Just Won't Shut Up - The B52’s (1979)
First, I have to say that my heart is broken. It is horrific and unforgiveable what happened in Charleston on June 17th. I am hurt. It hurts that this is real life. And, I have to say this out loud, too: I stand against white supremacy, and I always will, even though, as a white person, it does hurt sometimes to acknowledge that my hands are also dirty. I know that I have too often remained silent on these issues. I didn’t write about this last week because I thought that it wouldn’t be relevant on what's become a sound blog, but that feels really wrong to me now. Sound has everything to do with it, mainly because staying silent makes you complicit. As Audre Lorde wrote, “Your silence will not protect you.”
I feel sick and offended so often when I observe this culture. The way that we (as a culture) fetishize and demean already oppressed people to make a profit. The way that the music feels like it’s meant to distract you, or to inspire you—not to change the world—but to buy the newest iPhone. I don’t believe in art that is meant to subdue you into feeling a false sense of security and comfort. Here’s the hard truth: Things are not OK; it’s our own damn fault that they’re not OK, and we need to fucking deal with it before we destroy everything, literally everything. That being said, I’m finally ready to talk about the album of the week, The B52’s self-titled debut album from 1979. This album is a place I turn when I’m looking for a way out of the sick (truly sick) culture we live in, and even though it can’t provide a way out (there is no “out”), it shows one way to voice dissent.
I didn’t think I’d end up liking The B52’s as much as I do. Until 2007 or so, I had only really listened to Cosmic Thing, and I didn’t think it was all that good. I mean, “Love Shack” is a great song the first couple times you hear it, but it gets old quickly, and the rest of the album is like a lukewarm bath, boring. There’s nothing at stake. You don’t feel the confusion or awkwardness; you don’t feel like they’re really risking anything. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered their first two albums, but especially their self-titled debut. It is from start-to-finish, pretty damn glorious. So, what makes this album so great? I think it’s great because it sounds like it was written by a bunch of aliens.
The songs on the album seem to support my alien interpretation: “Planet Claire” “There’s a Moon in the Sky” “Rock Lobster.” The otherworldly element is something that has been consistent throughout their work, but on this album it’s not as cool as it became later. These songs are about being kind of a weirdo and trying to navigate a world that you don’t understand. The songs’ lyrics don’t always outwardly critique the social milieu that they are a part of (though “Hero Worship” certainly does), but they affirm irrationality, which is important. This insistence on not making sense critiques a culture that refuses nuance and chooses to define everything in stark, irreversible terms. Refusing nuance is incredibly damaging to people; it is the main reason we choose to see difference as a reason to hate. Anyway, this album refuses to make sense. It is a weirdo, alien army marching on the capital. The songs are strange, sweaty, neurotic. They don’t fit in; they don’t want to. They are loud and unyielding. They won’t be quiet. They won’t calm down. But, they also love to dance. And, why not dance and change the world?
A few of my favorite tracks: “Dance This Mess Around,” “Planet Claire,” “Hero Worship”
*By the way, in case you decide to listen to this and haven’t before: They’re saying “Limburger” on “Dance This Mess Around.” It doesn't make any sense.