Thursday, July 23, 2009

Surfing with P.O.D.

You knew they had to have one of these, right? I mean, dreadlocked Christians? Where else are they gonna sing about? Newark?

"Breathe Babylon" is from P.O.D.'s pre-famous '96 album Brown, though once they became famous I think they re-recorded it, or at least gussied it up somehow. According to The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, "Breathe Babylon" is a "fan favorite." I don't quite understand that, but it's not an uninteresting song. (High praise indeed!) Notably, it connects the Babylon symbol to present-day Iraqi warfare in a most disturbingly militant way.

The Babylon in verse one is pretty consistent with Rastafarian use--an evil society of "graven images, golden idols, and false icons" that runs counter to God's "spiritual wisdom." P.O.D. will set up spiritual time bombs to destroy it. That's cool--but in verses two and three they start to draw out some political implications from their reading, and things get dicey. I think most of this is the fault of "Dirt," the guest rapper who does verse two:

"Decadent culture make you forget your spiritual priority" is standard symbolic stuff, but then our friend Dirt starts getting all righteous Rambo. Soldiers who are being "used by God" will "destroy you like Medo-Persia," which was the ancient empire that finally took down historical Babylon. But is Dirt merely advocating spiritual warfare?

I don't think so! Later in the verse he crows, "Present day Iraq still lies in ruins... Bumrushed, get crushed by us, this rescue invasion." I see. So back in '96, the key agents of God seem to have been George HW Bush and his neo-con cronies, who were doing God's work in the Middle East and received, as a divine reward, secured oil interests. And in the final verse, we learn that the people of God yearn for a "true democracy." Sounds like W was taking notes.

What on earth are these guys talking about? In a later song, "Tell Me Why," POD seem to take a more pacifist and questioning stance--"Why must we kill in the name of what we think is right?" That's more resonable--it's not that you never fight, but at least you give it some thought, question the whole enterprise, and don't claim that a 2,500-year-old prophet sanctioned your murder of some everyday Arab shmucks. So maybe "Babylon"'s militance is just Dirt talking--you know, you give the guy a verse, you don't really wanna interfere. But I'd like to think that this ominous bit--

Look to the sky, heed the warning
The shadow is coming, the shadow is coming

is P.O.D.'s exhortation to all the faithful, including their own sinful asses, and not just a (Toby) Keithian heads up to the Muslim world.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Surfing with Everlast and JoJo Gunne

Unfortunately this live video lacks Carlos Santana's axe-for-hire, the only worthwhile aspect of the song, but anyway--here's "Babylon Feeling" off Everlast's Eat at Whitey's:

I admit as much as the next guy that House of Pain was pretty much beyond reproach, but Everlast's career as VH1 bluesman seems to be marked by two aesthetic misconceptions:

1. that blues songs must be slow and boring, and...
2. that bluesmen can get away with singing slow boring songs because they could, if heckled, beat up the rest of us.

In "Babylon Feeling", Everlast details his experiences meeting allegorically named women. The woman named Babylon "hooks [him] to the gills" with "all of her forbidden thrills," she breaks his heart and steals his will, par for the course with Babylon cliches. But hold on!--he meets other women too:

...There's Destiny, who elevates his soul, frees his mind, and shows him all his fates, which his "stream of conscious" navigates. (Right before my favorite line in the song, "I orbit around the sun at high velocity." Hey, me too!)

...There's Confidence, who inspires nothing of the kind in our friend Everlast. Rather, she points out all his flaws, makes his spirit tense, and makes his arms "heavy" ("Yeah, my greatest flaw is that I work out too much." Hey, me too!).

...There's also a little bit of Alive (Mambo No. FIVE!) (unless her name is "A Lie", but "Alive" fits the rhyme scheme better), who for some reason controls him with her fear and makes his lust thrive. Doesn't sound like living to me, but I'm sure he had his reasons.

So after walking us through his pilgrim's progress, Everlast begs womankind in general to save his soul and, in the tradition of Eddie Money, take him home, and he sums it up by explaining that he's got a "Babylon feeling." It seems like all these women, no matter what their symbolic attributes, remind him of his Mambo No. 1, a Babylon Jezebel who needs men like fish need bicycles and leaves our hero to ramble on, through deepest depths of Mordor or wherever. Dealing with women gives Everlast the same feeling he gets from the woman named Babylon, who boasts "forbidden thrills," perhaps somewhere deep inside her pants. All I really get out of this song is that Everlast has trouble finding the clitoris women who make him feel good about himself, and he probably gets off on sex being dirty and guilty. He's not the first.

F'rinstance, there is Jo Jo Gunne's 1972 "Babylon":


The Jo Jos were a spinoff of psychy rockers Spirit, whose "Fresh Garbage" I'm constantly being hounded to play at Lot 49 concerts. What do we know about Jo Jo's Babylon? She sings the sweetest song. She's taken multiple lovers. Her house is in flames, the pain of which goes straight to her heart. She herself is a fiery lady who almost--almost--drives Jo Jo crazy. (Imagine!) The Jo Jos probably named this woman "Babylon" for the same reason Anonymous named a murderous robber "Babylon" in his 17th or 18th century Child Ballad: it's got symbolic heft and speaks of "forbidden thrills" (as in Everlast). And also, very conveniently, when Babylon is the name of a woman, you get some free lunch symbolic associations with the Whore of Babylon from St. John's Revelation.

So maybe Everlast and Jo Jo Gunne just don't like Roman Catholicism. They're not the first.