This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP/KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #292: Holiday in Cambodia by Dead Kennedys AND The Other Shoe by Fucked Up.
We are a society that, despite our protestations to the contrary, are often quick to judge a book by its’ proverbial cover. I am as guilty of pre-judging others as anyone else and, by doing so, categorizing people in ways that may or may not be true thus, obscuring who they really are. I hope that I am wrong with what I am about to say next but, I believe that many of you will be turned off reading this post because of the name of the bands in question. For both bands, their name is precisely what it is because they want to elicit a reaction and then, start a conversation about how you feel. “Holiday in Cambodia” is the KEXP song on the list but, in thinking about how to talk about that song and group, I couldn’t help but think about a Canadian band called “Fucked Up” and their song, “The Other Shoe” from SPIN Magazine’s 2011 Album of the Year, “David Comes To Life”. So, let’s start in Canada.
I first saw “Fucked Up” perform on a late night CBC TV show hosted by “Canada’s boyfriend”, George Strombolopolous. For those who may not have ever watched Strombo’s show, he liked to interview people/groups who were making a cultural impact on Canada. So, after introducing the band….who are a hardcore punk rock band…..Strombo interviewed the balding, brawny and bearded lead singer, Damian Abraham. It was my first time hearing him speak. I had no idea about the acclaim being heaped on their album, “David Comes to Life”. I am not sure what I was expecting to happen but, what did end up happening was that I got to witness one of the most cerebral interviews I have ever seen. I’ll get to the album momentarily (because it is an amazing concept album) but first, I’ll talk about the core philosophy of the band. Strombo mentioned the success that the band was enjoying and wondered aloud, how much greater it would all be if they were called anything besides, “Fucked Up”. Abraham smiled and said that the name of the band was the whole point of the band. He and his bandmates were striving to break down societal limitations which, in this case, revolved around self-censorship. He said that, yes, they were a hardcore punk rock band and that they were loud but, he said that the success of “David Comes To Life” proved that they had something intelligent to say and that the world was thirsting for intelligent discourse but, because of their name, were being denied access to the national conversation.
The album, “David Comes To Life” was listed as a Top Ten album by nearly every major music magazine and organization in their year-end polls when it was released. “David Comes To Life” is a double album and is constructed as a musical. Abraham said that “Fucked Up” wanted to take, what they called, “the most bloated musical form of the last fifty years, the Prog-Rock concept album, and re-energize it with Punk Rock sensibilities. So, they created a story arc, told over a four-sided, double cd, revolving around a man named David who, over the course of twenty or so songs, discovers that someone else is actually narrating the course of his life and controlling his happiness and his ability to think and act independently. The revelation sets him off on a journey to reclaim control over the meaning of his time spent on Earth. There is more to the story that this but, overall, the message is one of not accepting limitations imposed on you by others and, instead, striving for a more self-actualized life. If you watch the video from The George Strombolopolous Show, you might be excused if you thought someone who is as physically intimidating as Damian Abraham is and someone as loud and forceful as he sounds, would be incapable of producing a nuanced, philosophical album like “David Comes To Life”. But, he and his bandmates did make this personal and artistic statement. Ever since that evening, I have followed Damian Abraham on Twitter and have found him to be such an intelligent man. He is just as apt to post family photos, as he is, posting about politics, music or, his favourite topic, hardcore wrestling. But, regardless of topic, he has earned my respect. I am not normally someone who bandies the “F-word” about but, if saying the name of the band, “Fucked Up” liberates me enough to move beyond society’s limitations and introduces me to a literate, creative, thoughtful fellow human being then, I am happy to have done so.
When asked about people/bands who have influenced “Fucked Up”, one of the first bands mentioned were “The Dead Kennedys”. “The Dead Kennedys” were a hardcore punk band formed in the mid-seventies. They, along with “Black Flag” are often referred to as being the ones who started hardcore punk rock in America. The band was lead by a singer who went by the stage name, “Jello Biafra”. Over the course of the decade and a half that “The Dead Kennedys” existed, they constantly found themselves butting heads with those wishing to impose “society’s mores” upon the band. Like “Fucked Up”, “The Dead Kennedys” were more introspective and cerebral than most people gave them credit for. Their band name was a take on the mythologizing of the Kennedy Family in America. The song, “Holiday in Cambodia” was a commentary on liberal college students who believed that they were being oppressed in America. Biafra used his lyrics to contrast the plight of American youth with those who endured their teen years in Cambodia under the murderous regime of dictator, Pol Pot. “The Dead Kennedys” were a political band who railed against Nazis, extremists of every kind, as well as, taking on the Reagan-era Parent Advisory Council led by Tipper Gore. They only disbanded when the hardcore punk rock scene started drifting toward those with White Supremist tendencies.
“The Dead Kennedys” may strike you as being strident and defiant but, they were the opposite of the Nazi thugs who now populate the genre in ever-increasing numbers. “The Dead Kennedys”, like “Fucked Up” in Canada, were about casting off the limitations imposed by others and having real conversations that needed to be held. In any case, you are getting two videos for the price of one post today. I will play, “Holiday in Cambodia” below, becasue that was the original list choice by KEXP. I will play “The Other Shoe” from “David Comes To Life” by “Fucked Up”, as well.
I will close by acknowledging that I suspect that these songs may not necessarily be your cup of tea. But, that having been said, please resist the temptation to pre-judge these bands as being irrelevant because they are loud and/or in-your-face with their lyrics. Sometimes, wisdom comes from pipe-smoking professor-types and, sometimes, it comes from folks who look like they are ready to take you out back and pound the crap out of you. In either case, being open-minded enough to actually hear what is being said could end up changing your life. If you get nothing else from today’s post, let it be this: be the narrator of your own life story.
Here are “The Dead Kennedys” with “Holiday in Cambodia” and “Fucked Up” with “The Other Shoe”. Enjoy, as always.
The link to the video for “Holiday in Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys, can be found here.
The link to the video for “The Other Shoe” by Fucked Up, can be found here.
The link to the official website for “Dead Kennedys” can be found here.
The link to the official website for Fucked Up, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their website can be found here.