review of the song "Steamroller Doggie"
by The Lee Harvey Oswald Band
off of the E.P. The Lee Harvey Oswald Band
on Touch & Go records.
I don't know anything biographical about The Lee Harvey Oswald Band except that they are on the Butthole Surfer's label. I've never heard any of their music before and I don't know anyone else who has. They all have stupid pseudonyms and generic faces. This Lee Harvey Oswald Band might just as well be Peter Frampton's newly reformed rod squad for all I know. And who cares who they are anyway -- if a piece of art can't stand on its own without eighty billion biological references to its creator, then it is probably not that hot.
Here in academia-ville, where little-known facts are god, many folks will disagree. After all, if Joe Blow from down the road can appreciate a work of art as well as Dr. Bright from up the road, who needs Dr. Bright? Hmmm. Why are Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg so regularly scorned by contemporary learned types? And why have lawyers complicated our legal system so much that now lawyers need their own lawyers? If a train leaves Boise, Idaho at three-fifteen traveling west at 300 miles per hour, and it arrives in Reykjavik, Iceland at... oh, I'm sorry, that's the bell; we're out of time. I'll see you all again on Tuesday.
I realize I'm not the first person to question the importance of authorship in works of art, but I well may be the first person to do it while reviewing a song called "Steamroller Doggie". Best to just come right out and say it -- "Steamroller Doggie" is ultra-mega-monster-headface-
adjective-song-of-the-epoch ROCK, emphasis mine. First consider the hefty lyrical content, "You know your head is too big for your body/ That's why I call you my sweet steamroller doggie/ Whoa oh oh, Whoa oh oh oh." Yes, probably.
Next, consider the tune. I count maybe five chords. Anyone could have written this song. Many bands have written similar songs. Does this fact diminish "Steamroller Doggie"'s super-coolness one iota? No. I used to be bothered by the fact that rap music is merely a group of people talking while a turntable plays the beat to a song that someone else wrote. Then I heard the Beastie Boys' album, Paul's Boutique. Are the Beastie Boys great musicians? No. Isn't Paul's Boutique just one big rip-off of other people's music with three juvenile losers talking over it? Yes. Is Paul's Boutique still the second best album of 1989? Yes.
If the product pleases, then it pleases. This explains why so many Grateful Dead fans get excited about other, lesser bands that play Grateful Dead songs. I think that jazz-man on the Levis 501 Blues commercial said it best, "Who cares where it comes from, as long as it keeps on coming." Of course, the great and unanswerable mystery to me is how anyone could like the Grateful Dead in the first place, but rather than risk being powerfully hexed by thousands of crystal-wielding groovers, I'll move on.
There is an important difference between a real rock project like The Lee Harvey Oswald Band, and some asinine cover group like The Flower People. Whereas The Flower People take old pop songs and reproduce them for profit, adding absolutely nothing to the rock and roll tradition, The Lee Harvey Oswald Band borrows from the past, breaks out the blender, and returns what they've borrowed in an entirely new and generative way.
"Steamroller Doggie" may sound like a Stooges song, but it's not one. Which brings us to the all important issue of sound. There are certain genres of music which, for some inexplicable reason, please one's ear. There are other genres of music which drive one crazy. I think The Dead Kennedy's could write the best song in the world, and it would still be unbearable due to the peculiarly heinous timbre of Jello Biafra's voice. Likewise, my own personal Hell equals listening to anywhere over five minutes of Bob Dylan's pseudo-intellectual drivel-whine-single-chord-acoustic nausea which some have mistaken for music.
While I'm slamming, I might as well throw down on Hank Jr., Tone Loc, and company. Country boys make fun of rap music and home boys make fun of country music, but the truth is, it's all just a bunch of egotistical males bragging about how macho they are. At least rap music doesn't put you to sleep.
But I stray from the matter at hand. "Steamroller Doggie" will peel the walls off of your paint. This is the genre of music which pleases me. This is demolition rock. In the song "Stonehenge", by Spinal Tap, Nigel Tuffnel says of the Druids, "No one knew who they were, or what they were doing/ But their legend lives on, hewn into the living rock of Stonehenge." The Lee Harvey Oswald Band have no idea of what they're doing themselves -- 3/4 rhythms driving muffledly, steadily into oblivion; a dull, furry undercurrent of sound-mass like some prehistoric mastodon steadily vomiting red lava beneath a dying sun, cachinnaphonic shards of clumsily sporadic fenderblasts spunkily sprinkling the entire cake o' mud. The lyrics are fuzzy, probably sung through a bullhorn (a la Butthole Surfers). The singer sounds like a guitar. Hey, it's new. It's now. It's rockin'. We are out of the wilderness and into the promised land.
And now, a few closing over-generalizations: The unrefined sublime rarely makes good art. Yet it rarely fails to make most excellent rock. I am a sucker for good physical grunge, and will eternally support any group of unknown idiots that can loudly, energetically, and monsterfully spill their souls into a rocking tune which deserves to be played at eleven. Sadly, many are called, but few can rock. Anyone can play a Grateful Dead song well, but you don't see too many good Jimi Hendrix cover bands around these days. You simply cannot counterfeit that feeling, my friend; you cannot recreate the soul of a Druid. "Steamroller Doggie" comes about as close to Druidism as any song last year did. "And oh, how they danced, the little children of Stonehenge."
But who needs some fool music critic and his quasi-sensical musings to decide what he/she/it likes? Go figure yourself. I think the word 'rock' should be around here somewhere. Rock. There it is.