Saturday, 20 August 2011

So Scratched into Our Souls #8: Oblivians - Bad Man

I've been on a massive garage punk trip for the past month or so. The Rip Offs, The Gaza Strippers, The Didjits, The Mummies, New Bomb Turks and Guitar Wolf have dominated my computer speakers, but I think the song that I have listened to the most, certainly the one that has been scratched deepest into my soul is this Oblivians song.

It's a break-up song, and all break-up songs are country songs, ol' time country, when it was just the blues with a spark more twang. Whether you dress it up in the frenetic whine of pop-punk as so many do (The Ergs' Stinking of Whiskey Blues and The Zatopeks' Mary Lou are two songs by pop-punk bands that explicitly make this thematic debt clear) or shave the bedraggled edge off it in a plaintive folk-pop abomination. All break-up songs are country songs and all country songs, the ones I love anyway, are rough things, where the emotion is stunted and the pain comes through even more from the fact that it's being expressed by someone who doesn't know how to express their pain that much, is uncomfortable with coping mechanisms beyond bottles and barfights, that's what this song is. There's clearly a lot of emotion in it, but it's not always clear which emotion is being expressed and how the singer even feels about it or whether they've even made up their mind yet. You can't really say it wears its heart on it sleeve because its heart is a tricky misshapen muscle beating arrythmically and growling unintelligibly, ventricles at war with one another. This song fuzzes and spits with its own internal conflict, just like any human cunt does.

This song is, for want of a better word, a ballsy song. It's not some heartbroken cry designed to get girls to see how sensitive you are and offer you comfort, but it's not really a righteous fuck you of bitter indignation either with all the transparent pathetic bravado that those sort of songs contain (though there is a bit of that, it kicks it to pieces itself before you can snort at it). I think thematically the song it bares most resemblance to is the refreshing anti-sentimentality of Against Me!'s Cavalier Eternal, a fantastic break-up song that transcends many of the artistic clich├ęs around this particular form.

Girl, I'm sorry but I'm leaving.
We're both at fault, we're both to blame.
And it wasn't the other men 'cause there were other women.
This just isn't love, it's just the remorse of a loss of a feeling.
Even if I stayed, it just wouldn't be the same.

But Cavalier Eternal is a wry smile for the most part, its emotion is couched in a self-awareness, it sets itself up and knocks itself down and takes the next step down the highway with its inner cheeks caught between its teeth, a cocked head, a wink at the road ahead and maybe a wistful blown kiss at the road behind that falls away into laughter. There's no such detachment in Bad Man, it does acknowledge the singer's own culpability in the situation being described just as Cavalier Eternal does but it has none of the acceptance of the situation that Gabel sings of, maybe it's a proto-Cavalier Eternal, cavalier foetal, the roiling mass of emotion that comes before the acceptance.

Over the scratchy stomp he howls in an overly-enunciated backyard Elvis style. I mentioned earlier that there is some bitter indignation, but for the most part it's a mixture of self-loathing and self-justification. I'm leaving. It's not you, it's me. I'm a prick. But by the way, it's you. "And it's on, and I'm gone. That's that." as Biggie would have it, but this guy has too much guilt to let himself out with a carefree farewell like that.

I love the way the song reveals itself like that, changing the direct of the emotion with each line but always emoting fucking hard, yelping and shouting. Just when you think you've got a handle on what's going on with the strained chorus of "I'm a baaaaaad man. I'm a baaaaaad man." it switches up on you again with "But I'm/too good for you."

Like Cavalier Eternal it's a song that ends on the road, but where Cavalier Eternal scuffs its heels knowingly Bad Man is an arsehole Orpheus, pulling out of the driveway in a beat-up car, punching the rearview mirror off lest it be tempted by the trap of a girl who's only fault was to love him and letting out a howl as it roars out of town. FUCK I HATE MYSELF. I'M A FUCKING SHIT. BUT. BUT. BUT. BUT I'M FUCKING FREE. WOOHOO!

It's basically Bruce Springsteen's The River if he never knocked the girl up and managed to force himself into Born to Run but without the girl by his side because she just represented too much of that town full of losers he was busting out of.

Time was in a vacuum, when I wanted to be free.
But now my adolescence has all but left me.
I could have stayed another day, but it would be wrong.
And you would just grow tired of me, before too long.

I say no. I must go.
I'm not the one you want, though I know you think so.
I'm a bad man.
I'm a bad man.
I'm a bad man.
But I'm
Too good for you
My Suzie, true.

Time was an obsession, but that was just for me.
You can tell by the sound of my shoes that I am gonna leave.
Even if you plead with me, and say you were so true.
It's too late for long goodbyes, honey, we are through.

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