We had Such a Brainiac-Amour *

* Why write a blog post no one wants to read about a song no one wants to hear?

I love American music.

I also love British rock from the late seventies and early eighties. In fact, at that time—the late seventies and early eighties—I graffitied my high school and then college desks by drawing the British flag with the caption Rock of the Future underneath. But when I really stop to consider things, I love American music. Jim Adams’ Song Lyric Sunday theme is ‘American Music’ this week. A nod to America’s July Fourth Independence Day, which by coincidence is also the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

Each year, my town overflows with tourists this weekend. People drive endless loops around our military park roads messing up my normal weekend bike rides with their inattentive and/or dangerous car handling skills. Then they pay twenty-five dollars to sit in bleachers in the center of a swampy field to watch a bunch of middle-aged men dress up in wool outfits and pretend to shoot one another. When we head out for ice cream on one of the hot July evenings this weekend, there will be a different group of middle-aged men standing on the street corner playing fife and drum tunes from 1863. American Music!

I’ve been considering this ‘American Music’ prompt for two weeks. Initially, I thought I’d write about the song American Music by the Violent Femmes or maybe American Idiot by Green Day, both American bands that I love, and each song has enough personal history that I could easily spin off a rambling thousand-word essay about either.

Earlier today, I drove home from my ophthalmologist in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a neighboring city, in a sulky mood because they took my glasses to send them back to the lab where they were made. They need to replace the lenses because my vision has changed dramatically in the four months since I got this pair. I’m wearing an old pair of glasses which leaves my vision jumpy and doubled. As I drove, I changed my American Music song choice.

I listened to my play list in A-Z order, after Hush, after In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Institutionalized, after Junco Partner and Killing Another, Patti Smith’s intense poetic storytelling took over. I came upon the song Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (de) — this has to be the clunkiest song title ever created.

For me, the most American of music is punk rock. Sure, my personal entry into punk was with British bands: The Clash and the Sex Pistols, but punk is an American invention. The term ‘punk’ was first applied to an American band, the Ramones, in 1976. And then, looking around, people realized American bands had been playing punk music for years.  Case in point: Patti Smith’s 1975 album Horses with its middle-finger-in-your-face album-opening lyric “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”

Since the term punk didn’t yet exist, Horses was immediately classified as Beatnik rock/poetry. It interlaced energetic hard rock songs, slower soft rock songs, some reggae and plenty of spoken word. The climax of the album (or more accurately the orgasm) is the title track, which is called Land not Horses. The song is broken into three incongruous sections: Horses, Land of 1000 Dances popularized by Wilson Pickett, and La Mer (de). The song sections merge, veer apart, loop back and collide. Like many songs I love, it’s a cacophony of styles including R&B, rock, poetry and (possibly stretching here) an early example of rap.

The lyrics to Land describe a rape, a series vivid hallucinogenic (and possibly supernatural) visions, and finally a suicide. It’s an ugly song made beautiful by its insistent driving beat, cleverly crafted lyrics, avant-garde guitar riffs, and Smith’s unique singing and poetry recital.

One of my favorite lyrics from the song (which exceeds a thousand words):

I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more

I listened to Land three times today, no small feat, it’s over nine minutes long. Do I think anyone’s really going to listen to this song? Hopefully one or two people at least. I’m not sure what they’ll think of it. Possibly it’s an acquired taste, the sort of song that first irritates you, and then slowly works its way under your skin like a colony of scabies. Before you know it, the song is in your DNA. Something to sing in your head as you run your miles through wooded trails on a warm afternoon.

Patti Smith is often referred to as the godmother of punk rock. Her repertoire includes some truly great songs, some of which you probably know. Land is the best of the lot. It’s the most ambitious, artistic, risk-taking song I can think of. In my opinion, it’s the most American of music.

Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (de)

The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea
From the other end of the hallway a rhythm was generating
Another boy was sliding up the hallway
He merged perfectly with the hallway,
He merged perfectly, the mirror in the hallway
The boy looked at Johnny, Johnny wanted to run,
But the movie kept moving as planned
The boy took Johnny, he pushed him against the locker,
He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it deep in Johnny
The boy disappeared, Johnny fell on his knees,
Started crashing his head against the locker,
Started crashing his head against the locker,
Started laughing hysterically
When suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he’s being surrounded by
Horses, horses, horses, horses
Coming in in all directions
White shining, silver studs with their nose in flames,
He saw horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses.
Do you know how to pony like bony Maroney
Do you know how to twist, well it goes like this, it goes like this
Baby mash potato, do the alligator, do the alligator
And you twist the twister like your baby sister
I want your baby sister, give me your baby sister, dig your baby sister
Rise up on her knees, do the sweet pea, do the sweet pee pee,
Roll down on her back, got to lose control, got to lose control,
Got to lose control and then you take control,
Then you’re rolled down on your back and you like it like that,
Like it like that, like it like that, like it like that,
Then you do the watusi, yeah do the watusi
Life is filled with holes, Johnny’s laying there, in his sperm coffin
Angel looks down at him and says, “Oh, pretty boy,
Can’t you show me nothing but surrender?”
Johnny gets up, takes off his leather jacket,
Taped to his chest there’s the answer,
You got pen knives and jack knives and
Switchblades preferred, switchblades preferred
Then he cries, then he screams, saying
Life is full of pain, I’m cruisin’ through my brain
And I fill my nose with snow and go Rimbaud,
Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud,
And go Johnny go, and do the watusi, oh do the watusi
There’s a little place, a place called space
It’s a pretty little place, it’s across the tracks,
Across the tracks and the name of the place is you like it like that,
You like it like that, you like it like that, you like it like that,
And the name of the band is the
Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes,
Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes, Twistelettes
Baby calm down, better calm down,
On the night, in the eye of the forest
There’s a mare black and shining with yellow hair,
I put my fingers through her silken hair and found a stair,
I didn’t waste time, I just walked right up and saw that
Up there, there is a sea
Up there, there is a sea
Up there, there is a sea
The sea’s the possibility
There is no land but the land (Up there is just a sea of possibilities)
There is no sea but the sea (Up there is a wall of possibilities)
There is no keeper of the key (Up there there are several walls of possibilities)
Except for one who seizes possibilities, one who seizes possibilities. (Up there)
I seize the first possibility, is the sea around me
I was standing there with my legs spread like a sailor
I felt his hand on my knee (On the screen)
And I looked at Johnny and handed him a branch of cold flame (In the heart of man)
The waves were coming in like Arabian stallions
Gradually lapping into sea horses
He picked up the blade and he pressed it against his smooth throat (The spoon)
And let it deep in (The veins)
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities (It started hardening)
Dip in to the sea, to the sea of possibilities
I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more, I gotta move from my mind to the area
(Go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud, go Rimbaud)
And go Johnny go and do the watusi,
Yeah do the watusi, do the watusi
Shined open, coiled snakes white and shiny twirling and encircling
Our lives are now entwined, we will fall yes we’re together twining
Your nerves, your mane of the black shining horse
And my fingers all entwined in your silky hair,
I could feel it, it was the hair going through my fingers,
The hairs were like wires going through my body
I, I that’s how I
That’s how I
I died (At that Tower of Babel they knew what they were after)
(They knew what they were after)
(Everything on the current) Moved up
I tried to stop it, but it was too warm, too unbelievably smooth,
Like playing in the sea, in the sea of possibility, the possibility
Was a blade, a shiny blade, I hold the key to the sea of possibilities
There’s no land, but the land
Looked at my hands, and there’s a red stream
That went streaming through the sands like fingers,
Like arteries, like fingers
He lay, pressing it against his throat (Your eyes)
He opened his throat (Your eyes)
His vocal chords started shooting like (of a horse) mad pituitary glands
The scream he made (and my heart) was so high (my heart) pitched that nobody heard,
No one heard that cry,
No one heard (Johnny) the butterfly flapping in his throat,
Nobody heard, he was on that bed, it was like a sea of jelly,
And so he seized the first (His vocal chords shot up)
It was a black tube, he felt himself disintegrate (There is nothing happening at all)
And go inside the black tube, so when he looked out into the steep
Saw this sweet young thing (Fender one)
Humping on the parking meter, leaning on the parking meter
In the sheets
There was a man
Dancing around
To the simple
Rock & roll
Song

