Archives for posts with tag: rock
obama-drowning-pool

Obama poses with Drowning Pool.

As technology has advanced the delivery of music from live performance to radio, tape, disc, and mp3, pop product has played an increasingly personal part for the typical soldier fighting America’s imperial wars. “Music has become a significant source of combat inspiration for American soldiers in Iraq,” argues composer Jonathan Pieslak, who cites interviews with military personnel in an essay he published in 2010, before the U.S. announced an ostensible end to that country’s occupation. “The relationship between music and soldier life seems more intimate in this war since new technology allows music to be a part of soldiers’ lives on and off the battlefield in unprecedented ways.”1

Unsurprisingly, the metal genre – with a tradition of war-themed lyrics dating from tracks like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” – has proven to be a favorite among troops preparing themselves psychologically for the task of committing officially sanctioned mass murder. Pieslak points out that in the documentary Soundtrack to War, “multiple soldiers make the analogy that ‘war itself is heavy metal,’ and, in fact, the original version of Gittoes’ documentary was titled, War Is Heavy Metal.”2 Pieslak offers further gleanings from his series of interviews:

Almost all of the metal songs selected by soldiers as an inspiration for combat involve themes of chaos. A favorite album among soldiers is Slayer’s Reign in Blood (1986), which is often credited as being the seminal album of the death metal subgenre. Another popular band is Metallica; their song “One”, about a WWI soldier who survives a land mine explosion in which he loses his limbs, sight, hearing, and speech, was played frequently by [interviewee] Grisham during the initial invasion of Iraq. Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” is another popular song with its repeated refrain, “Let the bodies hit the floor.” In this case, however, the meaning of the lyrics has taken a different form from the original intent. Drowning Pool claim that the refrain refers to the audience “hitting the floor” of the “mosh pit” at a concert, not bodies falling to the ground from acts of violence. When these themes of chaos are combined with the notions of power inscribed in the metal sound, they provide a highly influential tool for soldiers as they prepare for combat.3

“While the power element of metal is manifest in a variety of ways within the music,” Pieslak explains, “it operates, not as a dominating force over the fan, but as an empowering agent.”4 “Music is a means of establishing the identity of the group,” he adds, “and supports the feeling of togetherness through a ritualized musical experience”5 – which is intriguing in view of the fact that more than one of the soldiers interviewed used “predator” as an adjective to describe their comrades’ musical preference6.

Interviewees describe rituals in which soldiers would gather prior to combat to listen to metal or rap together and chant or shout out the lines of a song as a group. “The tendency of soldiers to come together around music, and to sing or yell the lyrics together,” Pieslak suggests, “seems to have precedence in aspects of BCT [i.e., basic combat training].”7 Training regimes which require the men to collectively sing a set of responses to the prompts of a drill instructor develop camaraderie in the unit but also condition in them a repertoire of programmed behaviors and teach obedience to a superior’s will.

An abdication of the self and of humanity is acknowledged by more than one of the soldiers who spoke to Pieslak:

Grisham highlights the music’s power to […] make them capable of “inhuman” acts. In these instances, the music could be said to have a transformative power that removes the humanity element from human identity. Other soldiers said that metal and rap music had similar effects, to varying degrees, on their experiences as an inspiration for combat. Saunders believes that “War is people having to step outside of themselves. It is you having to become what I consider to be a monster.”8

It is also a possibility that metal, owing to the abrasive sonic palette reflected in the genre’s moniker, has contributed to a readiness on the part of men to find aesthetically pleasing elements in the bombastic cacophony of combat itself. A machine gunner, Specialist Colby Buzzell, told Pieslak that “the explosions and the machine guns, and the shooting that’s going on, that’s the music. It’s kind of like listening to Slayer, like that sort of shit. Listening to a two-forty fire off rounds, or a TOW [i.e., tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided] missile hit something, that’s music to your ears, kind of.”9 It comes to constitute, if readers will forgive the reference, a veritable “Symphony of Destruction”. Megadeth, however, it is worthwhile to remember, warned that “Just like the Pied Piper / led rats through the streets / We dance like marionettes” while “Acting like a robot” whose “metal brain corrodes”. Indeed, Drowning Pool’s album Sinner, from which the Iraq occupation forces’ favorite “Bodies” was lifted, was released by a record label called “Wind-Up” – referring, one assumes, to mechanical toys.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Endnotes

