Monday, July 9, 2007

Russian Roulette

Good morning, class. Today Professor Cale will be giving the state of the world in his inimitable way. "The Russian Bear is hungry. He's dancing in his chains. His trainer's melancholic, feeling low and grey. He would have to dig for miles underground (soil) if not for Frenchmen dizzy from turning their backs on everyone's story, everybody's disgust, everybody's distrust. And John Wayne, he can't feel no pain 'cause he's got no brain. Japan, Japan, Japan, we love you, feed you hungry missiles... Russia is defective, defecting, defected. What's wrong with the Motherland? What's wrong with the Fatherland? Here comes the China Ku Klux Klan!"

Yeah, so, uh. "Russian Roulette" is a hilariously offensive song, a pissed rave-up that mashes global politics circa 1981 into a guacamole of random insults and bizarre imagery. The Russian Bear's trainer is presumably Brezhnev (nembutal numbs it all, but I prefer alcohol). Ronald Reagan is presumably satirized as John Wayne (and as another(!) crosseyed Paul McCartney?). If Maggie Thatcher's in there somewhere, I don't see where, though it's a curious omission. Really, I can't begin to explicate the lyrics. I'm not sure there's anything to explicate - like several other songs on Honi Soit, it seems to be stream-of-consciousness. I can't even make out all the words, much less make sense of them.

The music is pretty basic: a 4/4 beat with a few simple drum fills, a verse over a constantly repeating guitar part, and a slightly syncopated pseudo-chorus with a chunkier rhythm guitar part and some nice lead-guitar soloing from Sturgis Nikides. There's a great, frantic vocal. It's the rock-out track of the album, in the tradition of "Gun" or "Macbeth."

In closing: it's not an objectively great song, I admit. It's a very strange and problematic song. And yet it scratches an itch for me: it's unhinged and vomitific, an unstoppable torrent of images with no respect for anything human. (Distrust, disgust.) The aware human being can't escape a persistent, needling knowledge of the myriad darknesses in the heart of man. I can only really speak for myself, but our helplessness to put the world to rights generates a frustration that can only be dealt with through loud music or violence*. Sometimes both. And that's why I'm hooked on John Cale, one of the few recording artists qualified to soundtrack Rising Up and Rising Down.

* to inanimate objects only, please.

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