Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Something's happening


Every generation has its share of timeless utterances, from Dylan seeing through bomb-builders' masks to Nina Simone responding to pressure with prayer to Marvin Gaye's fish full of mercury to the Sex Pistols' No Future to Nirvana's oh well, whatever, never mind—artists singing in the present about the future with more presentiment than they realize. I'm astonished, and chastened, at how relevant the Jam's monumental 1980 single "Going Underground" is in 2019. Strive for more? What's the point. Pleasure out of hate? Enough already on my plate, thanks. Choose your leader, place your trust—well, the public gets what the public wants. But I don't get what this society wants. From braying sheep on TV to kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns, the details are prescient and timely; like others before him, Paul Weller had his finger on the pulse of political hypocrisy and tyranny that seems to beat eternally.

Equally astonishing still is the band's performance: wire-tight, pissed-off, urgent. It feels as if the song is playing the band, not the other way around, as if, having rushed to the studio, the Jam's catching up to the very song they're playing and recording. And perhaps my favorite moment in any Jam song: after the dreamy middle-eight, a sing-song variation of the title and chorus phrase, Weller slashes at his Rickenbacker in such a violent, angry, and surprising way that it startles and excites me every time. A rupture in the performance that sounds and feels completely organic and inevitable, but which threatens to demolish the thing in a single stroke. Rock and roll at its best, and, sadly, its most prophetic and timeless. Turn it up, wash it down:
Some people might say my life is in a rut
But I'm quite happy with what I got
People might say that I should strive for more
But I'm so happy I can't see the point 
Something's happening here today
A show of strength with your boys' brigade
And I'm so happy and you're so kind
You want more money, of course I don't mind
To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes
And the public gets what the public wants
But I want nothing this society's got 
I'm going underground
Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground
Well let the boys all sing and the boys all shout for tomorrow 
Some people might get some pleasure out of hate
Me, I've enough already on my plate
People might need some tension to relax
Me, I'm too busy dodging between the flak 
What you see is what you get
You've made your bed, you better lie in it
You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You'll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don't get what this society wants 
We talk and talk until my head explodes
I turn on the news and my body froze
The braying sheep on my TV screen
Make this boy shout, make this boy scream...
Songwriters: Paul John Weller
Going Underground lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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