  1. Pieslak, Jonathan. “Music as an Inspiration for Combat among American Soldiers in Iraq”, in George Kassimeris and John Buckley, Eds. The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Warfare. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2010, p. 386.
  2. Ibid., p. 390.
  3. Ibid., p. 395.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., p. 392.
  6. Ibid., pp. 389-390.
  7. Ibid., p. 393.
  8. Ibid., p. 396.
  9. Ibid., p. 394.
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I’ve never been much of a U2 fan, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the group’s song “Beautiful Day”. Upbeat and uplifting in a generic, innocuous way, the track could hardly have been more perfectly engineered for distracting the public with pleasant reflections during some of the darkest days in the history of the United States. Was this the intention?

Curiously for a single offering such a positive message, the album from which it was lifted, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was released at the end of October 2000, with E! News announcing the album as a “Halloween offering” for the band’s fans1. In retrospect, there is a creepiness to the music video for “Beautiful Day”, which features the band cavorting and performing at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The video, in addition to showing Bono running about and behaving like a child or a madman, contains a scene in which the group’s luggage is scanned by airport security – did anybody suspect U2 of being terrorists? – and later has them playing a gig on some Persian rugs laid out on a runway. Less than one year later, the unfortunate associations of aircraft, airport security, and the Middle East in conjunction with the stuck traffic and other details referenced in the lyrics would conjure anything but the idea of a “beautiful day” – for most audiences, anyway. The events of September 11th were, of course, highly profitable for many – perhaps even “beautiful”.

bono-u2

Was All That You Can’t Leave Behind designed as a cryptographic soundtrack to 9/11? To ask such a question, of course, sounds foolish, as would any suggestion that Bono or any other members of U2 had anything to do with the terrorism experienced in New York City and Washington, D.C., that day. There are, however, several compelling precedents for an intelligent discussion of popular culture artifacts as possible evidence of cryptically indicated foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, the Coup’s Party Music cover depicting the remotely controlled demolition of the World Trade Center being one of the most familiar of these. Are there any circumstances, apart from those listed above, that might lead a person to suspect more than a quasi-synchronicity at work between the perpetrators of 9/11 and All That You Can’t Leave Behind?

The cover of the album itself, also photographed in a terminal of Charles de Gaulle Airport, invites interpretation with its superimposition of the code “J33-3”, a reference to Jeremiah 33:3, which Bono has described as “God’s phone number”2. The biblical passage, which itself refers to mystery, reads, in the New American Standard Bible translation, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” In the King James version, it says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not”, while the English Standard version renders it more interestingly as, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (italics added). The Darby Bible and the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh of 1917 also favor the use of the word “hidden” in this passage. Is Bono, who as a young fellow in Ireland belonged to a prayer group called Shalom3, suggesting that something or other has been “hidden” or encrypted in the album’s contents?

bono-bush

The context of the quotation from Jeremiah may be instructive in view of the music’s hypothetically posited relevance to the events of September 11th, which infamously prompted Benjamin Netanyahu to observe that the destruction of the World Trade Center was “very good” for Israel4 and to concede years later, “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq.”5 Here is what Jeremiah goes on to say after 33:3.

For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the houses in this city and the royal palaces of Judah that have been torn down to be used against the siege ramps and the sword in the fight with the Babylonians: “They will be filled with the dead bodies of the people I will slay in my anger and wrath. I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness.

“Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.”

bono-star

After the promised revelation of the “hidden things”, the “God of Israel” talks about demolished buildings and war against the enemies of the Jews in connection with the restoration of Israel. A few verses down, Jeremiah even mentions “burnt offerings” and “sacrifices” with reference to Israel’s ascent. For those with an interest in the occult significances of 9/11, the number 333 is also associated in Aleister Crowley’s Thelema system with a destructive force called Choronzon, a “demon of dispersion”, illusion, and hallucination which Aleister Crowley claims to have summoned. This, however, is probably straying too far afield for the purposes of the present essay, possible indications of Crowleyite mysticism at play on 9/11 and Bono’s reputed sartorial dabbling in the Jewish occult notwithstanding (“When he’s going cycling, he likes to dress up as a Hassidic Jew,” the Edge revealed of his bandmate after Bono injured himself in a bicycle accident in 20146).

