Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Private Idaho" / The B-52s

Why this song now?

I DON'T KNOW. Isn't that the whole point of this blog, to bypass the "should" and dive straight for the "why not"?

Okay, let's get the Wikipedia part of the show out of the way. Track 5 of Wild Planet, 1980, released as a single that hit #74 (#5 on the Hot Dance Play chart) and spawned a 1991 Gus Van Sant movie starring the late great River Phoenix as well as the delectable Keanu Reeves, he who shall ever be in my mind Ted from the beloved classic Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

But really, for those of us who were 100% invested in the B-52s brand of sneakily brainy ironic dance-party New Wave rock -- the question is really more like "Why do you ask?"


This song came to me as I was (no joke) walking through a corridor in the undercroft of an Episcopalian church listening to Upper East Side New Yorkers blag on about the minutiae of their ever-so-important Manhattan lives. So there I was, vested in my choir robe (because I do love to sing from time to time) and all I could think is, "You're what?!!" (A close cousin to the "Love Shack" response, "Tin roof! ... Rusted!"

Because, come on, let's get real -- has there ever been a better song about our American tendency to live in gated communities, isolated from the rough-and-tumble of other people's lives, and paranoid about the consequences of  actually having contact with other human beings?

Or, as Fred Schneider intones, singing over that ominous undergroove, "You're living in your own Private Idaho / Living in your own Private Idaho." And Kate (or is it Cindy?) adds, "Underground like a wild potato." (The one and only actual Idaho reference in the song.)

"Don't go on the patio," Fred warns, and Cindy (or is it Kate?) adds, in a tone of semi-hysteria, "Beware of the pool, / Blue bottomless pool." Such beautiful promise, and all it leads to is Fred's "It leads you straight / Right through the gate  / That opens on the pool." And for all these years, here I've been such a chump, thinking that a beautiful blue swimming pool was a GOOD thing.

But Fred doesn't stop there. Oh, no. "Keep off the path, beware of the gate, / Watch out for signs that say 'hidden driveways'/ Don't let the chlorine in your eyes / Blind you to the awful surprise / That's waitin' for you at / The bottom of the bottomless blue blue blue pool." Danger alert!

And so consider me officially freaked out. Because this is what it means to be a privileged American (in 2014 as much as it was in 1980, or even more). It's all about anticipating disaster, and smugly being ahead of the game. "The lawn may be green / But you better not be seen / Walkin' through the gate that leads you down, / Down to a pool fraught with danger / Is a pool full of strangers." Is this a way to live your life?

And yet -- when all is said and done -- do we not love that surf guitar riff? (God bless you, Ricky Wilson, and R.I.P. -- this is one of the AIDS deaths I will never entirely get over....)

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