Fuck Violence. Listen to the Mynabirds

Laura Burhenn is sick and fucking tired of war. And gay-bashing assholes. And a lot of other things of which I am also sick and fucking tired. Lots of folks are probably sick and fucking tired of war (unless they work for the companies that profit from it), but what Burhenn did with her exhaustion and outrage is instructive:

She made one of the best albums of 2012 with it.

I know it’s only September and I know I’ve already made much of a certain Future of the Left record, but the beauty of refusing to rank things by number is that I can say that The Plot Against Common Sense and the Mynabirds’ Generals are on fairly even footing for me (along with Ugly by the Screaming Females).

Here’s the thing: Burhenn and her Mynabirds could have settled for a capable rehash of the old-timey, gospel-tinged loveliness of their debut. It probably would have been a consistent, listenable, slightly forgettable affair, but no more or less than your average She & Him album. Instead, Laura Burhenn, in a voice that is approaching Neko Case levels of beauty, decided to take a long, hard look at her country in 2012 and ask it just what the fuck it thinks it’s doing.

“Karma Debt” sets the tone by pondering what sort of colossal positive effort could possibly offset the damage done by our two (two and a half? I’ve lost count) wars over the last decade. The refrain contains one of the album’s themes in the kind of direct language I love: “I’d give it all for a legacy of love.” See, Burhenn doesn’t wanna kill the dumb motherfuckers (men, mostly) who perpetuate violence around the world; she’s pleading, sometimes demanding, that they see the folly of all this macho-asshole stuff and just knock it off.

But the genius of Generals is that it isn’t just the finest anti-war album of the current century (you didn’t really think it was American Idiot, did you?); it is also a righteous, impassioned cry against all violence. “Mightier Than the Sword” is an achingly beautiful (on a par with Andrew Bird’s “Hole in the Sky”) letter to a gay man who is considering suicide. The first time I heard it, in my car, I thought it was about a soldier returning from war. But then I put my headphones on at home and listened to the words (“Love who you love/ no matter what”) and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Now I cry every time I hear “Mightier Than the Sword.” For fuck’s sake, folks: it’s bad enough that we have a government that, no matter who’s in the White House, seems hell-bent on killing brown people around the world. But we also have people in this country who will commit horrible acts of violence against a man or woman simply because they love someone of the same sex. We’ve got assholes shooting up movie theaters and racists shooting up temples and people who think the solution to both problems is more people with guns. When is it gonna be enough? As Burhenn sings (on “Disarm”), “We won’t surrender a thing by disarming.”

When the prophet Joe Strummer sang, “Let fury have the hour/ Anger can be power,” he was probably talking more about rioting for justice than about singing for peace. But I’m gonna make the educated guess that he would approve of what Laura Burhenn has done with her anger. Listen to this record, kids. And keep the violence in yer video games where it belongs.

Love who you love

No matter what

No matter how hard it may come

And I promise

You’ll be loved, my love

No matter what

You’re mightier than

Their sword-sharp tongues

 

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The Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard #12: “Glory of Love”

By the time we’re done here today, you might get the impression that I hate love songs (I don’t; I hate bad songs). After all, it was just last week that I was bagging on the Bryan Adams wedding reception staple, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” and now here I am taking aim at another popular ballad from yesteryear, Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love,” which some of you might know as the theme song from The Karate Kid Part II. “Glory of Love” was a certified hit, spending two weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1986. What can I say? It was a slow decade.

If you’re young and/or blessed enough to be completely oblivious to Peter Cetera, I’ll give you a little background information. As the singer for Chicago (one of the most overrated bands in the history of music), Cetera helped cement the group’s reputation as a “ballad band.” He wrote the schmaltzy (and totally destined for this list) “You’re the Inspiration,” which propelled Chicago’s imaginatively titled 17 to the top of the charts back in Nineteen-Eighty-Who-Gives-A-Fuck.

The 80s was a schmaltzy decade for music, although there was some great music being made then as well – a lot of it by R.E.M.. But there is no doubt in my mind that Peter Cetera was the King of 80s Schmaltz. I have this belief largely because Cetera was too schmaltzy even for my young 80s self, who owned not one but two Richard Marx albums on cassette (his self-titled debut, which featured “Don’t Mean Nothing,” a song so insipid it makes the Eagles seem like the Dead Kennedys; and, of course, Repeat Offender, which featured the smash single “Right Here Waiting,”). I had horrible taste in music when I was younger but even then, I had my limits.