Returning to “Beautiful Day”, the song informs listeners, “You’re out of luck,” and goes on to intone, “Sky falls, you feel like / It’s a beautiful day.” It goes on, “You’re lovin’ this town / Even if that doesn’t ring true / You’ve been all over / And it’s been all over you” – as, perhaps, material from the combusted skyscrapers would be “all over” the people in the streets of lower Manhattan? Niall Stokes, in his book Into the Heart, notes that Interscope Records executive Jimmy Iovine made a special visit to the Dublin studio where U2 was hard at work on “Beautiful Day” with “co-conspirators” (i.e., producers) Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. “It wasn’t finished at the time,” Stokes writes, adding that “the lyrics were only half-crafted when Iovine heard the track”7. He goes on to give this interesting account of one member of the production team’s experience of the song:

Daniel Lanois, sitting in the control room also had that [“Beautiful Day”] feeling [expressed by Bono]. “The track at that point was really pumping,” he remembers, “and the mix that we did had the power of shattered metal. You don’t know where it comes from – I think it was a lot of processing. And I had this image of Bono, singing about beauty in the midst of flying pieces of metal and mayhem.”8

bono-eyeWhat “flying pieces of metal and mayhem” have to do with a “beautiful day” is beyond me, but apparently it meant something to U2. Another song on the album is titled “New York”, referencing the target of the attacks explicitly, and name-drops Jews and, in the following line, “political fanatics” – although it’s unclear from the context whether or not the Jews are the fanatics in question. Other lines in “New York”, heard post-9/11, could easily be construed as alluding to the chaos of that day if somebody didn’t know better: “Voices on a cell phone / Voices from home / Voices of the hard sell / Voices down a stairwell / In New York […] You can’t walk around the block / Without a change of clothing / Hot as a hair dryer in your face / Hot as a handbag and a can of mace / New York.”

Other songs on the album, whether intentionally or otherwise, carry similar 9/11 resonances, with imagery evocative of air travel (“Man dreams one day to fly / A man takes a rocket ship into the skies”; “Explain all these controls”; “You’re packing a suitcase”; “you’ve got no destination”; “You make me feel like I can fly / So high, elevation”; “The only baggage you can bring / Is all that you can’t leave behind”; “Who’s to say where the wind will take you”), death and loss (“I wasn’t jumping / For me it was a fall / It’s a long way down to nothing at all”; “They left you with nothing”; “a star that’s dying in the night”; “You lose your balance, lose your wife / In the queue for the lifeboat”; “I’m not afraid to die”), and explosions (“scatter of light”; “fireworks”; “star lit up like a cigar”), and other catastrophes (“All that you wreck / All that you hate”; “I hit an iceberg in my life”). “When I Look at the World”, meanwhile, in lines that could very easily refer to the “Chosen People”, gripes, “I can’t see for the smoke / I think of you and your holy book / When the rest of us choke.” Another of All That You Can’t Leave Behind’s tracks is titled “Kite” and might be of particular interest to those familiar with accusations of esoteric significance to the children’s reading demonstration for President Bush on September 11th. “There’s a kite blowing out of control on a breeze,” the song warns, adding, “I wonder what’s gonna happen to you.”

Notwithstanding the highlighted lyrics, it must be noted that Bono and his bandmates have provided perfectly plausible explanations for the genesis of each of the songs on All That You Can’t Leave Behind – each of which is detailed in Into the Heart. Bono has claimed the death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence as the inspiration for “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”9, while “Elevation” purports to convey “a combination of primordial lasciviousness, ecstatic spirituality and soulful need”10 and “Walk On”, according to Bono, was inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese academic and leader of the National League for Democracy11. As for the album’s travel motif, Stokes makes the observation that Bono is “a man who has spent a substantial part of the last 25 years living in hotels.”12 On the origin of “In a Little While”, Stokes offers the following:

Around the turn of the year, Bono had been thinking Millennium thoughts, watching old clips of the Apollo moon landing on TV and experiencing again the sense of awe that he’d felt when he saw those pictures for the first time as a kid, the ecstatic realisation of how tiny and insignificant we are as individuals – and as a race – in the grand scheme of things. It was a mood that fed into “Beautiful Day” with its vision of Bedouin fires, the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon and other earthly phenomena, as seen from above, the narrator cocooned in the bosom of a space ship orbiting the globe.13

bono6In addition to the “Bedouin fires” and “oil fields” – clearly references to the Middle East – the line in “Beautiful Day” that goes, “See China right in front of you” is, perhaps, and to force a point, interesting in view of this assertion by geopolitical commentator and former U.S. Treasury official Paul Craig Roberts: “The Western peoples are so dimwitted that they have not yet understood that the ‘war on terror’ is, in fact, a war to create terror that can be exported to Muslim areas of Russia and China in order to destabilize the two countries that serve as a check on Washington’s unilateral, hegemonic power.”14 But, again, such a reading would constitute something of a stretch.