30 thoughts on “We had Such a Brainiac-Amour *

  1. I swear for the past three days we have been watching the live feed of the Gettysburg park rangers and “experts” taking viewers through the three days of the battle as it happened. Even though at this point on July 3rd I think the battle was over, I do believe we will still be watching something Gettysburg tonight. So fun.
    I never really got into Patti Smith so I do not know this song. I follow a Tom Waits group as I really like his stuff and see her picture a lot in there. I’ll have to listen to this song and see if she can find her way into my liking and repertoire.
    In the meantime, the end of day three. Here we go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s sort of weird how dead town is. Despite what I wrote, I’m not seeing a whole lot of tourists about. Susan and I just ran the culps hill loop and no one was out there. Yesterday, we biked a 10 mile loop and only got passed by three cars. It’s strange when I consider how national parks out west are closing their gates because of too many tourists. I don’t think I know any Tom Waits songs. I’m pretty sure sophie listens to him, I’ll ask her to play some.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well the song *is* pretty long. I supposed you acquired a taste for it during the song. Coming into the prompt, I braced myself that my selection would probably be pretty unpopular. I’m pleased that so many people gave the song a chance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved your description of music. In fact, if you want to just write out descriptions of songs for the next few blogs I would be happy. Since I can’t hear music anymore and I’m afraid I wasted too many of my years when I could hear music listening to bad stuff, I’m afraid my mental music library is pretty limited. So that’s why I ❤️ your music descriptions (and also I just ❤️ your writing).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m somewhat into the song lyric sunday thing, so likely I’ll do more of this. I often fall back on music when I can’t think of anything to write because for me music usually has a lot of complex memories associated with it. Do you find that you have more music or less playing in your head since your injury?

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s interesting the way sounds play in my head post injury (I am definitely writing about it in my memoir). A word, a story, etc. can bring up an aural memory. And unfortunately it’s not all good. Unfortunately bad and annoying jingles and sound bytes got stuck in there too!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Argh. The glasses! They said to expect for a month because of covid related supply chain interruptions. My goal is to not complain (much) over the next month. Have a happy 4th of July where ever you are.

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      • Really I can’t understand even with Covid they can take so long . Covid is a great excuse for everyone! I know it is real and makes things difficult but it’s not to blame for everything! I am in England where it’s not only Covid that gets blamed for everything but Brexit too! 💜🤣🤣🤣

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  3. I don’t know if I’ve heard Patti Smith before or not, but I really enjoyed this song!🎶💃🏼 I love spoken word, and performance art music, so this is perfect for me.
    Thanks, Jeff!
    I went way off from the regulars too. I figured with SO much great music to choose from, why not pick something most people have never heard.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I read all the lyrics, and listened to the video a bit. Not my kind of song, but I am impressed with her use of imagery and her courage to write such a song.

    When I think American music, I think country, jazz, and Bruce…

    Liked by 1 person

    • So this is almost the exact comment I was hoping for. I doubted that many people would actually like the song, but I hoped a few would give it a chance. As part of this prompt, one of the other bloggers used Born in the USA. It’s the first time I ever read the lyrics. In my life it’s always been the sort of song that big frat-boy types stand around in bars punching their fist in the air and shout along. I wonder if they ever consider the meaning of the song. Bruce is a good choice for the most American musician. His early stuff really captured my feelings about America when those songs came out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Born in the USA was not exactly a rah rah USA song, you had to listen to the lyrics and I agree, I liked Bruce’s early stuff as well, although I really liked The Rising album as well…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, finally! Someone has read this who likes Patti Smith! That must have been an awesome show to watch. I’m recently on a Patti Smith kick and reengaging with a lot of her music. Simply amazing. Thanks for reading.

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  5. I will listen. It’s timely because I’m in a book club where we’re reading the 331/3 series (each about the making of an album) and this week we’re on Horses. And I had written that album off because it never stuck with me, even though I love her writing (Just Kids) and the fact she was with Sam Shepard, one of my favorite writers. And she’s just so dang cool! On punk, this past week’s book was Masters of Reality. And you know that music could easily be called punk, 1971. Same with Raw Power, and Stooges self-titled. Even that band called the Monks, late 60s. Look them up if you don’t know them! Lots to react to here Jeff, thanks for sharing. Can’t stop thinking about Patti talking about getting lice though. Seems like you get that and then keep on getting it. Ha

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    • Horses is an astounding album. I read an article about ‘catching up with Patti Smith’ a couple of years ago and they talked about Horses for most of the article. I’ve never read on of those 33 1/3 books. I wonder if I’d like them.

      Liked by 1 person

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