First of all, when Peter Cetera sings, “I am the man who will fight for your honor” in that Muppety high tenor of his, the line carries about the same amount of credibility that George W. Bush did when he said he didn’t hate gay people, he was just for traditional marriage (I guess this week’s not-so-subtle political undertone is, “It’s fucking absurd that gay marriage isn’t legal in all fifty states”). I think even the most gullible woman on earth would have a hard time believing that Peter Cetera was capable of defending her honor against anything more threatening than a fruit fly.

And for that matter, let me ask something of the ladies: have you ever, even once in your adult life, swooned over a dude swearing to “fight for your honor”? What the fuck does that even mean? Cetera seems to be pulling some Don Quixote shit, and he hints at it later in the song when he sings, even more absurdly, “It’s like a knight in shining armor/ from a long time ago.” Ladies, if that’s the kind of verbiage that gets your knees knocking, I’ve written grocery lists that will make you melt.  After making the most oblique reference possible to “a knight in shining armor,” (seriously, he sings “It’s like a knight in shining armor.” But he never tells us what it is. You’re about to say, “Matt, ‘It’ is obviously love.” But that doesn’t make sense in light of the next line. Read on) Cetera then tells the lucky object of his affection, “Just in time, I will save the day/ take you to my castle far away.” So after he’s told this chick, in the second verse, that he could never make it alone, he now pulls the ol’ switcheroo by suggesting the his clearly codependent self is gonna “save the day.” From what? The only thing Peter Cetera could “save” you from is a day free of horrible, saccharine music.

“Glory of Love,” much like “(Everything I Do) I Like the Taste of Poo,” is a stunning example of the worst kind of poorly conceived, sickeningly executed love song. In its attempt to be poetic and passionate, it comes off as being cloying and smarmy, largely because Cetera didn’t put any fucking thought into these lyrics. He presumes, like a lot of dumb guys do, that his lovely lady is dreaming of a hero and he promises, with his impossibly 80s hair and whiny voice, to be that hero. Why? So they can live forever “knowing together/ we did it all for the glory of love.” I know what you’re thinking: “What did they do for the glory of love?” If you listen to the song, they apparently lived forever for the glory of love. That’s it. They just… hung around. Cetera conveniently avoids explaining precisely how this glorifies love, but that’s probably because he was too busy trying to shoehorn that fucking knight in shining armor trope into the song. I’ve got some news for you, Peter Cetera: knights in shining armor are about as romantic as turds in a martini shaker. Armor, for those of you who have never stopped for even a second to think about it, is really fucking heavy. If a dude were riding his mighty steed over to your house in order to sweep you off your feet in his nice, shiny armor, he’d work up such a sweat getting from his house to yours that he’d smell like the asshole of a dead rhinoceros by the time he got there. You’d be far more concerned with the glory of deodorant and breathable fabrics than the glory of love.

Any close examination of this song reveals it to be condescending at best and completely sexist (not to mention brick-stupid) at worst. Why assume women spend their time dreaming of a hero? Most of the heterosexual women I know are dreaming of a dude who will do the fucking dishes once in while, if they bother dreaming about dudes at all. And anyway, telling someone you’ll be what they’ve been dreaming of is dumb on at least two levels: first of all, you’re presuming to know what they’ve been dreaming of and second, what if they’ve been dreaming of Ted Bundy? We all have different heroes, Mr. Cetera. Some people’s heroes were the Ku Klux Klan.

We hardly need to discuss the actual music behind all this lyrical dross, but since our hands are already dirty, let’s pry open that shit sandwich too. The introductory keyboard part is pretty typical of shitty 80s ballads – I’m pretty sure “Schlocky Ballad” was  a factory preset on synthesizers back then. And, just like its retarded younger cousin “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” “Glory of Love” has a completely unnecessary guitar “solo” that makes me feel more than a little embarrassed for the instrument. Overall, the instrumentation is just one more feature of “Glory of Love” that convinces me that if you’re dreaming of a hero like Peter Cetera, you probably have self-esteem issues.

But, like I said before, “Glory of Love” was an unqualified success. This cloying, dumb, lazily written, sexist turd of a song was a smash hit in the 80s and I’ll let you form your own judgments about the kind of decade that would allow such a thing to happen.