The song “Peace on Earth”, meanwhile, is acknowledged to have been inspired by a terrorist event – but one that took place in Ireland, not New York. Stokes explains:

[…] a bomb went off at 2:30 in the afternoon, on 15 August 1998, in the town of Omagh in County Tyrone. There had been an advance warning. But it was inaccurate, and instead of clearing the area around the car containing the bomb, it drove the crowds of people milling around the town on a busy Saturday afternoon towards the danger zone. When the bomb exploded, the resulting carnage was the worst in the bloody history of the Northern troubles with twenty-nine killed and dozens more scarred, maimed and wounded.15

bono-bush-2

Finally, “New York”, according to Stokes, consists of “the cool pulsing groove acting as a backdrop as the narrator confesses quietly to the terms of the mid-life crisis afflicting him” until “halfway through it explodes in a grungy mess that’s impressively appropriate to the theme of the song.”16

In spite of the flimsiness of the case to be made for All That You Can’t Leave Behind as a cryptographic foreshadowing of the World Trade Center attacks and the coming of the War on Terror, there is an undeniable and consciously cultivated connection between U2 and these events. As The Daily Dot’s Nico Lang recounts:

Their 2000 record, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, not only sold a staggering 12 million copies, but it gave the band a renewed relevance in the wake of 9/11, when songs like “Walk On” came to symbolize an America figuring out how to pick up the pieces. Songs like the anthemic “One” had always found a universal relevance, but this was a reminder of exactly why U2 was so popular: It united the types of people who would normally never agree on liking anything.17

Whatever the group’s intentions in crafting each of the particular songs, fans have made connections between the group, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and contemporary events in history. One uploader to YouTube has even dubbed “Stuck in a Moment” a “9/11 Song” despite the fact that it was released almost a year before that date.

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More intriguing than fans’ perceptions of the band’s intentions, however, are Bono’s unexpected involvements with the neoconservative Blair and Bush administrations. “Among liberals there was, it is true, some grumbling when, from 2001, Bono’s friendly persuasion started to provide ‘caring’ cover for a Republican White House rather than a Democratic one,” writes Harry Browne, author of the scathing study The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). “But such grumbling is a mere artefact of the partisan divide in the US, where the distinction between the two parties hides the fact that they have few substantial differences.”18 He continues:

bono-flag-3It was reported that he would hop on a plane immediately after a gig and dash to Washington for meetings first thing in the morning. The Bush White House increasingly liked the cut of his jib. […]

The White House was pleased that Bono was on board with the sort of “conditionalities” on aid that First World governments and institutions had been demanding from developing countries for decades.

After 9/11, it perhaps became a little harder to sell development assistance in Washington. However, [Condoleezza] Rice and secretary of state Colin Powell were keen to ensure that US foreign policy was seen to have a non-military dimension, and Bono and others were frequently heard to conjoin the “war on terror” with a “war on poverty”: as the New York Times put it, paraphrasing Bono’s argument, “fragile states could not be allowed to become failed states, as Afghanistan had been.”19

bono-flagBono does not seem to have had much of a problem with Bush’s interventionist foreign policy, and the singer was disgustingly reported to have “clicked” with Paul Wolfowitz when the pair met20. At the very outset of the War on Terror, he gave his implicit blessing to the American invasion of Afghanistan. “Bono would not always be so sensitive about the dangers of associating ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ with nationalism, even violent nationalism,” Browne recalls. “On stage in Madison Square Garden in October 2001, as the US dropped bombs on Afghan cities, during that song he ‘embraced the Stars and Stripes’ and otherwise ‘reverently’ handled the US flag,” he continues. “He didn’t tear it apart.”21 A few months later, at E-Trade Finanacial’s Super Bowl Halftime Show of 2002, U2 performed “Where the Streets Have No Name” as, ironically, the names of the 9/11 dead were projected behind the band. At the close of the show, Bono opened his jacket to reveal the American flag in its lining, appearing to give the crowd a demonstration of his solidarity with America’s warlike response to the terror attacks.

