Hell of Dumb, Hell of Dumb, Hell of Dumb... Every time I do an Odin aggregate like I did yesterday it feels like Wodnesdæg already happened, but, on Tiwesdæg like. I am easily confused. Nevertheless, the schedule calls for a Miðviku song for Odin, so I must reach into my bag of lēoþcræft and grab one, seemingly at random. One second... ah, here we are. It's "Hell of Dumb," performed by the Mr T Experience of 1997 at the Rivoli in Toronto: https://youtu.be/m5fuEYwMA8g As I mentioned the last time I posted a song from this set ("Swiss Army Girlfriend") I am clearly rather ill here and relatively subdued, kind of just struggling to make it through the set I think. And as the gently mumbled intro indicates, the Revenge Is Sweet album had just come out and we were still working through the kinks of the songs. This is a fairly straightforward, if a little stiff, execution, much as it was done on the record, sans pedal steel solo of course. My attempted solo swims around but basically hovers in the right place and has a certain unaffected charm. (If you've seen my band lately, you've probably seen and heard Ted Angel do a remarkably accurate pedal-steely sort of simulation on the guitar -- it kills me every time I hear it; in 1997, of course, such subtleties were beyond us.) This is one of the staple songs of the catalog, and still very well loved from what I can tell, in whatever context it is presented in. It's one of those songs where when I play it solo the whole room tends to sing along to the whole thing. (I'm always impressed when a room full of people puts some effort into knowing all the words, something I often find rather difficult myself.) We've played it consistently through the various line-ups through the years, yet this is the only "native" 1997 rendition that I've come across on video. The idea of basing the lyrics and concept of a "country" song around the East Bay-associated teen slang locution "hell of" / "hella" is one of those stupid/clever ideas that pretty much no one else but me would have been foolish enough to undertake. And maybe it should have been strangled in its crib, like many such. Kevin Army used to admonish me regularly on this score: I would always mess up my best musical ideas with quirky lyrics and conceits, and vice versa, taking them unnecessarily into "novelty song" territory when they didn't need to be there. "Stop trying so hard," was the mantra. I'm sure he was right, and that some of my songs might have fared better out in the world if presented "straight." But I've got a sort of block: I've never been able to see the problem with "novelty" or indeed the difference between novelty and straight. To me, many, if not most, good, well-written, well-conceived songs are indistinguishable from novelty songs. It has to do with establishing an interesting conceit and riding it, sticking to it all the way to the end and teasing out each last implication. I know a lot of people see that as "corny" or contrived or something, and that's fair enough. A song is, after all, a contrivance. But as with most things, 50,0000 novelty song haters can't be wrong. I'm the wrong one, here, no doubt. It's possibly my love of country music songwriting that placed this inclination in my soul, though there was a punk rock version of that dynamic which also placed something in my soul. (cf. "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" - there was never a better song on the UK hit parade, and it was "novelty" through and through: well, back then punk rock was itself a novelty, for a year or so anyway. Regardless, when I think back to my 13 year old self in 1977: that's what I liked about punk rock, the same thing I liked about country music, songs that focused on a conceit and turned your expectations inside out. That's what I still like.) But "Hell of Dumb" is not, of course, an actual country song, nor does it claim to be. It's more a country-ish pastiche -- though I suppose country rock itself is necessarily pastiche. The pedal steel in the recording is one of the few elements of sonic diversity allowed to remain in the collection of songs that was eventually squashed into what became the RISaSAY album. It was played by Joe Goldmark, who is a great player. Kevin brought him in for an afternoon at Toast Recorders in San Francisco and created a special, less "punk," headphone mix for him so "the song wouldn't scare him." I wish that mix had been preserved, just for novelty's sake, so to speak. I know the acoustic guitars on the track were left completely out of the final mix (or if they're there they're so subliminal I can't detect them.) And most of those tapes are lost so we'll never know what a mix that included them might have been like. I'd have liked it more, the "public" probably a good deal less. So it goes. Anyway, the pedal steel was meant to wake you up, and it still does that after all these years. One final note: because of this song, I've become known as a sort of authority on the linguistic construction in the title, and every so often I'll be consulted on the matter or mentioned as an example in the never-quite-answered question of its precise origin. Here are a couple of links of that sort: https://www.scoop.it/topic/translation-world/p/4050030187/2015/08/24/the-origins-of-hella-bay-curious-news-fix-kqed-news https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=31933 The KQED article misquotes me slightly: I don't claim the "debate", such as it is/was, dates to 1983, only that that is when I first encountered people saying it, when I moved to Berkeley to go to college, and started coming into contact with young East Bay natives. But that thing of people sternly yet casually correcting the improper usage when people said "hella" (just a quick correction "hell of" inserted into the conversation, or sometimes: "you mean, hell of") really used to happen, and very frequently. No idea when it "goes back to." It's really "hell of," anyhow, to the extent that anything can really be anything. Even when pronounced in such a way as to sound like "hella" there was always the ghost of an "F" in there: this is reflected in the song itself, though not with any conscious attempt to address the tension. The tension is just there. Either way, it doesn't make my song less funny I don't think. And that's... enough words to type on "Hell of Dumb" for now I'd say. And so another Song for Odin™ comes to a close. Like, subscribe, share, comment, all that stuff, if you please. notes: -- studio recording, 1997: https://youtu.be/yONSAPMQfC0 -- MTX in the park, 2015: https://youtu.be/PITC-VTPxSY -- Joe Goldmark: http://www.joegoldmark.com -- More Joe Goldmark: http://www.oaklandmagazine.com/August-2018/Joe-Goldmark-Is-a-Cowboy-with-a-World-View/ -- As before, the video was shot by Rick Scullion of Punk Rick’s Videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/punkrick71/featured. #music #songs #video #guitar #minds
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