"The Real makes me sweaty, GEEAAAAAAAGH!!"
Might it seem like too much to ask complex themes of a band named Pissed Jeans? Maybe so, but then it also seemed like a tall order to expect of the Flaming Lips either longevity or symphonic singalongs back when they were dreadlocked ne’er-do-wells stealing onstage stunts from the Butthole Surfers. So let’s believe in the seemingly impossible, and maybe there’ll be a pleasant surprise or two.
As not-so-subtly alluded to in a recent post, Pissed Jeans are atop my current CD rotation. I came for the vintage pigfucker antagonism, but I’m staying for the ontologically-exploratory subject matter. I shit you not. Over the course of Hope For Men’s frenzied forty-some minutes, Pissed Jeans situate themselves in several different realities and find that none of them fit. They could be (very possibly by accident) the only active punk band searching for the Real in song.
Pissed Jeans start inside the imaginary and withdraw by steps towards objectivity. This is done with a meticulousness that belies their belligerence, in a trifecta of song that forms the centerpiece of Hope For Men. In the delightfully gonzo single “I’ve Still Got You (Ice Cream),” singer Matt Korvette grounds himself in the subjective bliss of, duh, eating ice cream. “Sometimes life is less than a dream,” he bellows, as though struggling for breath under the oppressive mundanity of daily routine. Employed as a claims adjuster (no shit, read the press release), Korvette has played by consensus reality’s rules and found it wanting. The only tonic for his existential angst can be found in the saccharine, numbing escape of his frozen treat: “The taste that all my troubles fall behind, a sweet bowl of sugar to ease my mind.” Though he acknowledges that he “shouldn’t need it,” that his ontological prison is of his own design, Korvette concedes with animal lust, “I gotta have it!” A considerably less sordid psychological crutch than, say, heroin, but a crutch nonetheless.
Discontented with the imaginary, Korvette sets about de-/reconstructing it to his liking. In “Scrapbooking,” he lays out his vision for a more perfect reality: “I’ll make every page different, but all pleasing to my eye.” The dubby piano dirge is laced with a refrain of self-hypnosis, “just looking at pictures,” pictures of Korvette’s past (“This one is old, from years ago…”) which form the architecture of his conscious. This, of course, echoes Roland Barthes' ruminations on photographs as lost time made tangible: forever frozen out of reach, somewhere between the Real and our personal reality. It's impossible to "recapture" anything from a photograph; rather, they remind us of what we missed (or is missing). But being memories on paper, photos can be cut, cropped, retouched, and arranged to suit our preferred vision of the past, and Korvette knows this. With total self-awareness that he “can rearrange [his] memories,” Korvette delights in uncannily restructuring his life: “Put the heads on different bodies,” he moans with depraved enjoyment.
Having become the designer of his own truth, Korvette returns his attention to the banality of normal life and sees it for what it is: a “Fantasy World.” Riding a monster truck riff for four minutes, Korvette’s gravel-gargling howl shreds through the shallow, illusory pleasures which most of the western world is content to call life. “I’m right here in my fantasy world… Sitting near piles of clothes, drinking a soda with a slice of pizza… Watching video tapes and cable television… I laugh at my own jokes in my fantasy world!” All of this could easily be read as a piss-take of some yokel’s pathetically stunted imagination (“LOL! This song’s about a total lamewad!”), but it’s precisely the mundanity of the fantasy that gives Korvette’s bark its bite. This isn’t just his fantasy world, this is our fantasy world – a blueprint bought from and sold back to us with Pepsodent smiles by advertisers, MTV, sitcoms, Hollywood, and FM radio. This is the debris and bullshit we’ve made the bedrock of our existence, tunnel vision and junk food, more stale than day-old Domino’s. This is our reality. It’s all we aspire to, and it’s all we get. The worst part: the longer the shadows cast by our picket-fence fantasy become (globalisation, extraordinary rendition, fundamentalism, Starbucks), the harder we close our eyes in the hope we won’t wake up from our American Dream.
No wonder Korvette sounds so pissed.