Monday, March 27, 2023

This Year: 1982b

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more. 

1981 is a scratch, since I have two songs from 1982 that I can't choose between, and nothing from 1981 is even near that level. Last week was 1982a; here is 1982b.

I love songs that tell stories; I love songs that set a mood. I love long songs; I love songs that command attention. I like punk - the impulse always, the outcome often - but even more I like ambition, where a band is trying to cram a whole world into one track.

Sometimes they succeed.

Wall of Voodoo's Call of the West is one of the successes. A few weeks ago I wrote about The Eagles' The Last Resort, a song about the lure of California - Call of the West is in the same general territory, but much further out, in the wilder badlands.

Call of the West is not about the appeal of any civilized land, any safe place, any monument or society or group. It's about that old nagging desire to get out there, as far as possible, as fast as possible, as separated as possible. To see who you really are in a landscape that throws everything into high relief.

The dream of the American West, and of other frontiers all around the world: the semi-lawless place where everything is possible, and all of the old controls of the civilized lands fall away.

Of course, it also immediately denies that catharsis is possible, now, if it ever was:

Sometimes the only thing a western savage understands
Are whiskey and rifles and an unarmed man
Like you
So you got to keep on the move
Don't let that fancy paintjob fool you

The sound is almost apocalyptic, right on the verge of violence or transformation. A droning, demanding beat that never slacks. And it doesn't sound like any traditional depiction of the American West - this isn't a cowboy song.

You're a long way off from yippie-ki-yay

One of my first "Quotes of the Week" here was the long spoken section near the end of this song, and it's still pure, still the perfect distillation of that endless American desire for something else:

"There's a conflict, " he said. "There's a conflict between land and people. The people have to go. They've come all the way out here to make mining claims, to do automobile body  work, to gamble, to take pictures, to not have to do laundry, to own a mini-bike, to have  their own CB radios and air conditioning, good plumbing for sure, and to sell Time-Life books and to work in a deli, to have some chili every morning and maybe, maybe to own their own gas stations again and to take drugs and have some crazy sex, but above all, above all to have a fair shake, to get a piece of the rock and a slice of the pie and to spit out the window of your car and not have the wind blow it back in your face."

Is there anything more American than that desire "to spit out the window of your car and not have the wind blow it back in your face"? I think not. 

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