Wednesday, January 02, 2008
On Black Flag's "Louie Louie" and the Death of Debate
This will be out in a future Heartworm reader on Black Flag:
At an early age my mother recognized my means of putting it all together was by taking it apart first, coming to my conclusion on things by abutting the whole with its pieces before I'd allow myself to become a proper believer. She waited patiently while I tore apart a box of tea bags on the kitchen floor separating the tea from the bags into two huge piles and then sitting perplexed at the uselessness of the two without each other in tandem. In the end, she salvaged one intact tea bag and held it up to my nose and I giggled. One Halloween I painted myself instead of the pumpkin because I thought it a better arrangement for the pumpkin to be put to bed while I waited on the steps to greet the ghosts. My parents took a Polaroid of my paint-drenched body next to the naked pumpkin and showed it to me adding a "doesn't the pumpkin look lonely that way?" to drive the point home. Not enough. It was the maple syrup I loved most about french toast so I showered in it one Sunday after church thinking this way I could lick it whenever I wanted. Rather than scold me, knowing scolding just gives us an enemy to rebel against, my mother waited until my father came home from his parish meeting to clean me up, giving me ample time to learn the lesson myself. By the time he arrived it was impossible to assess just how delicious my maple caked skin may have been because, neglecting to account for its adhesiveness, the history of inedibles I encountered between the pouring of the syrup over my body and the lashing about in sticky frustration had now formed a second coating my tongue could not penetrate to taste. When my father found me he donned me "sticky" and the nickname has stuck ever since, like a lesson I repeat over and over again refusing to learn: things are stuck together, whether I take them apart or let them be, I should just believe.
Nope. Though gradually I am increasingly zeroing in on all out believing and know I'm getting hotter and hotter by the day, it's never come easy. I have all the faculties to line up the evidence affirming the obvious that, yes, I'm most certainly of this place; yet why don't those mathematics bring with them comfort? Why does the base still feel so unstable? And it's not just me! Look around! All sorts of things are freaking out uncomfortable to be here like they have any other choice.
I wonder, if instead of my mother encouraging me to explore the things I didn't understand she pushed me to pursue only the things that inherently came easy (if it's allegedly all sticky anyhow Mom‘s, what would the difference've been?) would I have been a bigger Black Flag fan than I am? This isn't to say I'm not a Black Flag fan (hold your horses), I like 'em just fine; but growing up I felt like there was that comfort level in their dissent I couldn't jive with. While my angst was embattled in martyrous jihad, dissent seemed to come to Black Flag, and by extension their fans, comfortably as yet another inextricable piece of the whole. When I threw an egg at a cop I did it in the name of justice and Rites of Spring and Econochrist were my soundtrack. When sharing the same carton of eggs with a Black Flag fan I felt like they did it in the name of pure splatter. I'd construct my manifestos against the priests using a precise combination of words recently plucked from a vocabulary textbook as a foundation from which carefully placed vulgarities could then leap off of striking with sacrilege, Dag Nasty and Youth Brigade were my soundtrack. I remember the Kosciusko brothers (both Black Flag fans) arguing with me that ideas, and by extension arguments, did not have to come in the form of words. I hated them yet we skated together everyday and passed mix-tapes back and forth.
At the time the differences didn't seem so profound, just a subtle hue change in preference. In fact, I always appreciated the Black Flag fan's contributions to the mix-tape. They worked well alongside the songs I plucked from the socially and aesthetically awkward DC punk scene whose uncomfortabilty felt congruous to my concept of (lack of) place. Black Flag's "Louie Louie" stands out as a song at the time I remember both not computing and loving at once. When the mix-tape rolled to "Louie Louie" it was like a cue to set all the serious 360 nollie backside hand grab heel flips aside and invent some real gay shit. This is when step-off tricks would be momentarily pardoned, everything without a name became a "backside shadrack", caveman slides could be done with one's butt on the board, it was legal to slide your deck into another skater to fuck up his trick, and the execution of a perfect slappy reigned supreme.
All the fun during "Louie Louie" doesn't mean I got it in any permanent way though. Frankly, it seemed pretty stupid to me. I was still too caught up breaking down the whole into pieces before I could accept the whole. In my mind there were a series of retarded events leading up to the whole that stood at odds with the core of me:
a) Of all the cover songs Black Flag could chose from to cover, they chose "Louie Louie".
b) Not just once, but enough times to actually take it to the studio wherein they spent money rerecording a song that has already been rerecorded a million times.
c) This is early in their career (1981) and they're wasting their time like this?
d) They'll then spend even more money releasing the thing.
e) Of all the records duchebags can buy, enough will buy Black Flag's "Louie Louie" that it makes it onto mix tapes at least one coast away.
f) the Dischord catalog did not offer me the same follies.
I've since come to understand that "Louie Louie", in all its incarnations both past and future, is the best song ever written. Not even the Gin Blossoms could fuck it up. But by the time I would've been cognizant enough to go back and reassess the Black Flag catalog, other things had already filled the burgeoning gap that was so nascent in the days of those first backside shadracks. Falling off skateboards hurts now so I use Martha Graham to keep my awareness of empty space in check (and fine, to form arguments without words). And when the anthem was killed once and for all after the last vestiges of puberty finally burned off, I was free to find house music (and yes, all the silly subgenres therein). Discount it if you need to, but Black Flag's "Louie Louie" is both responsible for and stuck to the same piece of twine that can lead one to house music and modern dance. It may be taking me a long time accept the validity of all elements (in my heart, I got it in my head), but with "Louie Louie" enlisted as both substance and rebuttal to substance of my every move, I know I can't lose. Try it yourself! Keep “Louie Louie” on the tip of your tongue to be used as a response to whatever they throw at you and see what they're left with. No way! The only response to "Louie Louie" is more "Louie Louie" and we all win.