Monday, August 17, 2009

Behind the Music #7: Village People - "YMCA"

Hey, music lover, how the jumping jehosophat are you doing?

You may have noticed a not unbecoming gravity in my demeanour today. That's because I have my serious head on. It seems the previous soaraway installment in this series has kicked up a controversial stink. Feathers have been ruffled, umbrage taken and brickbats, erm, batted.

The charge is a serious one: that of homophobia. In cocking a playful snook at REM and REM enthusiasts, it seems as though your correspondent appears to be implying that being gay is A Bad Thing and that the gays are to be shunned and derided.

This is not the case. I love the gays, me, although I wouldn't want one marrying my daughter.

Unless it was a lady gay, or "lesbian", as they call them. Then they could have a civil partnership, no problems there.

Indeed, one of my all-time musical heroes was a gay man. That man was the motorcyclist from The Village People.

The Village People are probably the biggest thing to hit the music world since the demise of The Beatles.

In the 1970s, you could ask any healthy young boy, with red blood coursing through his veins, what he wanted to grow up to be, and without exception the answer would come back "A member of the Village People".

The German sextet were the ultimate embodiment of healthy manhood and right-thinking notions of masculinity. The cowboy, the construction worker, the so-called native american, the cop and the soldier were, of course, all perfectly respectable role models for any young laddie, but the cool guy, the real deal, the big cheese was, of course, the motorbike enthusiast.

Men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him.

As a teenager growing up in the, erm, early 90s when they re-released a lot of their music, I, like most of my peers, wanted to be the mustachioed biker from the VPs, as we called them. His stylish leather cap and impressive curved facial hair gave him a rugged, masculine look that all of us young shavers could only dream of.

Truly, a man with a soup-strainer like that one would have hot chicks hanging off him like fruitbats, we surmised.

Imagine then, our surprise, when it emerged that he was, in fact, a gay man. Surely everyone of a certain age remembers where they were when they first heard that "the one with the tache" out of the Village People was gay? It was our generation's moon landing or JFK assassination.

First it had been George Michael, then it was Stevie G from Boyzone, and now the motorcycle guy from the Peeps, as we were now calling them. Where would it end?

They say there's nowt so queer as folk, but, right then, it seemed that the world of pop was every bit as "queer" as its bearded, jumper-wearing musical counterpart.

We were once again allowed to use the word "queer", incidentally, thanks to the sterling reclamation work of Peter Tatchell and his Outrage brethren.

Props, Pete!

However, this was still a challenging issue for a confused youngster growing up in the North-East of England in the 1990s, which was still very much a repressed, backwards place in those days, full of outmoded attitudes, flagrant prejudice and disapproving attitudes towards pastel-coloured shirts.

In the end, it was the band's music that won the day. Of all the classics in the Village People canon, the classicalest of them all is "YMCA". We all know it, we all love it. Essentially, the song is a paean to the simple pleasures of going to the local YMCA and hanging out with all the boys.

Now, in my younger days, I enjoyed nothing more than doing just that very thing. There was indeed a YMCA in our local town, where, in addition to hanging out with all the boys, one could play Table Tennis and Snooker.

Also, soft drinks, crisps and sweets were available.

While this mid-teen disco doctor wasn't especially keen on riding motorcycles or engaging in healthy homosexual practices with a like-minded consenting partner, I was keen as mustard on ping-pong. Sheeeit, back in the day I was all about the ping AND the pong. Topspin serves, backhand cutspin returns, towering forehand winner, snug-fitting Fred Perry polo shirts, I was down with that shit like a mother-fucker.

It was the Village People's espousal of the beautiful game that removed the scales from my prejudiced eyes and enabled me to see the light and let in the sunshine. If the five remaining members of the band were fine with the fact that one of their group had chosen a different path to them, then why should anybody else worry about it?

Some things, like table tennis and, to a lesser extent, snooker, are important. Other things, like sexual preferences, aren't.

