As has inevitably been cited elsewhere, this week marks the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. The former Beatle was gunned down in front of the Dakota on the Upper West Side thirty-seven years ago today. As described back on this post, I was an eighth grader, at the time, and remember it pretty viscerally. Regardless of your stance on his music, he just wasn’t someone you expected to suddenly die, let alone in that manner. This is probably just my fanciful revisionism, but I don’t think society at large was as hardened to seemingly random gun-violence of that kind, at the time, as it invariably is now.
While I was only thirteen, I was still pretty shaken up by it. Like most of my generation, I’d been sort of raised on the Beatles. They had arguably become the foundation and the firmament of everything rock and pop aspired to emulate. Everyone I knew liked the Beatles. It pretty much went without saying.
At the same time, my own tastes were diversifying. Weaned as I had been on the Beatles, KISS, Queen, Pink Floyd and the dependable warhorses of classic rock radio, I latched onto heavy metal and then Punk Rock with both hands in fairy short order, largely abandoning the oeuvres of those more hirsute, canonical stalwarts in favor of newer, faster, angrier and arguably less finessed music. In due course, Punk gave way to hardcore, which was seemingly as far from Abbey Road in both style and sentiment as one could possibly travel.
A big part of the whole hardcore punk aesthetic, of course, was renunciation. Anything that questioned, besmirched, defamed, blasphemed and/or flipped an emphatic middle-finger at the establishment was pretty much the order of the day. In the realm of music, using Johnny Rotten’s fabled “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt as the model (a sentiment he has since disavowed), hardcore bands of all stripes fired point blank at the icons of stodgy rock royalty. Most of it was pure posturing, of course. While “No God” by the Germs, as one example, may have disrespectfully co-opted Steve Howe’s filigree-laden riff from Yes’ “Roundabout,” it wasn’t hard to glean that guitarist Pat Smear (later of the Foo Fighters) was actually a big Yes fan.
But there were certain bands, of course, who took it a step further. From Los Angeles, storied ensemble FEAR perfected a cartoonishly objectionable reputation. For all their vindictive invective, however, there always seemed to be the insinuation that it was something of an act, however tasteless. Moreover, there was a musical sophistication at work (on the first record, at least) that suggested a greater versatility than their persona might have otherwise implied. This was less the case, however, with the Meatmen, a Detroit hardcore band who traded in a similar vein of willfully offensive fare.
I believe I picked up the Meatmen’s 1983 debut LP, We’re the Meatmen …. and You Suck! purely on the strength of the album cover. Festooned with rudimentary artwork and boasting a rash of giddily shocking song titles (“Crippled Children Suck,” “Orgy of One,” “I Sin for a Living,” etc.) it seemed to check all the right boxes, so to speak.
Musically, the Meatmen were pointedly unrefined, practicing a standard-issue brand of stripped-down, no-frills hardcore. But, it was still enjoyably noisy, sneery and willfully obnoxious. Never was this greater evinced than on the album’s second track, “One Down, Three to Go.”
Making Rotten’s “I Hate Pink Floyd” shirt seem positively polite, “One Down, Three to Go” is a deliberately antagonistic ditty about – wait for it – the Beatles (the “One down” in question being John Lennon, already dead three years upon the release of the Meatmen’s debut album). Penned to rile the sensibilities of Beatle purists and shake the very foundations of classic rock hierarchy, “One Down…” took aim at the most sacrosanct of possible subjects. Consider it the opposing argument to Elton John’s “Empty Garden.”
In fact, here it is now…
At the time, it seemed funny in a decidedly black-humored manner, taking a ludicrously contrarian position to a universally acknowledged tragedy. It also seemed like the quintessence of upending a sacred cow. By those flimsy parameters, “One Down, Three to Go” seemed like Punk Rock in its purest form.
But as amusing as the song’s chorus arguably remains ….
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck the Beatles
Smelly hairy old people
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck the Beatles
Smelly hairy old people
…. the verses are something else entirely.
The 80’s being a less enlightened era doesn’t forgive everything. While it’s a million laughs to make fun of hippies and decry the old guard, within the song’s stanzas (you can Google it), vocalist/songwriter Tesco Vee alludes to Lennon widow Yoko Ono as both a “slopehead” and a “panfaced gook,” further debasing her in crass sexual scenarios (again, you can Google it).
I know, in recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about “political correctness,” the very term becoming an easily misconstrued political football. But, at the end of the day, being “politically correct” is really just shorthand for being culturally aware, cognizant and inclusive. Last time I checked, these were all good things.
I didn’t really intend this to become such a righteous rant, but I guess I just feel like I should apologize for espousing this sorta bullshit. I suppose the argument could be made that, like the License to Ill-era Beastie Boys and, for that matter, Andrew Dice Clay, the Meatmen were in character the whole time. I can’t speak to that. While I had my suspicions in that capacity about FEAR, I haven’t seen or heard anything about the Meatmen, over the years, to suggest that they are or were anything other than tasteless assholes. Regardless, you know what’s absolutely never alright? Slurs like “slopehead” and “gook.” They’re not funny, they’re not ironic, they’re not cool and they’re sure as shit not Punk. Certainly not in 2017, but not in 1983 either. They’re indefensible and they’re just fuckin’ racist. And let’s not even discuss the album’s opening track, “Tooling for Anus.”
I know I’m setting myself up for some pushback here, but that’s alright. Let’s hear it.