Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Surfing with the Transplants

I have no idea what "California Babylon" has to do with the movie Domino, but I love how the opening drumroll sounds like a Motown song, and how the piano in the background sounds like "Rock the Casbah":

The Transplants are Tim from Rancid, Travis from Blink, and a punk rapper, Ron Aston, who's not bad. (Tim may be the worst singer in the world, and any increased Tim-focus on a Rancid album, as opposed to gang shouts or wicked bass playing or a cavalcade of great songs, really bums me out. But you should definitely listen to Out Come the Wolves and the 2000 Rancid before you die, cos they've got all that good stuff.) Here they sort of bridge the gap between Babylon-as-corrupt-system, as expounded by the Rastas who show up in Verse 1, and Babylon-as-decadent-civilization, represented by the violence in Verse 2 and the drug-addicted transplant girl in Verse 3.

Since these guys are punks, they know something about reggae, so they identify the origins of their "California Babylon" with the rastas:

"Union boy standing next to the rastas
There's gonna be a strike and you ain't gonna stop us."

In verse 1, Babylon is the system that supports oppressive employers and low wages and necessitates unions. But in verse 2, which is probably sheer reportage and not advocacy, Ron observes the thinness of the line between violent thugs and those who resist the powers of Babylon. And then in verse 3, "California Babylon" turns into a cautionary tale, in the tradition of MC Hammer's "Crime Story" and Marky Mark's "Wildside." Let's call it a "Little Tiffany, Only 13" song. In this one little Tiffany, only 17, moves to the city, the place of big dreams, and does a lot of drugs. Three different verses, a different situation in each verse, but all somehow representative of "Babylon."

The Transplants seem to imply a link between the system that keeps the workers down, the system that encourages street violence, and the system that makes impressionable girls think they can become stars by engaging in the most decadent trappings of the star life. No doubt they're on to something, but they leave it to us to connect the dots.

Very well. The union boys and the Rastas, the coalition of organized labor, are striking against their unjust employer, whoever that may be--Borders? the Congress Hotel? You name it. Maybe Dennis Kucinich shows up to throw in his support. We dunno. But because of their already sub-living-wages, and because now they're striking and not making any money and there's "no sign of hope", AND because it's a freakin' Rastafarian sacrament, the union boys and the Rastas start to sling dope (verse 2). But they do not achieve a mellow high. Rather, they hit police with crowbars.

Apparently the police are unable to detain these unionized faithful, who strike by day and establish an entrepreneurial drug biz by night. The drug slangers incorporate the "glamor" of "Hollywood" into their sales pitch, and successfully hook a nubile midwestern transplant (like Donna Summer or Axl Rose in the "On the Run" chapter of Chuck Eddy's Accidental Evolution of Rock 'n' Roll--look it up!). But it was the substandard wages of Babylon System that forced our organized trapstars into the seedy underbelly of society. It was Babylon System's false promise of glamor that hooked our nubile midwestern transplant, made her want to be a star, and led her into the underbelly. AND it's the Babylon System that hypocritically moralizes against and prosecutes those ensnared in the underbelly. Babylon's all, "Accept our substandard wages and conform to our image of what's beautiful and successful, or we'll arrest your ass--if you're lucky!"

The Transplants are unmoved and unsurprised. "Don't say that you don't understand. Don't say that you can't comprehend. This is California Babylon, my man." This is simply how it works.

Waitress out dressed like nurses in bondage
Brought me the check, said I want you to sign this
Union boy standing next to the rastas
Theres gonna be a strike and you aint gonna stop us
Three men standing and they love what they do
You wont see it coming, cause they wanna surprise you
Consider it done, theyre gonna stand right by you
American punks dont care about you
Hollywood what you gonna do? [x2]

Dont say that you dont understand
Dont say that you cant comprehend
Dont say that you dont understand, this is california babylon, my man

You can take away the nights with sights with bright lights
Seeks still ride, engage in street fights
Two to the head, pull around, hes dead
Suspect fled, caught up with bloodshed
No sign of hope, we fight and sling dope
Junkies to our left, no fix, they cant cope
Violence wont cease, hand me the crow piece
No peace or sleep, we fight with police

This is the city thatll make all your dreams come true
So pay attention


At last she had arrived, we turned in exhausted
Cocaine in her pocket, she can get busted
Once again she passes, now shes gone
Now shes with her friend, her beautiful young
She showed up on the scene, she was 17
Now shes 21, she does some more coke, she does some more coke
She drinks some whiskey and she smokes some dope
She thinks shes a star [x4]
Do you know who you are? [x4]

lyrics copyright 2002 by Armstrong/Aston, posted for educational purposes only

No comments: