A couple week—months?—back, when this single dropped, but before I’d heard it, I was at work, and happened to overhear this lady named Carol talking to another woman named Pam about Taylor Swift. Astute readers of this blog will know that I have mentioned Carol before, both on her own and, more recently, as part of a different conversation she was having with Pam.
"Taylor Swift has a new album out," Carol said to Pam, "and she’s gone Rock. [inaudible] told me that she saw the video for it, and it’s filthy.”
Carol’s moral core is pretty easily rocked, if you guys can’t tell. You should have heard the steely disapproval in her voice. Imagine my disappointment when I managed to actually see the video: rest easy, Carol. Taylor Swift continues her reign as America’s Sweet Granddaughter despite your worries.
David Byrne’s brave stance against contemporary art, and how it has become “inoffensive tchotchkes for billionaires and the museums they fund.” would be a whole lot braver if David Byrne himself weren’t rich—”the galleries cater to the wealthy…the rest of us are allowed a voyeuristic view of the merchandise and the attendant swirl of activity in the palace”—and pretending he’s not, and also if he wasn’t once in a long-term relationship with a woman who once sold a photograph for nearly four million dollars.
You remember The Old Dogs, right? Of course you don’t—you are not a senior citizen. Let me explain: there was, in the late 80s, a country music supergroup called The Highwaymen, which consisted of a sort of Mount Rushmore of country: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and, uh, Kris Kristofferson for some reason. Anyhow, they were fairly popular. You don’t remember them either. It’s okay.
Anyhow, about a decade later, there came The Old Dogs, who were sort of a K-Mart version of The Highwaymen, consisting of a handful of B-list country singers, guys who’d had hits and been popular, but were nowhere near the level of their predecessors: Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare, Jerry Reed, and our old pal Waylon Jennings.
That’s really all I know about The Old Dogs. I remember seeing TV ads at my grandparents’ house when I was a teenager for what I think was some kind of concert video. The internet doesn’t have it, and my grandmother’s vast VHS collection of stuff she taped off TNN is long gone, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
Anyhow, here is the first of a five-part interview with the collective, moderated by Jimmy Dean, a guy whose country music bona fides are fairly insubstantial: he had one massive hit, 1961’s "Big Bad John", but is best known today for being a wealthy sausage magnate.
In the video, Jimmy is dressed like JR from Dallas. Everyone else is in various stages of Old Guy Comfort Wear. Waylon refuses to take his Dale Earnhardt sunglasses off, and I’m not sure if he looks sort of cool or not. Probably not.
I have not watched even all of this first video, much less the other four parts, but I highly recommend your watching it anyway. I’m sure it’s wonderful.
How long, I wondered, as I first sat down to watch this video, will it be before someone mentions Viagra?
It’s less than three minutes in. Jimmy Dean brings it up—har har—and then gives us this little pearl, when asked if it works: “It works so well that sometimes I don’t have enough skin left to close my eyes.”
I missed The Killer’s birthday a couple of days ago. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d finished reading Hellfire, Nick Tosches’s 1982 biography of Lewis, about a week previous. These weird coincidences happen to me fairly often, but let us not read too much into it.
I like Tosches. This is the third book of his music writing I’ve read, the other two being Where Dead Voices Gather and Dino: Living High In The Dirty Business of Dreams. He reminds me sort of like a macho Greil Marcus, if one can imagine such a thing. He seems a little too happy to toss the word “nigger” around, in the manner of other Cool 70s Music Critics, so beware if you’re sensitive to such things. His style is often really overblown, which, when writing about something as fundamentally silly as something like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, can come across misguided—can this dumb thing really mean so much to you?—but that’s also his great strength: to make a half-written, tossed-off bit of nonsense cooked up by a trio of hillbillies in the winter of 1957 seem like something truly important. Something heroic, even.
What truly interests Tosches in Lewis (“the final wild son”), though, is his wildly conflicted soul. That old saw about rock and roll being about the push and pull between the sacred and the profane has long ago become something of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that was borne out by Lewis, who wrestled mightily early in his career with matters spiritual: “I have the Devil in me! If I didn’t have, I’d be a Christian” he exclaims on recorded studio chatter, arguing with Sam Phillips; and in an interview years later: “Satan has power next to God. You ain’t loyal to God, you must be loyal to Satan. There ain’t no in-between…I’m a sinner, I know it. Soon I’m gonna have to reckon with the chillin’ hands of death.” It’s a struggle that continues within him right up until the end of Tosches’s book, and, one presumes, continues to this day.
In the end, though, as we all know, the things of this world won out. To the world’s betterment, at least, if not Lewis’s.
Looking over this list, there’s nothing too embarrassing—the single worst offenders here are probably The Wallflowers and The Goo Goo Dolls—and nothing too dated—Beth Orton, maybe?—it shows that I’d recently gotten into both Jackson Browne and Van Morrison, and that even at seventeen years old I had pretty good taste for a sixty year old man.
Throughout Monster, Michael Stipe deliberately inhabits a queer space, particularly on this song which flows nimbly from a woman’s perspective. "I’ve always felt that sexuality is a really slippery thing," he told Newsweek at the time. ”I like fucking around with gender. I like writing songs that aren’t gender specific.”I remember around the same time the kids’ magazine Disney Adventures extracted the necessary information from the record, the interviews around it, and how Stipe’s face had become freshly armored in glossy paints: Michael Stipe was queer, and how wonderful. They congratulated him on navigating a combustible sexual space, then lamented it, as his sexuality mysteriously destabilized the staff’s crush on him.
Reading this at age 8 introduced me to several bottomless concepts at once.
My high school had a beauty pageant every year—a pretty fucked-up thing, in retrospect—the proceeds of which went to help fund the yearbook. I was, of course, on the yearbook staff, and one year I got to pick out the music that was used during the program. I spent a couple of days at least putting together three 90-minute cassettes of what would be considered background music to play underneath the goings-on, plus a fourth cassette that was to include the music to be played at certain predetermined portions of the show.
Among those predetermined portions were what I guess you’d call an opening processional, or something, where first the girls would walk from the rear of the auditorium up onto the stage. In what I thought was a pretty clever bit of commentary on the goings-on, I chose “Tongue”—a song that I was pretty sure was both about eating pussy and the sad glamour of teenage girls—as the song for the girls to walk out to. I don’t remember what song I picked for the boys, but I think it might have been "The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count" by The Divine Comedy, which isn’t really about anything other than having allergies.
Regardless, neither of those choices were picked. They let me keep my weird music for the background stuff no one would pay attention to. I don’t remember what song they actually played for the girls to walk out to. I think the boys made their entrance to “Back In Black”.
Which, you know, might have been the better choice.