girls Make Graves). "Whisper in My Ear and Tell Me You Hate Me" (Prefuse 73). "Prom Night at Hater High" (The Long Winters). "I Hate My Generation" (Sloan). "I Hate Your Fucking Guts" (The Queers). "I Hate Hate" (Cornelius). Viva Hate (Morrissey). I Hate You When You're Pregnant. These work because hate is funniest when it's at its most viciously blatant. See the David Shrigley drawing. Hear the Daniel Johnston song describe a lonely ex-lover who kills herself. It's funny in a pathetic, cruel way: "You'll be all alone... no one to talk you out of it... no one will be there to find you dead... 'cause you'll be all alone." Funny, but not his most rewarding song.

Miss Me / The Wrens

Hate makes for great sparks and flashes, as it makes for humor. But hate songs almost never last. NO ACCIDENT, perhaps, that the word "hate" is contained in the word "whatever": it's hard to care about a hate song for an extended period of time. This is strange because bad memories, those of death and of betrayal, tend to last much longer than good ones. Maybe these experiences don't translate into song as hate. Hate is instantaneous, not meant to last. Perhaps it can't, really. Of course, that's where rock and punk should be perfect: immediacy and directness. The hate itself might disappear, but with a push of a button a good song should be able to recall it. "Miss Me" (a simplistic but louder early version of the better-known "Boys, You Won't Remember") is my favorite Wrens song. One of the strangely few hate songs with enough energy to pump you up and down at the same time, every time.

No Children / The Mountain Goats

Yet "Miss Me" still lacks the depth of a good love song. It's fine for transforming anger into mobile energy, for a pissed-off ride through the suburbs; but to get at something more we have to pull out the big guns. Guns that will last, that will not be eased from a loosening grip. We know where to look for the knockout:

In my life, I hope I lie,
and tell everyone you were a good wife.
And I hope you die,
I hope we both die.

Johnny B. Good-->Road Runner / The Sex Pistols

"No Children" is an ending, but it's not the ending. The first three songs were about hating someone: a person, a girl, someone you used to love or still do to no avail. More or less successful attempts at building on Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hate. But hate comes in another form as well, a more general one. You can hate a group of people, a scene, music itself, and so on. As it gets more general, spiraling out ad infinitum, hate also becomes more complex. Less focused and less sharp, but more deadly. The sarcasm doesn't emerge quite so readily, and thus is transformed into something even more bitter. The Jesus & Mary Chain song "I Hate Rock 'n Roll" is a good example; this Sex Pistols covers-medley is a better one.

Old New York / Silver Jews

At its most general, hate consumes everything. This nihilistic version of hate can be baffling. Why bother? What is really being said? "No Children" is a classic, but it's completely decipherable. "Old New York," an old Jews tune from 1993's The Silver Jews and Nico, in contrast, is totally bewildering. It devours a scene, certainly, and an entire city. But Berman and Malkmus seem so revolted with the people, objects, and activities they mention, so revolted by their own wryness, that absolutely everything seems to burn, slowly.

Trickle Down / Mercury Rev

This burning can smolder, or it can provide space for something new. The Jews song just dies; the bar is bombed and nothing grows there ever again. "Trickle Down" is also from 1993, and the vocals sound eerily similar. (Is there something universal in hate? An atom of anti-love?) Hates on Reagan, ironically on minorities, and definitely on life. But it's even more lost and confused than "Old New York," even more bizarrely diffuse, especially for being so ostensibly topical. Yet, unlike the other hate songs, from out of this confusion it moves (slowly) forward both musically and linguistically: "You think / You think / You think too much / I think / I think you think too much." This song succeeds in being both hateful and great. Unfortunately, the attempted rebirth is only partial. No one involved with Mercury Rev would produce anything as great as Boces ever again. On "Trickle Down" you get a sense of the core of hate and the interpersonal conflicts that led the band to dissolve around itself; that led it to emerge as a new-agey Flaming Lips spawn with its center, its heart of both light and darkness—David Baker—completely excised. And as any good dualist will point out, hate it or love it, without the hate there's no real love either.

Revved Up (ft Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt) / Triple Fast Action

In the interest of not ending with pseudo-philosphical bullshitting, here's a full-circle palette-cleanser of sorts. Rev-erence for general hate, like "Trickle Down," but with the straightforwardness of Johnston's "Hate Song." The high-pitched "hate you... hate you... hate you... hate you..." at the end is one of my favorite moments of mid-'90s alternative rock, that acme of music history.

1 comment:

poop monster said...

acme acme indeed.