Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pavement's "No More Kings" (with Schoolhouse Rock video)

Pavement’s version of “No More Kings” seems, on first listen, to just be having a little fun with the same Schoolhouse Rock that brought us “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Only A Bill,” a throwaway for a benefit album, but it’s a subversive put-down of both the historical distortion in the lyrics and the benign mid-70s soft-rock of the original song. Not only does the original version edit out anything about the indigenous people already living in what’s now called North America, but it also makes it seem like the Revolutionary War was fought to establish anti-government anarchy rather than a representative democracy.

In retrospect, the original “No More Kings” misinterprets the point of the Boston Tea Party exactly the same way the Dick Armey “Tea Party” of 2009 does. The song fails to mention that the Boston Tea Party was primarily a revolt against a corporation who was given a tax write off to rob domestic jobs and keep wages low. Seeing how the corporations were running things into the ground, especially in the wake of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, might almost make one nostalgic for the tyranny of the cartoon king in Pavement’s version. Maybe a foreign king would have freed the slaves much earlier, and provided healthcare! Maybe there’d be no trail of tears or New Orleans never would have been bought so that the puritans could dominate the continent; maybe the Mexicans would not have had to “cede” Utah to the Mormons. This goes way beyond a “cerebral and ironic” po-mo gesture of a smart-ass ivy-league history major, and maybe it got some dancers thinking, and some thinkers dancing.

In 1996, as in England in 1596, one had to be very crafty to venture any attempt at direct political statement—even in “indie” culture. You could write screeds attacking computers, and especially the web; those who love your poetry won’t publish them, but you can get them into the local weekly. You could write a “vulgar Marxist” critique of post-modern race theory, but the so-called Marxist journals won’t publish it because they’re post-modern too. Or you could write a song that is a highly personal curse song directed to a specific other, like the blues---but it also summons every last drop of moral outrage in the invisible world toward the entire Washington DC lobbyist establishment mostly responsible for running things into the ground in our time. 

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