It was the simple poetry of this 1978 disco pop chart-topper that enabled this dimpled rubber paddle-wielding pop kid become a tolerant, enlightened individual who sees that all people are equal and special, regardless as to their sexuality, colour or creed.

As the lads themselves would have put it "You can do whatever you feel".

Peace and love to all y'all, whether you're gay, straight, bisexual, trangender, a pub man, a club man, a jet black guy with a hip hi-fi, a white cool cat in a trilby hat or if you're just into having someone piss on you.

It's all golden.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Behind the Music #6: REM - "Everybody Hurts"

At the back end of the 1980s, no band rocked the party harder than R.E.M.

Darlings of gossip columnists and paparazzos the world over, the band's four members, Mike Stipe, Peter "truck of fuck" Buck, Bill Berry and The Specky One, were rarely pictured without a Playmate or Baywatch babe on their arm, a cold drink in their hand or some stank on their hang-low.

The hard-rocking Paris, Texas four-piece formed in 1986, initially calling themselves Radical Ecstasy Motherfuckers. A pragmatic change of name later, they released their debut single 1987's "It's the End of the World as we Know it (And shit, yeah?)" to rave reviews and sold-out shows all across America. The band's mixture of feelgood heavy hits and hell-raising antics ensured they were never out of the headlines wherever they went.

The lads followed up their chart-topping breakthrough hit with a string of good-time fratboy anthems that rocked colleges from USC to NYU. Tunes such as "Stand", "Shiny Happy People", "Orange Crush" and "Hats off to Keggers and Boobies!" were the soundtrack to a million pantie raids, toga parties and initiation ceremony buggeries across the nation's campuses.

However, all was not well within the REM camp, as the cycle of constant touring took its toll. Stipe was so off his box he shaved his head, painted his face blue and talked nothing but shit. Buck was arrested for Air Rage after threatening to chop an air hostesses' hands off, The Specky One continued to persevere with a haircut that gave him the look of an embittered lesbian version of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

As with all American morality pieces, the party eventually had to stop. With the arrival of the 1990s, a wind of change was blowing across the land. Gone were the bacchanalian excesses of the eighties, the new decade was all about responsibility, pretending to care about the environment, kissing Clinton ass, getting in touch with one's feelings and generally acting the Dudley Do-Right.

Sensing that this was not the time for songs to "get butt naked and fuck" to, REM set about writing the ultimate song to "sit around wearing round glasses, pretending to be into poetry and that, tubbyboohooing about how you're so sensitive and how come you don't get no chicks" to.

That song was "Everybody Hurts".

With its minor chord piano backing and hypnotic, twinkling guitar line supporting Stipe's plaintive yet reassuring vocals, this is a song that was custom-built to be played to massive crowds of lighter-wielding, doe-eyed festival-going beardie weirdies and perpetual student types. But it is in the words that the song's deep emotional resonance lies.

The lyrics to the band's emo masterpiece are deceptively simple. The casual observer could easily dismiss them as trite, mawkish shite, but they would be wrong to do that. For, while on the surface the lyrics may seem to be a load of self-help jibber-jabber lifted straight from a Samaritans leaflet, there is a message of hope within that has touched the hearts, minds and oxters of a generation of gloomy Guses and moaning Minnies.

"Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. You are not alone"

Truly, if ever a maudlin, whiny rocker ever said a mouthful, then old laughing boy Stipey was that rocker. Because, underneath it all, boiling it down to brass tacks, it's true, isn't it?

Everybody hurts.

Everybody cries.

Everybody who's a LASS or a QUEER, that is.

So, yeah, hold on. Hold on to your "Friends" box set. Hold on to your man-bag, your Chuck Palahaniuk novels, your Hello Kitty nick-nacks, your his 'n' hers bath towels, your war stories from "Glasto" and "Burning Man", your scented joss candles and your fucking REM albums.

Hold on tightly to them, I hope you choke on the bastards.

Your sort make me sick to the bottom of my gorge. Fuck you and goodnight!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ins and Aoûts: August '09

G'day cobbers, how 'bout this heat, eh?

