voulez-vous crochet?

My embrace of the green lifestyle expresses itself, apparently, in recycling various elements of cultural detritus by creative repurposing. Which is a fancy way of saying I’m a damned magpie, stealing anything shiny to make a nest I like.

In this case, a couple of months ago, one of my Facebook status updates wondered aloud about what would happen if all the “Super-” bands lost their powers and had to function as regular old Chunk, Drag, etc. This led to a discussion, soon moving to other diminishments of extreme situations, until eventually Brian Block got clever and wrote a song lyric. The idea there was expanded quite broadly, with any sort of exaggeration or superlative dimmed down to the unexceptional. I thought it was quite clever, and started coming up with a song to set the lyrics. It’s called (and I think the two references in the title are relatively un-obscure) “Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock.”

I still haven’t bugged Brian about everything in the lyrics (which appear below): there are a few lines whose reference remains a bit murky to me. (Update: Brian has kindly posted a Skeleton Key for Slower Rabbits in the comments area.) Along the way, the lyric incorporated a couple of other folks’ suggestions in that Facebook comment thread, specifically Stewart Mason’s and Joanne Staudacher’s (who are duly credited here therefor). I kept his lyric almost exactly as is: the closing tag is my addition (and in fact is where Stewart’s and Joanne’s ideas show up); I changed the page number for that New Yorker cartoon for reasons of scansion; and where the issue was “next” for Brian it’s “new” for me, merely because I could not resist using the syllable “new” in three different meanings within four syllables.

This song is also my first experience with Garageband (the drum part) and Logic Express (everything else). It was fun learning how that works (although a few things I tried still mystify me…the manual suggests I should be able to bounce down two tracks of my choice to one, by mysterious means involving sacrificing a virgin, burning some feathers, and selecting the output in the channel strip, but it didn’t work: I suspect the virgin lied…), and doing five zillion vocal takes in an effort to find something that sounded like singing in tune and less like (as the Wrens put it at their website, referring to a recording of one of their live shows) “a woodsy, call-of-the-wild relationship to pitch” was way easier. Also the first time I tried to EQ the various parts to get a clearer mix: I think I was mostly successful but I’m still a bit at sea about making the vocals fit (that may also have something to do with my singerly technique being approximately on the level of a sea cow’s).

Every time I make one of these I continue to be fascinated by the way things fall together. The title phrase from Brian’s lyric reminded me a bit of something Scott McCaughey (Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows, etc.) might write, and the initial notion of the song’s feel began there. I began by playing around with the drum parts in Garageband, and perhaps it’s fortuitous that Apple labeled various parts as “Motown,” because it then seemed like the right thing to do to write a sort of bass part that James Jamerson might have played (although I don’t think he would have leaned on the faux-Leslie effect that way: I was inspired by Let’s Active’s “Still Dark Out” – whose bass sound, in turn, was almost surely inspired by Chris Squire’s in the studio version of Yes’s “Starship Trooper”). I had in mind a slightly, lazily psychedelified take on Motown song structure, so something very like that flute-y keyboard sound was in my head from the start. Took me a while to find, and then I added some subtle detuned reverb to finish it off. I knew there needed to be piano, but I didn’t really know what the part was going to be until after several failed experiments (including parts inspired by Floyd Cramer, which I couldn’t play well, and a rip of the opening piano bit of Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way from Memphis”…one part of which remains: see if you can spot it). And the part in the second verse is obviously a steal from Sweet’s “Love Is Like Oxygen”…

None of the above answers the burning question: qu’est-ce que fuque are the background vocals on the bridge doing in French? You can blame Brian (I do): obviously, he rhymed “endive” with “survive” etc….while I believed it was pronounced in a vaguely French manner “on-deev.” (We’re both right, depending how snooty you want to be.) Originally, there were a couple of elements of rather more broad humor on this track (including an intro going “one…two…one, two, two-point-five…” to go with the “diminished” idea: ha-ha), one of which had an outraged Frenchman protesting the butchering of this pronunciation, correcting it, and then – well, what else would a Frenchman do? – playing a romantic Parisian accordion solo. I think I’m safe in assuming everyone’s glad that bit of sub-Benny Hill humor was ditched…but I rather liked the idea of an accordion solo anyway, and I still wanted to pronounce it “on-deev.”

Fortunately, in mapping out the song, I discovered that it was about half bridge. How to get the bridge in more correct proportions? I thought I’d layer the vocal parts so they could occur in, essentially, half the time…but then it was too short. I was eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup when the answer hit me: put French in the backing vocals, and layer some of the overflow also! (I wasn’t actually eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.) All blame for crap translation may be laid at the feet of my assistant, Mr. Google.

I will end this already TL;DR post by printing Brian’s lyrics, as adapted here. And to thank Brian for inspiring me to make this new Monkey Typing Pool noise (don’t blame him, though – he didn’t force me to do it).

Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock

They were sprung unto the world as good and gracious spheres of gentle warm.

Their height and mass did not exceed two standard deviations o’er the norm.

