Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Post Contains Inappropriate Language...Somewhere

The other day the radio played one of my favorite songs, like, ever. This is not a song that gets a lot of airplay, but I guess all of Jack FM's Eagles, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Depeche Mode, Madonna, Police, and Guns 'N Roses CDs fell out the window at the same time or something.

The song is "Add It Up" by Violent Femmes. It's from their self-titled first album, and I don't want to say something mawkish like "that album saved my life when I was 15," but if ever there was a time when I needed an album that was loud, crude, snarky, rebellious, stripped-down, shocking, and brilliant, it was the Summer of 1983. I played the crap out of that record.
record [rek-erd, n.]. gramophone record, also called: disc. A thin disc of a plastic material upon which sound has been recorded. Each side has a spiral groove, which undulates in accordance with the frequency and amplitude of the sound. Records were formerly made from a shellac-based compound but were later made from vinyl plastics.  

No lasers, no digital encryption, just a sharp sliver
of diamond and a cheap turntable.
So I'm driving along, and "Add It Up" comes on the radio. As I said, while it's a fantastic song, it doesn't come on the radio much. That might have something to do with the lyrics in the third verse:

Why can't I get just one fuck?
Why can't I get just one fuck?
I guess it's got something to do with luck
But I've waited my whole life for just one.

Thank you, Gordon Gano. You rock.

Not surprisingly, those lyrics were judiciously edited for broadcast. You can't just sing "fuck" on the radio where babies and God can hear it. But if you replace the word "fuck" with a half-second of silence, followed by a line ending with "luck," you've successfully shielded the young and sensitive from any possibility of gleaning the original content. And the world is safe for democracy.

Now, the interesting thing about "Add It Up" (I'm going to assume many of you don't know the song by heart, although if I'm wrong you people are awesome) is that the Violent Femmes don't simply start the song off by belting out the F-word. This is goddamn Art. As I said, it's in the third verse that the lyrics get all fuckular. In the second verse, Gordon (can I call you Gordon? Thanks, Gordo) sings:
Why can't I get just one screw?
Why can't I get just one screw?
Believe me, I'd know what to do
But something won't let me make love to you.
Clearly there's a thematic element here, as there is in all great poetry. But here's the thing: Jack FM censored the word "screw," as well. Just in case it wasn't referring to the singer's existential crisis looking for a specific fastener in a hardware store.

Just one. But it better be a good one.
Well, OK. "Screw" can be a little crude in the right context, I guess. Better safe than sorry. Bleep that fucker sucker out. Although by this point, you'd think the program director might have wondered whether a song - even a great song like "Add It Up" - might be better suited for private listening rather than broadcast on the FCC-regulated airwaves, clumsily shorn of its "fucks" and "screws." Or maybe it was the program director's day off and the intern they left in charge listened to song and thought, "Fuck it." In which case I'd like to shake that intern's hand.

But wait! I've got one more drop of blood to squeeze from the turnip of this anecdote! Here's the part of the song that played completely unexpurgated:

Words to memorize, words hypnotize
Words make my mouth exercise
Words all fail the magic prize
Nothing I can say when I'm in your thighs.

Needless to say, when I was 15 this was stimulating stuff. I was basically smoking a cigarette and basking in the afterglow by this point in the song, and I didn't even understand why. In completely unrelated news, I'm going to commit Precocious Daughter to a cloistered order of mute nuns without electricity when she's 14.

Anyway, I had to insanely chuckle at this selectively edited version of "Add It Up." Maybe now that I'm a fat, boring wife and mother and not a fat, boring teenager, my standards have changed. But I'm pretty sure my 15-year-old self and my 43-year-old self can agree that in the suggestion-of-naughtiness derby, the word "screw" finishes several lengths behind an overt reference to cunnilingus. Doesn't it? Yeah, you're thinking about it now. Gotcha.

Me, I would have left the "screw" intact and instead looped in some cleaner lyrics. For instance, "Nothing I can say when I'm eating pies." Or "Baby, knead my bread 'til it starts to rise." Or "Carpet matches drapes, what a nice surprise." Something wholesome that doesn't lend itself to filthy innuendo.

Everyone can enjoy that!
Still, it was great to hear "Add It Up" on the radio. I'm going to dig out my vinyl Femmes album and listen to it. With headphones. Can't have yet another generation ruined by the devil's music, right?

By the way, here's the song. Turn it up loud. Loud enough to make your dad yell "Turn that shit down!" Even if he lives in another state or, God forbid, is dead. And don't forget to sing along on the third verse. It's only appropriate.

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