Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6.
It always blew my mind a bit that Gus Gus, the Icelandic film and music collective responsible for perhaps my favorite record from my imaginary "Straight '98" electronic music genre, Polydistortion, so quickly abandoned the sweeping, glacial tone of that album for earthy, sexy bangers like this one. It hails from their third bonafide album, Attention, a 2002 release that featured only four bandmembers instead of the previous (I believe) nine, and a brand new singer named, appropriately enough, Earth. It's a much more techno-centric record than its two predecessors, Polydistortion and This Is Normal; I saw at least one of its songs on an electroclash compilation. So yeah, it's fairly far removed in several different ways from the Gus Gus that made its first impression on me.
But it's also a fabulous song. Early Gus Gus certainly did "celebratory"--cf. "Barry," "Purple"--but never in such a directly sexy way. Obviously the killer element to this song, even more so than the buoyant beat or the big hands-in-the-air keyboard riff that functions as the chorus, is the lyric: "I still have last night in my body. I wish you were with me." I think the sign of a great lyric is tackling a familiar concept from an unexpected direction--like a Looney Tunes character who sidesteps an oncoming freight train only to get hit by a falling anvil--and that opening line does exactly that. We've all thought "man, I had a great time last night!", but phrasing it as "I still have last night in my body" makes that connection not just mental but physical, not just a leisurely reminiscence but an immediate, palpable link, indeed one that's not quite within our control to sever. Better still, she could be using the phrase purely metaphorically, but the literal interpretation--involving any number of substances imbibed through any number of orifices, bless her heart--is just as plausible and far more tantalizing.
Now, a couple paragraphs ago I mentioned that Gus Gus's shift to sexy was a rapid one. "David" came out five years and several major cultural and musical shifts after Polydistortion, so it doesn't exactly make my case for me. "Starlovers," from 1999's This Is Normal, on the other hand...
Gus Gus - Starlovers
This right here is straight-up Straight '98, and sexy as hell. In the album's context, the song follows an even more explicitly raunchy number called "Teenage Sensation," which is about exactly what you think it's about. So here, when Daniel August sings "Love, God, and affection--you know exactly what it means, still you're only in your teens," we know exactly what it means too. The notion of sex as revival-tent spiritual revelation, a gateway to an eroticized relationship with creation itself--"You are in love with God, you are in love with stars, you are in love with something that will tell you who you are"--well, this is a wonderful, wonderful idea to explore when you're 20 years old! Yet Gus Gus cleverly include a bit of old-time religion in their message: "They need love, they need God, they need guidance from above." You may know exactly what it means, but someone has to teach you a bit about it. And that, too, is sexy, in a hot-for-teacher (Rabbi?) kinda way, and in an implicit youth-gone-wild way as well. Nowadays it makes me think of Gossip Girl.
Why bring all this up? Well, coincidentally, even as I've been revisiting music from this period over the past few days, I've also been talking and thinking a lot about Grant Morrison comics, and different critical approaches to them--positive ones, this time, rather than negative--and different critical approaches to art in general. One such approach seemingly shared by both many Morrison defenders and Morrison himself is a poptimism-inflected belief in the future as a locus of potentially unlimited positivity, and the consequent importance of valuing art to the degree that it supports that belief. As Morrison put it:
For me, Final Crisis is about the type of guilt-ridden, self-loathing stories we insist on telling ourselves and, especially, our children--about the damage those stories do and about the good they could do if we took more responsibility for the power and influence of our words....
People like superheroes, particularly in stressful times, because there are very few fictions left which offer up a utopian view of human nature and future possibility. I suspect that's some part of the appeal. The superhero is a crude attempt to imagine what we all might become if we allowed our better natures to overcome our base instincts. If we are not a race of predatory monsters intent on murdering ourselves with toxins and famine and war, then the superhero is the last, best shot at imagining where we might be headed as a species. The superhero occupies a space in our imaginations where goodness and hope cannot be conquered and as such, seems to fill what I can only describe as a spiritual hole in secular times.
As I was reading things like this, I was listening to a kind of music that even at the time I thought of as "the music of the future," the music that near-future science fiction of the late 20th century said we'd be listening to, digital music, soundscape music.
Suddenly, I realized that the time in my life during which this music emerged and took precedence for me was the time in my life that most closely resembled a Grant Morrison comic.
I attended Yale University from 1996-2000, after emerging from an all-boys Catholic high school. I was suddenly surrounded by many of the smartest, richest, best-looking people I'd ever met. My only responsibility was to find out what I was really interested in and learn as much about it as I could. At varying times my homework assignments included reading The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, analyzing the use of Tarot symbolism in Vertigo, watching Cries and Whispers, and creating a performance piece based on the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in Star Wars. My sex life was intense, even creative. I would get very, very stoned and watch Barton Fink or Little Big Man or listen to Sex Style or The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. I used Yahoo! Search and Persian Kitty. I hosted a radio show, wrote a screenplay, performed sketch comedy at midnight to a packed house of inebriates. One night I watched David Cronenberg's The Fly and David Lynch's Eraserhead for the first time, back to back, starting at 2am; another night I listened to Pulp's "Seductive Barry" on my discman while walking to a naked party. I was in love. Intellectualized glamour soundtracked by Massive Attack remixes permeated my every waking moment. It was a wonderful time.
But of course it was also an awful time, rife with emotional turmoil that rose almost to the point of abuse, of which I was both on the giving and receiving end. I drank Bud Light out of kegs and grain'n'grape out of pilfered punch dispensers. I thought and wrote some truly embarrassing things. (This has not changed.) I encountered/experienced/perpetrated snobbery, pretension, classism, intellectual coasting, moral turpitude, and soul-crushing loneliness. My house was so filthy that there's a decent chance I literally caught a disease from it. (The doctors were never quite sure.) I realized that maybe I'd always feel unbelievably miserable and angry from time to time with no innate ability to stop myself from feeling that way, maybe that wasn't just something that happened when you're in ninth grade listening to Alice in Chains. And you know how I'm always talking about my fear of making mistakes that can never be fixed, of hurting people in ways you can never make up to them? Where do you think I got that fear, middle school?
My point, besides the fact that I am a beautiful and unique snowflake and no college student has ever loved and lost like I have, is that for four years I lived in the future, and it was both awesome and awful--just like the past, just like the present. That's fine. That's as it should be. Well, no it's not, but it's definitely as it is. And to me, that's the most beautiful about Straight '98 music. You have your "David"s, yeah. But you also have your "Is Jesus Your Pal?"s.