“Such is Bono’s special status among the elite globalist sets of Bilderbergers and Trilateralists that he has, inevitably, come to the attention of American conspiracy theorists, who incoherently (even by their own standards) paint him as a knowing ‘frontman for genocide’ through his connection to an obscure but deadly eugenics agenda that appears to be run by Bill Gates,” Browne observes. “As usual,” however, “such ravings distract from serious consideration of Bono’s place in the world and the service he provides to the powerful by dressing their work, individually and collectively, in humanitarian garb – a relationship that is right out in the open and can be viewed clearly without resort to conspiracy.”22

Inevitably, not every questioner will be satisfied by Browne’s dismissive sarcasm – particularly when Bono conveniently pops up at the recent ISIS Nice truck attack (!).

Thoughts?

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Endnotes

  1. Grossberg, Josh. “New U2 Album to Rock Halloween”. E! News (August 21, 2000): http://www.eonline.com/news/40334/new-u2-album-to-rock-halloween
  2. Rossell, Raul. “U2 All That You Can’t Leave Behind Airport Photo Location and Bible Reference”. FeelNumb (August 29, 2010): http://www.feelnumb.com/2010/08/29/u2-all-that-you-cant-leave-behind-airport-photo-location/
  3. Browne, Harry. The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). New York, NY: Verso, 2013, p. 14.
  4. Abunimah, Ali. “‘It’s Very Good’: Recalling Benjamin Netanyahu’s Words on the Day of the 9/11 Attacks”. The Electronic Intifada (September 11, 2012): https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/its-very-good-recalling-benjamin-netanyahus-words-day-911-attacks
  5. “Report: Netanyahu Says 9/11 Terror Attacks Good for Israel” Haaretz (April 16, 2008): http://www.haaretz.com/news/report-netanyahu-says-9-11-terror-attacks-good-for-israel-1.244044
  6. “U2’s Bono Goes Hasidic”. Jewish News (December 8, 2014): http://jewishnews.com/2014/12/08/u2s-bono-goes-hasidic/
  7. Stokes, Niall. Into the Heart: U2. New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press, p. 146.
  8. Ibid., p. 147.
  9. Ibid., p. 148.
  10. Ibid., p. 150.
  11. Ibid., p. 151.
  12. Ibid., p. 152.
  13. Ibid., p. 154.
  14. Roberts, Paul Craig. “The NeoCon Game”. American Free Press 15, no. 51/52 (December 21-28, 2015), p. 12.
  15. Stokes, Niall. Into the Heart: U2. New York, NY: Thunder’s Mouth Press, p. 156.
  16. Ibid., p. 160.
  17. Lang, Nico. “How U2 Became the New Nickelback”. The Daily Dot (September 16, 2014): http://www.dailydot.com/via/how-u2-became-the-new-nickelback/
  18. Browne, Harry. The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). New York, NY: Verso, 2013, p. 72.
  19. Ibid., p. 73.
  20. Grieve, Tim. “Wolfowitz Reaches Out to Bono”. Salon (March 18, 2005): http://www.salon.com/2005/03/18/wolf_5/
  21. Browne, Harry. The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power). New York, NY: Verso, 2013, p. 24.
  22. Ibid., p. 111.
Paul Morrissey

Paul Morrissey

Mention Paul Morrissey and movies about transvestites, heroin addicts, and other varieties of lowlife are likely to come to mind; but the director of such films as Flesh (1968) and Heat (1972) holds very different views than one might assume from a first impression of these films and from his professional association with Andy Warhol. “Staunchly conservative, Morrissey still frowns upon the moral and artistic state of America today,” writes Steve Ryfle, who interviewed the filmmaker in 2000. Rather, Morrissey’s vintage films reflect his view that “modern American life was going down the toilet.”1 David Bahr of The New York Times writes:

Paul Morrissey disdains rock music, abhors recreational drugs and thinks even less of liberal politics. When asked his views on sex, he pauses for a moment, looks his inquisitor in the eye and says: “I’m Catholic. I’m with Rome 100 percent.”

