brown and gray concrete brick wall

On The Qui Vive

I’m always on the qui vive from my position up here on fourth floor of l’hotel californ-i-a in the San Franciscan slums, on the lookout for these throwaway lines that tell me the person I am listening to is giving the gaba gaba gooba hey to the assembled freeks – give me your poor in material goods and spirit, your tired of life, of dulled mundanity and the demands of society, the downtrodden by The Man who cracks the whip for whatever shitty little company you are working for on some zero hours contract, that doesn’t even let ya take a bathroom break or give you adequate health insurance. Give me the good stuff, the gabba gabba hey to the hungry for food, for housing, for drugs, for love, for acceptance and friendship. You see, the circus leaders of the freaks want to see who will accept the poisoned chalice of official Freakdom and who will throw it back in their faces.

Qui Vive? was the cry from the watchtowers, from sentries to the people outside the ramparts. Who lives? The correct reply was usually “The King” but we all know Elvis is dead. It came to mean ‘on the lookout’ and I cannot imagine a time when the need for lookouts on the watchtowers and ramparts were needed more.

I’m no circus-mistress, but I want to know are you with us, or against us? The freaks want to know who wants into a club that sometimes the freaks and outcasts don’t even desire membership to; and the freaks want to know who is declining. Not only that it is becoming imperative to know who is refusing membership but is of no danger to the outcasted, and who is refusing and is also the enemy. It’s time to divide the treasure and pick sides. Some of the biggest freaks I know are Republicans. Some of the biggest conformists are Democrats. This shit is beyond politics: this is life and death. Trust nobody. Investigate yourselves, your motivations, your true feelings. Are you disgusted yet? American politics is some of the most grotesque scenes, some of the biggest (power and money) kicks (backs), and most extreme stuff that can be had on this bathetic Earth. The disappointment is real. Politics has let us all down: the only way forwards is art.

The 1932 movie, Freaks spawned the Ramones track Pinhead. Freaks is one of the most real and dark pieces of cinematic truth ever committed to celluloid. To see where some freaks can take the Freak, you only have to look as far as Joey R and his Ramone brothers kick up the three chords and driving amphetamine beat, Joey all legs and hair and glasses, as he takes center stage and offers the metaphorical salt, bread and wine magickal binding deal, pointing to the audience, shouting “Gabba gabba! We accept you! You one of us!” Everyone was invited to be a Ramone. The audience went wild, holding up gabba gabba signs, throwing themselves behind the Ringmaster Joey and his punk troop, telling the outcasted Joey that gabba gabba, they accepted him too for the freak he was, the strange, the wild: the ‘pinhead’ that he didn’t want to be. Joey reclaimed the ‘pinhead’ slur, he used his difference for power, he won over the healthy, the conventional, the kids who beat him up at school were buying his records and putting his poster up on their walls. Joey won ’em over by the sheer strength of his charisma, talent and humanity. It is all anyone is looking for, that belonging, that acceptance for who we are, as we are, where we are, how we cannot help being, and valued for what we bring to the table. Gabba gabba hey, baby, all the way.

Freaks, the 1932 movie is a hugely compassionate piece of filmmaking, from the silver screen of the early ’30s it preaches an anti Eugenics message in the lead up to the world war two era, and showed a deeply humanizing attitude towards disability. For the first time in popular modern culture the idea was floated that the normal world had something to learn from the outcasted, from the freakish, from the differently abled. The freaks are shown to be just like the mundane, so called normal, boring rest of the world. They love and laugh, they fight and connive, they create and destroy, they take the money from the normies and drink deep and feast well. Cleopatra, the abled bodied trapeze artist infiltrates their group to cause harm by seducing the rich (guy with dwarfism) Hans for his money, then conspires with the carnival strongman to kill Hans and inherit his wealth, and as an audience, we are encouraged to turn on her. She is the true monster and we are for the Freaks! We are encouraged onto the side of the different and the outcast, the strange and the challenged through their survival, and it is warm and passionate, beautiful in a way that is exhileratingly perfectly abnormal. It is only after Cleopatra is turned into a ‘human duck’, maimed and forced into freakdom that the audience have horror and compassion for her. After all, one wrong move…and any one of us might be forced into freakdom too. She was given a choice – compassion, drink with the outcasted and gabba gabba accept she was one of them, but she when she tried to destroy the carnival troop, she was forced to see their point of view from their side of the divide. Brought down with the rest of us freaks, her one eye showing desperation and humility she is saved by monsterdom. Gone is her superiority, it is tarred, feathered, mutilated and redeemed, her eye is on the qui vive for empathy from the assembled crowd staring at her, at the crowd she used to be one of, the crowd the audience now find more disgusting than any Freak ever was to their closed scared little minds. Freak Power.

Joey Ramone had Freak Power in bucketloads. So when Joey Ramone shouted gabba gabba hey, he was offering the keys to the kingdom of freaks. He wanted to know who else was on the carbona and punk train, who was with him…and who was against him. Joey Ramone was born with a teratoma (a tumor that sometimes contains hair, teeth, fully developed organs and bones) attached to the base of his spine, his health was always fragile and he suffered from OCD to a disabling degree. Joey was bullied and beaten by both his father, according to reports, and also other kids. He was not accepted, he was not embraced. He sings in Pinhead, that he “don’t want to be a Pinhead no more”, the thing is being a freak is not something that can be opted out of, instead he takes his position at the head of the Punk table, and asks the kids, gabba gabba hey…are you like me? Are you a wierdo too? Do people accuse you of being ‘dumb’ too? He acts out the accusations with Dee Dee, as they point at each other gleefully misspelling the word dumb, and bringing in the dollars, the love, the adoration and the acceptance. When Joey shouted Gabba Gabba, the assembled Cleopatra’s and strongmen shouted back, “gabba gabba, hey, Joey. We accept you. You are the daddyo of punk.”

