08 November, 2010

strength through music

although I guess I don't use a super spaced-out singing style anymore, I used to sound like I was in the Magnetic Fields or Camera Obscura. The first time I heard a Camera Obscura song, when I was about sixteen, it was very strange to hear someone who sounded like me.

I like their more recent stuff but the first album I bought by them was Underachievers Please Try Harder and I like it the best. I think Tracyanne Campbell's singing has become slightly more active since then, and their lyrics have become less irritated and snarky. I always really enjoyed listening to a song like "Keep It Clean":

I guess by now you think I'm weak. I wish you would have said something before now. I wouldn't share a bag of chips with you. In my opinion you don't have a clue. I'm being cruel, I'm being cruel.

There are plenty of lyrics on the album where the narrator of the song is criticizing herself, like in "Suspended From Class," but I really enjoy the songs where she is either saying mean things about someone else, or seeming to criticize herself when she's really criticizing someone else's way of treating her. "Books Written for Girls" is my favorite example of this:

You can compliment me on the style of my hair, give me marks out of ten for the clothes that I wear. You probably thought I had more upstairs. I disappoint you.

"You probably thought I had more upstairs/I disappoint you" is just one of my favorite moments in a song ever. I think I like it because people who are thought to be dumb by other people are always expected to either not be aware of it, or to be too intimidated to say anything. So when Tracyanne sings "I disappoint you" in a voice that sounds a little sad, but also bored, it seems like the biggest fuck you imaginable. Just turning to someone who's patronizing you and saying, "Sorry I'm not as smart as you want me to be," is the ultimate form of defiance especially if you're continuing to present in the way that's made them try to bully you in the first place.

I was thinking of "Oasis" by Amanda Palmer, which is a totally different song in terms of subject matter and sound, but has kind of the same quality. A lot of TV stations refused to play the video because "Oasis" is about a teenage girl being raped at a party, getting an abortion, and having the whole school gossip about her and call her a whore. Well, that's not the offensive part--the offensive part is that it's a really bouncy, cheery-sounding song, and the girl says that she isn't upset about her problems, because she wrote a letter to her favorite band Oasis and they sent her a signed poster.

Despite the events of this spring, I can't help but love Amanda Palmer's post On Abortion, Rape, Art, and Humor which she wrote as a response to being told her song was offensive. She points out that people (especially young people) who are having painful experiences don't just sit around saying "OH I'M IN PAIN, THIS IS SO SERIOUS." No one actually lives like that. And although she didn't say this in so many words, I think it is othering to demand that representations of abortion and rape (or any experience) should always be serious and sad. They happen to all kinds of people, so there isn't only one appropriate attitude or reaction.

Gosh I'm sleepy and going to bed, but I guess I wanted to say that "Oasis" and Camera Obscura (and other bands with spaced-out or soft singing, coupled with very direct lyrics), especially the latter, are kind of political/anti-ableist music for me in their very nature. I really like the idea of separating a musical style and what it's supposed to represent from what the lyrics of the song are actually about, because I think this is kind of a way of expressing through music the experience of people who are patronized, or oversimplified, or othered, or misread, because of the way we look and speak. Of course most people think that talking a certain way or moving a certain way always means something, but that's not true. Angry people can sound mellow, sad experiences can be lived in ways other than what's expected.


  1. wow! thanks for posting and introducing me to an amazing band! I love this music!

  2. "Oasis" really, really, really rubbed me the wrong way.

    I don't necessarily think that no combination of talking about rape with humor could possibly work for me, but that one certainly didn't. I felt like she was mocking the victim, though I guess she was mocking herself.

    It was kind of triggering for me on the basis of often having had problems that other people treated in a very cavalier sort of way. I found it deeply upsetting.

  3. I don't know that I can see where you're coming from. I mean, I don't like the song particularly which is why I didn't embed it. But I don't take it as being insulting to the narrator at all.