by Michael Strenski
I cannot stop listening to the Country Teasers. Over the last few weeks the only albums that I have been drawn to repeatedly are the three I own by this ragtag unit of Scottish drunks. Their sloppy-sounding songs have been consistently bringing utter joy to my little heart. The fact that most of these songs are filled with, what on the surface at least, appear to be the most offensive, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, completely misanthropic lyrics makes the situation a trifle uncomfortable. It's a bit difficult for me to fully enjoy a band that has a song called "Panty Shots" that spends three minutes expounding the glory of well, panty shots, extremely loud on my stereo when my lesbian landlord and her daughter are upstairs. Or for that matter, an updated version of the Pink Floyd song "In the Flesh" which retains the lines about "queers, coons and Jews", but adds another verse or two to the mix just to get the point across.
Now I don't find anything wrong with misanthropy on the whole. It's when you economize and start picking on specific groups of people that I get a little touchy. I can't help it. I was raised in the Bay Area, land of the Politically Correct. Ever since I was a wee lad I have always thought that racism, sexism and the like are the most deplorable thoughts humans harbor. I have never been able to stand overhearing comments of the like spewed out by co-workers or classmates. It betrays a human's ignorance more than anything. My subsequent years on this planet have only served to reinforce this opinion.
A few years ago my band played a show in St. Louis on a summer tour. The show was held at a house rented by some people we had met through a punk rock touring resource. It was one of the easiest shows we got for the tour. We sent out a demo and got an immediate response. On the phone the booker sounded utterly gracious and accomodating. After numerous trips across the country, my bandmate Adam and I were quite used to pulling up to random buildings in foreign towns to play, eat, and stay with people we had never met. On first impression St. Louis seemed to be another one of these scenarios, we met the booker who raved about our demo, offered us food and apologized for the lack of attendance. It wasn't until I found myself in a meandering conversation with one of the booker's roommates that I realized that something was amiss. Out of the blue he asked me if we had a lot of Bosnians in California. I replied that California is a very diverse place and yes, I was sure that there was a healthy Bosnian population around there somewhere. He then felt comfortable enough to delve into a lengthy diatribe denouncing the Bosnians in his neighborhood. Soon thereafter Adam found the Nazi flag in someone's bedroom. In a nutshell, we played our loud pop songs for a living room full of neo-nazis, tried to forget the night and fell asleep fast by consuming a lot of Miller High Life. At the crack of dawn we got the hell out of St. Louis. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights of my life.
That being said, one can imagine my difficulty when listening to lyrics like "fries are free, toast is free, kisses are free to/your granddad killed a lot of niggers to buy those free things for you", from the second song on the latest Country Teasers album, The Empire Strikes Back. Most of my concern stems from the irrational fear of someone overhearing a choice lyric or two amongst the fray and figuring me for an ignorant racist and/or sexist. Out of context these assumptions could easily be made but anyone who bothers to delve just a little deeper into the songs soon realizes that the Teasers mastermind/lyricist Ben Wallers does not agree with most of the characters his songs inhabit. In fact, he uses the songs to shock us into thinking about these opinions (a situation I am using this digital tablet to exercise). For example, the aforementioned song is blatantly called "Points of View" and describes an entire host of diverse, yet all quite horrific opinions that many people on this planet hold.
I say "most" of the characters because the one recurring opinion that appears to hold any water with Ben Wallers is the destruction of all human life. If you're going to hate one human, you might as well hate them all. I hate to quote Marilyn Manson at any point in a conversation but he truly was on to something when he said "there's no time to discriminate/hate every motherfucker that's in your way". Lately I have noticed myself becoming more and more misanthropic and maybe that's part of the reason the Country Teasers appeal to me. I have been continually disappointed with humanity. The older I get and the wider my scope becomes, the more pessimistic I find myself.
And I think that is what Country Teasers songs boil down to. They want to expose us to these ugly thoughts to show us evidence of human ills and misfortunes. Ben Wallers is trying to make the indie rock kids squirm so that they pay more attention to the world outside of their bubble. How could someone want to get married and have children in Ben Wallers' portrait of the world? It would be a selfish and thoughtless act. How could we possibly feel any sort of compassion for a world on the brink of self-imposed annihilation?
Anyway, none of this really matters. I wouldn't have given the Country Teasers a second thought if the songs were not well-written, catchy and entirely rocking. Despite the troubles I find myself fretting about, despite the horrors and injustices in this world, I find myself enjoying a simple solace and a forty-five minute respite by listening to an album called Destroy All Human Life.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
by Michael Strenski