Joey Ramone found acceptance and love through his ability to propel punk through his songs, his vocals, his band, his genius. After all geniuses are not like the rest of us. Geniuses are different. Abnormal. Separate. Outcasted. Joey’s genius was that he could embrace his differences and make the kids want to be different too: just like the Ramones. How could anyone not love Joey! The world is richer for freaks like us, for freaks like the Ramones.

In some ways Kurt Cobain singing “Im so ugly, that’s ok cause so are you..” in Come As You Are hits the same spot as Joey’s Pinhead. Kurt is gathering all the freaky, disaffected, depressed, outcasted, latch key, the high, the homeless, the grunge kids home beneath his bobbled grey sweatered wings.”Soaked in mud?” “Soaked in bleach?”, as long as the kids ‘dont have a gun’ Kurt wants them to come as they are. Pinheads, freaks, wierdos, old friends, old enemies, everyone is welcome. It was the gabba gabba hey – “I do think you fit this shoe” he sings in About a Girl, a Cinderella in plaid and combat boots. The kids are ok with Kurt, and he is ok with us as long as we are peaceful. Qui vive? Kurt lives! Forever.

Not all freaks want to be freaks. Some want to try to pass for normal, for average, for decent just-like-everybody-else mensch, they lock it down and get mean and emotionally crippled, ahem, Dave Gilmour…. Some normies want to be freaks, and just don’t make the failing grade. Normal, self absorbed in a banal way, nothing to say, no way to say it in an interesting way: the modern world is afflicted with a failure of freakdom.

This is my problem with modern music, I am on the lookout for a Joey, a Kurt and I don’t see one. I wondered about Post Malone, the facial tattoos intrigued me, the beer belly, the disinterest in looking good boded well. Lets face it, he looks like shit, and as if the xannies and booze (allegedly) are gonna take him all the way down any moment now. No walking round dressed in shoulder pads like Joan Collins and plastic surgeried into looking like a 50 year old grandma with an extensive make up collection and a style stuck in the 80s for Malone (I’m looking at you, korean pop sensation disasters for music).

Postie might be cool….except Post Malone just won’t cut it, no matter how many facial tattoos the kid gets: the attitude is there, but the music isn’t, the lyrics sure ain’t, the cultural context is a bust. Post has nothing to say and he doesn’t say it in a way that is highly derivative, infinitely boring, and autotuned to hell. Edge? He couldn’t buy an edge when he tried to, – all he does are these rip off videos. Postie does Thriller. Postie does Kill Bill. Yawn! I wish Postie just did Postie. Where is his unique vision? Where is his gabba gabba hey? I want him to let his freak flag fly. Even David Crosby managed that, and he was one of the sweetest voiced muppets in music history. Malone tries, don’t get me wrong, in Goodbyes he proved he vaguely got the concept, the idea of being a Freaky Ringleader when he sang: ‘Me and Kurt feel the same: too much pleasure is pain.’ Shit, Post. Deep that is not. Borrowing Kurt’s cool in this ultimately boring throwaway line is not cool at all, it is almost plagiarism. To be taken seriously I need to hear what Malone’s take on pain in. Where is the zeitgeist? Where is the tapping into the teen subconscious? Where is the raging, the reaching out, where is the freakishness? It isn’t there. Post Malone is this eras Barry Mannilow, they have about as much edge as each other. Fight me.

Malone is not a freak, he is a plain old fashioned doofus: there are genius doofuses and then there are just plain boring rich youtube-made pale imitations of freakdom. I give it five minutes before the kid is regretting his life choices, going for some serious tattoo removal and reinventing himself as a chlidren’s entertainer doing 3am vids on some billion sub channel. “Sweeter than a pop tart?” – admittedly that line might be 21 Savage, who ‘featured’ on the Post track, Rockstar, or any one of the other long list of song writers who ‘had input’ (yawn…boring Sydney, boring), but any good friend, anyone who cared about the track and had their name on it would have said, no Sir 21 Savage, that is just so lame it cannot happen. Heck a sixth grader could come up with better. Please! I’m not surprised he “ain’t hard’ as he puts it, those are some lyrical abuses that would shrivel even the most little blue pilled of dick heads.

This is my qui vive? Who lives out there? Send me your tracks, hit me with your best shots, show me the kids are still alright, or at least there is some life out there. It doesn’t even have to be superstellar, just honest. Hello hello hello hello hello hello hello? The faint remains of the smell of teen spirit linger on the airwaves, and it can’t be the sweet stench of the death of rock and roll, buried in the beautiful heart shaped box of grunge and punk.

I read the Small Faces are reforming. It made me cry. I don’t dare hope there is anything left in that pot of gold. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake was a young man’s record. Do they still live creatively? Answers on an e-postcard.

Modern Life sucks.

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