They want to rock’n’roll till 2 a.m.; it’s notarized on these here forms.

They’re more popular than that guy where, in his father’s house, are cramped and tiny dorms.

They’ll only catch the slower rabbits, but they’ll surround and firmly nudge your clock.

They’re Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock.

They were born to trot and jog, to go unshaved, and join in fun disorder.

Their school was out for weeks when its librarian found cracks and weakened mortar.

They party like it’s 1953 in their maroon and rusted four-door.

Their angel drew the cartoon on page 47 of the newsstand’s new New Yorker.

The clock struck one, but glancingly, and missed the others, hick’ry dick’ry dock.

They’re Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock.

They’ve suffered napalm hamstring tears and scratchy fever they’re blaming on the drizzle.

Their velveteen ground-level semidetached apartment just got shelled by Viscount Missile.

Ooh-ooh-ooh la-la, voulez-vous crochet?

But if they don’t thrive (they’re staying alive),

Survivront…

they won’t lie down to drive (they’ll survive)

Ne se couchent…

or use the wrong fork and knive

Mauvaise couteau…

to eat Belgian endive.

Manger endive…

They’ll only catch the slower rabbits, but they’ll surround and firmly nudge your clock.

They’re not Me-First and the Please-Sir-May-I-Have-Some-Mores, or The Tallest Man on the Block.

They’re Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock.

Monkey Typing Pool “Little Audio Sparkler and the Slightly Scary Gentlemen of Rock”

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9 Comments

Filed under indulgence, noise

9 responses to “voulez-vous crochet?

  1. Brian Block

    1) The “endive” pronunciation was a complication I created on purpose, because I’m annoying like that.

    2) You might be assuming there’s more references than there are; on the other hand, maybe some of them are just more obscure than I thought. (It’s easy to assume that everything I know is obvious.) People who don’t want to know should ignore the rest of this comment,
    where I announce that,
    in order of appearance,
    it references

    “Great Balls of Fire”, They Might Be Giants, “Rock’n’Roll All Night”, Beatles (more popular than Jesus), “Hound Dog”, “Rock Around the Clock”, Big Audio Dynamite, the Monsters of Rock tour, “Born to Run”, “Born to be Wild”, “School’s Out forever/ school has gone to pieces”, “1999”, “Little Red Corvette”, “(My Angel is a) Centerfold”, “Hickory Dickory Dock”, Napalm Death, “Cat Scratch Fever”, “Blame it on the Rain”, Velvet Underground, King Missile’s “Detachable Penis”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “I Will Survive”, Me-First and the Gimme Gimmes, and … well, I’m not sure about Tallest Boy on the Block. But Stewart is, so I’ll buy in.

    It’s possible Jeff has avoided, for example, exposure to even chart-topping hits by the J. Geils Band or Ted Nugent or Milli Vanilli. It wouldn’t be the worst fate of his life.

    “Cat Scratch Fever” isn’t really reduced in stature, but the context is changed to remind us that fevers are actually mildly unpleasant. “Baseball fever – catch it” has never made any sense to me except as a limited slogan for the Kansas City Royals, for example.

    3) Haven’t had a chance to actually listen to the song yet, but I’m thrilled it exists and will check it out tonight.

  2. Thanks Brian. To clarify: Stewart is (I believe) referring to The Tallest Man on Earth, who is actually a Swedish musician named Kristian Matsson. And “voulez-vous crochet?” is of course a pun on the chorus to “Lady Marmalade”: “voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” (“do you want to sleep with me tonight?”). That, in turn, is a neater variation on whatever excruciating name I’d come up with for the Sex Pistols in the original thread – the first part was rendered “a kiss from your great aunt” or something: now, she’s crocheting and making her entirely proper suggestion. (“Entirely proper” if you ignore that, probably, “crochet” is not a French verb spelled like that.)

  3. Aaron

    Superchunk already did a stint as “Chunk”; they added the “Super-” after their first single (“My Noise”, iirc).

    I’m not sayin’ anything, I’m just sayin’.

  4. Actually, I knew that. In some strange recess of my mind, I find that fact rather amusing. “Superchunk” is a much better name than “Chunk” – as is “Dinosaur Jr.” compared to “Dinosaur.”

    “The London Suede” is utterly dumb though.

  5. “The London Suede” wasn’t by the band’s choice. It was one of those “there’s already a band named ‘Suede’ in the U.S. that’s suing us” things. Any import of Suede’s stuff is still just Suede, as God and Brett Anderson intended.

  6. Brian Block

    Good song, Jeff! I already praised/linked your work here on Facebook, but in case you missed that, I’m saying so here for the record. Thanks!

  7. True – but I’m not sure that “Dinosaur Jr.” or “Superchunk” were those bands’ original choices either – in both cases, I think, they became aware of (or were made aware of, legally) previously existing bands with the non-super monikers.

  8. Spork Toast

    Chunk became Superchunk to avoid a legal trouble from Samm Bennett & CHUNK. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xm20KmhulVA

  9. Spork Toast

    Superchunk is also peanut butter.
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001E4S86E

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