As the clashes for Angela's ashes rage in balmy Birmingham, the Ins and Outs Committee have been cracking open a cold shrimp, tossing some tinnies on the barbie, making ill-judged remarks about the "abboes" and generally having a bonzer old time.

Slap on some sunscreen and get down to the creek for a dip into the hotlist that discriminates between didgeridoos and didgeridon'ts, kookaburras and Middlesbroughs, Shane Warnes and Shayne Wards, Ayers Rock and Pam Ayres' cock.

Tickle it you drongos,
Ins and Outs am here!!!!!!!87!!!!!!


Initiating marital relations by waving one's old chap around and singing "It's Howdy Doody time! It's Howdy Doody time!"
Applying for the post of Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Caius College, Cambridge as the skip hire company has made your job part time.
Asking the barber to give you a marcel wave, "...just like dear Nancy Mitford"
Joe Tex. That brother knew his bidness all right.
Giving credit where credit is due. This handy little truism could have saved the world a whole lot of fiscal turmoil, no?
Having a soft spot for Dinamo Zagreb.
Pooh-poohing the veracity of any alleged swine flu sufferer who doesn't go on to die.
40 frankfurters for two quid large? Got to like them numbers.
Post-horseracing aled-up ladies, fascinators akimbo.
Michael Owen's sparkling pre-season form. It really is a pleasure to see the mealy-mouthed, monotone little cunt back among the goals.
Leaving a greeting message on your work voicemail that informs out-of-hours callers that you are "in Miami, bitch!"
Hors d'oeuvre. The best type of d'oeuvre, bar none.
Joba Chamberlain.
Coves meandering around the supermarket holding the basket in the crook of their arm. That ain't a good look.
Twisted Sister playing pissed-up Twister with Mr Mister in a pub in Bicester
Telling rambers by the side of a canal that the blackberries they are picking are legally the property of the crown and as such the thieving cunts may as well be fucking the queen in the arse with a dildo.
Steven Gerrard's brief. He chinned the feller!
Using the word "carambola" as a mild hispanic-type profanity, while knowing it's actually a type of fruit.
Loving diastole, but hating on systole.
Idly wondering whether Andrew Sachs' fruity grand-daughter has been reduced to providing half 'n' halfs for walking-around money yet.


Trying to impress a real dolly bird in Wetherspoon's by claiming to be a kitchen fitter 'of international renown', only to have a dreadful mate sell you down the river by revealing you're nothing but an insurance clerk.
Getting all excited about seeing "Bruno". Just re-watch "Ali G" or "Borat" and imagine him saying it in a "1970s comedy puff" voice.
Making efforts to close legal loopholes. Where do these do-gooders think we're going to keep our legal loops, eh?
Any man using the term "lol". Get a bloody grip.
Bell-end-nosed big screen unfunnyman Owen Wilson.
Re-using a plate and getting toast crumbs on the untoasted bread of one's new sandwich.
Scalene triangles. They rubbish.
Acting in a shifty manner when the Betterware catalogue man calls, as though you had a flighty camisole-clad lady hiding in your broom cupboard.
Shitake mushrooms. There's a clue in the name, mate.
Old, fat childless twats who ride Harley Davidsons round Suffolk.
Strange folk who write odd comments in library books.
Eating pineapple rings when you haven't had gammon for your tea.
Casting aspersions. Although, in fairness, there is little else one can do with an aspersion.
Shooting a chap through his dome simply for wearing a kerchief of the wrong colour.
The Carthaginians. Elephant-riding shitbirds.
Damon Runyon and Vashti Bunyon, chopping onions and listening to Todd Rundgren.
Asking the barber to see if he can give you the look of "a slightly posher Tinchy Stryder".
Demigods. You ain't no half a god, you chump. That was just a lie your slut of a mother told you.
On the whiteboard at work, enumerating the day's key objectives as: "1. Get my drink on. 2. Get my smoke on. 3. Go home wit', something to poke on."