Such sentiments may seem surprising coming from a director whose films luxuriate in the libertine lives of heroin users, masturbating transvestites and polymorphous-perverse male prostitutes. Yet Mr. Morrissey – who from 1966 to 1972 directed more than half a dozen movies produced by Andy Warhol, discovered the avant-garde rock band the Velvet Underground and once saw a court label his work “obscene, vulgar and profane” – believes he’s misunderstood, to say nothing of misrepresented.2

Morrissey situates his work outside the counterculture and characterizes it instead as his disapproving reaction to the general collapse of morality as it occurred around him:

There’s something I realized years later, after I had made all the films, although I probably realized it at the time even though I wasn’t conscious of it. At that time, there was this idea that was just coming in – the media was just getting hold of it, and the music world was just screaming its lungs out about how great it was – saying you could do whatever you want. That was really idiotic, and stupid and foolish and silly, unbelievably stupid.

People, by the late sixties, were doing whatever they felt like, and nobody gave a damn.

“I understood that these people were good story material, good subjects to show where life had gotten to, and how pathetic it was,” Morrissey explains.3 Blood for Dracula (1974), for instance, imagines a future-shocked traditionalist vampire (Udo Kier) who despairs of finding virgin blood to drink in the sexually free and easy 1970s, while Trash (1970) depicts the boredom of heroin dependency. “So much of the culture glamorized drugs at the time,” remarks frequent Morrissey leading man Joe Dallesandro. “Paul wanted to show the seedier side, where it all led to.”4 Women in Revolt (1972), which utilizes a cast of transvestites for satirical purposes, mocks the increasingly noisy and confrontational feminist movement of the day. “I thought it would be funny if they were playing women who were converted to lesbianism by the women’s lib movement,” Morrissey says. “The whole women’s thing was so ridiculous. ‘We don’t need men,’ and all that.”5

The director envisioned his Madame Wang’s (1981) as a satire of nonexistent American values and the decline of Western Civilization:

The huge Masonic Temple was a Greek temple, it represented past culture, and it was abandoned and lived in by derelict female impersonators. That was my take on Americans, especially Southern California Americans. They couldn’t care less about anything, except maybe getting up in drag or doing a punk rock show and screaming and throwing themselves on the floor. And the poor Russian agent comes from East Germany and says, “I’ve got to meet Jane Fonda, we’re taking over this country one day, and we have to have all of our operatives in place and I’m one of them.” And everyone says, “great, so what?”6

Morrissey gives the following explication of his comedy flop Spike of Bensonhurst (1988), in which his “pain in the ass” protagonist (Sasha Mitchell) “treats everybody like dirt, and does whatever he wants”:

The little switcheroo, which I thought was the point of the story, was that finally when someone disciplines him it turns out to be the best thing that happens to him. The idea that there are some standards and a sense of order in the world somewhere […]7

Like so many avowed conservatives in American politics, however, Morrissey’s work reveals his complicity in the projects of the culture destroyers even as he professes traditionalism. The mundane drugs-and-drag depravity of his classic oeuvre, while successfully illustrating the emptiness of the revolutions in sexuality and consciousness that had been engineered during the 1960s, also serves to normalize the ascendant dysfunction.

“Life is so second rate now,” Morrissey assesses.

And that idea that life has degenerated to a second rate position was part of the story to all those movies. I still don’t see that as a story element in any other movies – the obvious fact that life today is so much poorer than it was before. And I don’t think you can tell that story unless you’re aware that there’s a difference now. Most people don’t even know there’s a difference between today and before.8

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Endnotes

  1. Ryfle, Steve. “Life Is a Toilet: The Films of Director Paul Morrissey”. Shock Cinema 17 (Fall-Winter 2000), p. 18.
  2. Bahr, David. “Conservative Bard of the Demimonde”. The New York Times (February 27, 2000): http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/27/movies/film-conservative-bard-of-the-demimonde.html?pagewanted=all
  3. Ryfle, Steve. “Life Is a Toilet: The Films of Director Paul Morrissey”. Shock Cinema 17 (Fall-Winter 2000), p. 18.
  4. Bahr, David. “Conservative Bard of the Demimonde”. The New York Times (February 27, 2000): http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/27/movies/film-conservative-bard-of-the-demimonde.html?pagewanted=all
  5. Ryfle, Steve. “Life Is a Toilet: The Films of Director Paul Morrissey”. Shock Cinema 17 (Fall-Winter 2000), p. 20.
  6. Ibid., p. 21.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., p. 19.

Deathgasm

High school heavy metal outcast Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) has little going for him until he meets fellow metalhead Zakk (James Blake) in a record store. Along with a couple of hopeless nerds, they paint their faces a-la-KISS and form the ominously named band Deathgasm. The group would seem to be doomed to obscurity until Brodie discovers an ancient satanic manuscript and turns it into one of Deathgasm’s songs – the resulting dirge unleashing demonic forces that turn the people of their sleepy New Zealand town into rabid zombies. It then falls to Brodie, love interest Medina (Kimberley Crossman), Zakk, and the rest of the gang to rid the planet of the impending ultra-bogusness.

A New Zealander film, Deathgasm follows in the tradition of Peter Jackson’s early splatterfests Bad Taste (1987) and Dead Alive (1992), and might also appeal to those who fondly remember such metal-themed horror outings of the eighties as Hard Rock Zombies (1985), Trick or Treat (1986), and The Gate (1987). Gorehounds and aficionados of things gross should definitely come away from this feast satisfied, with Deathgasm’s veritable buffet for the depraved boasting mass blood-vomiting, forcible earring removal, dildo violence, blood-shitting, urine-squirting, decapitation, sodomy with a chainsaw, and a demonic zombie’s penis getting weed-whacked off.

4 out of 5 flaming pentagrams. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that this “brutal as fuck” Kiwi film experience is:

Fucking Andrea Dworkin A Wyatt Mann9. Anti-Semitic! During band practice, Zakk wears a t-shirt bearing a caricature of Jewish feminist Andrea Dworkin created by the infamous Nick Bougas, aka A. Wyatt Mann.

8. Pro-gay. Medina, on hearing her first blast of metal, envisions herself as a warrior goddess with fawning lesbian slaves at her feet.

7. Anti-bully. Medina is turned off by her boyfriend’s bullying of Brodie. The film even treats Brodie’s coldblooded murder of this character as a moment of comedy.

6. Feminist/pro-slut. Boringly, once the supernatural splat hits the fan, Medina (of course) transforms into an ax-wielding, zombie-butchering metal chick. “I was thinking about getting a tattoo,” she says, because “It would drive my dad crazy.” She then displays to Brodie the spot on her chest she would like to disfigure.

5. Pro-drug. Brodie gets high with Zakk, who is also shown drinking and driving with no adverse outcomes. It is noted that Brodie’s mother was institutionalized after going nuts and debasing herself under the influence of meth, but this information is presented with irreverence rather than caution.

4. Anti-family. None of the characters like their parents. Zakk’s father even has to be killed after he turns into a zombie. In addition to its subversive treatment of conventional domesticity, Deathgasm also features a dashboard trinket in the shape of a baby smoking a cigarette – antinatalist imagery celebrating death, corruption, and nihilism.

3. Anti-Christian. “Hell is awesome,” the viewer learns. Brodie’s churchgoing aunt and uncle, described as “balls deep into Jesus”, are revealed to be hypocrites when anal beads and dildos are discovered in their bedroom. “Older Christian people maybe should steer clear,” star Milo Cawthorne says in an interview included on the DVD.

2. Conformist. Getting across the stupidity of “conspiracy theories” and those who espouse alternative interpretations of history and current events, the unsophisticated Zakk attributes his neighbors’ strange behavior to “the Illuminati pourin’ fuckin’ fluoride in the water or something.”

1. Superficially anarchist. Though stupidly consumerist in their obsessions, Zakk and Brodie steal the things they want – even stooping so low as to siphon fuel from an ambulance.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Multiple MickBlame_It_on_the_Night_poster

Blame It on the Night (1984) ***1/2

Top arena rocker Dalton (Nick Mancuso) has his busy but more-or-less freewheeling backstage lifestyle upset when he learns he has an illegitimate son, Job (Byron Thames), now a teenager attending a military academy. Dalton desperately wants to make up for lost time and to be a real father to the boy, who, however, has been accustomed to icy military discipline and insists on acting like he has a baton stuck up his ass. The clash of their personalities and the cache of Job’s unresolved emotional suppression and resentments provide the background for this innocuous 80s movie’s conflicts.

Philip Norman gives the following account of the Rolling Stones frontman’s involvement with Blame It on the Night in his 2012 biography Mick Jagger. Approached with the opportunity to star in the film, “Mick was initially interested, especially when producer Gene Taft offered him a co-credit for ‘original story’ if he would provide material from his own direct experience of rock stardom. He changed his mind, however, on realizing that the estranged parent-child theme had uncomfortable parallels with himself and his daughter Karis. When the film finally came out in 1984, ‘Michael Phillip Jagger’ was still co-credited [with Gene Taft] for the story.”1

The resulting experience suffers, haunted by the absent Jagger’s specter, so that one can only wonder, while watching Blame it on the Night, what the film might have been like had Jagger actually committed to playing the lead, which instead went to handsome but comparatively colorless Nick Mancuso. Jagger’s input on the rock ‘n’ roll life would likely have lent a gritty edge to what, in the event, is an overly sanitized portrayal of the world of rockers, roadies, and floozies, so that the movie almost seems to have been made to play on the Disney Channel. Scenes of Dalton angrily telling his son to clean up his room or, worse still, engineering a cringe-inducingly forced reconciliation around a campfire, are unconvincing, to say the least. Only former Willie Nelson drummer Rex Ludwick brings an air of rock excess to the film in the role of Dalton’s hearty-partying bandmate Animal.

Perhaps to compensate for the absence of Mick, notable Rolling Stones collaborators Billy Preston and Merry Clayton (whose fiery “Rape! Murder!” vocals fans will know from “Gimme Shelter”) appear as themselves in minor roles. Unfortunately, the music, with the exception of the marginally catchy title tune, is uniformly uber-generic 80s pop cheese delivered with sappy Michael McDonald earnestness. On the plus side, Blame It on the Night is appealingly paced and goes down as smoothly (and is about as nutritious) as a spoonful of Jell-O. Nostalgia aficionados, furthermore, will appreciate that Blame It on the Night features more than one obligatory 80s rock montage sequence. Think of it as a C-grade rock ‘n’ roll Over the Top minus all the testosterone and arm-wrestling.

Running out of Luck

Running out of Luck (1986) *****

Previous to helming this epically bizarre film, Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980) director Julien Temple had also created the atmospheric music video for the Rolling Stones’ “Undercover of the Night” (1983). “For Julien Temple,” relates Philip Norman, “the filming [in Paris, passing for South America] was an experience that made the Sex Pistols seem almost a rest cure by comparison.”2 But whatever his bad experiences on that set, Temple agreed to reunite with Mick for another tropically-themed collaboration in 1985 when he jaunted to Rio de Janeiro to film the absurd rock musical Running out of Luck.

Essentially a vanity project for Mick, Running out of Luck finds the star playing his arrogant, sneering self in what amounts to a series of several music videos connected by a loose adventure narrative. After shooting a video for self-absorbed director Dennis Hopper (!) in Rio, Mick picks up three women who turn out to be transvestites (“She’s a geezer!”) and who beat him up, rob him, and stow him in a meat truck that takes him into the middle of Brazilian nowhere. After stumbling around and hallucinating in a desert, Mick gets picked up by a horny virago (Norma Bengell) who forces him to work on her banana plantation and satisfy her sexual needs. While there he hooks up with Brazilian bimbo Rae Dawn Chong (who has a steamy, bare-breasted love scene with the star) and makes his escape from the plantation only to fall into further misadventures and gets thrown into a grimy prison, which, fortunately for the viewer, is lax enough to let Mick to sing and wiggle his butt to his heart’s content. Mick’s moll Jerry Hall, who also appears in the film as herself, has meanwhile decided that Mick is deceased and entered into a tawdry affair with an American politician.

For those who feel, as this writer does, that the “Dancing in the Street” video with Jagger and David Bowie camping it up like a couple of move-busting insane asylum escapees is one of the finest slices of cinema ever broadcast, Running out of Luck is the real thing – a veritable mother lode of eccentric 80s Mickness in full-lipped snarling glory. Among the various sights and sounds and marvels awaiting the viewer of this freak show of a flick is Mick in drag, Mick getting manhandled and stepped on, Mick licked, Mick groping a tranny, Mick eating maggot-infested prison gruel, Mick playing the roulette tables like James Bond, Mick writhing with a tarantula on his back – and more! The funniest scene has him stumbling into a country store, trying to convince the proprietor that he is, in fact, Mick Jagger, and futilely jumping around, shouting, and shaking his ass to prove it. In short, any Rolling Stones or 80s obscurities fan should pounce at the chance to watch this sicko sweetness dredged from the VHS trash trove.

Mick Jagger performs “She’s the Boss” in Running out of Luck (1986)

Endnotes.

  1. Norman, Philip. Mick Jagger. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2012, p. 475.
  2. Ibid., p. 526.
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