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And I swear…

Few things in life are more satisfying than to enunciate the sound of Anglo-Saxon in moments of frustration. And when one swears in English, it almost invariably is Anglo-Saxon. Piss. Fuck. Shit. Pissen. Ficken. Schiete (the northern German Plattdeutsch dialect”s variant of the more famous Scheisse).

Swearing should not be gratuitous, though it often is. In music, especially in Hip Hop and Emo, the effect of profanity is often undermined by its reckless frequency. Ubiquitous though swearing may be in the lifestyle of performer and listener alike, the poetic power of the well-considered “fuck” trumps the casual deployment of mechanical profanity (especially when on radio or MTV songs are truncated by blanks of puritan silence).

There are exceptions, of course. For example, when NWA let the f-word fly in relation to the Boys in Blue, it was a lyrical burst of exploding anger that demanded its abundant use. Likewise, the culminating declaration of defiance in Rage Against The Machine”s “Killing In The Name Of”, with its orgasmic, liberating scream of “Motherfuckuuuuuuur”, would be violated where it to be R-Rated. Crucially, neither song overdoes the swearing for the sake of it. The profanity is integral to the emotion. It shocks because it is richly expressive.

Download Ben Folds” “cover version” (it is so much more than that, really) of Dr Dre”s “Bitches Ain”t Shit” as an example of how swearing in song can devalue the power of profanity. Soon any muthafucka in the “burbs will be swearing like Dre and Snoop and pals. I don”t object to swearing. I swear, and I like to swear. But I prefer swearing to have a bit of shock value, or at least some expressive meaning. Swearing does not belong in the mainstream, which anyhow is like kryptonite to vulgarity (and pretty much everything else). There is nothing subversive about swearing, not any more, thanks to the inarticulate goons lampooned so wonderfully in Ben Folds” “Rockin” The Suburbs” (“You better watch out “coz I”m gonna say fuck”¦”).

So I”m not sure whether to admire the potty-mouthed Dutch radio DJ in the Ben Folds interview linked to below, or whether to object to her methods. Probably the former.
In the late “˜70s/early “˜80s, as a teenager in Germany obsessed with translating English-language songs, I took great delight in the local mainstream station playlisting Frank Zappa”s “Bobby Brown”, possibly oblivious to the repellent picture the singer was painting. It didn”t say “fuck” or “shit” though.

I was surprised to learn that the first instance of a variant of the word “fuck” being committed to mainstream vinyl was on a record not by Zappa, Miles Davis, the Rolling Stones or Johnny Cash ““ but apparently by genteel whispy-voiced folk-rocker Al Stewart, in 1969. It is at this point that we may exclaim: “Fuckin” hell!”

Download
Ben Folds – Interview on 3FM Dutch Radio (6 mins)
Ben Folds – Learn To Live With What You Are (live on 3FM)
Ben Folds – Intro to “Bitches Ain”t Shit” (live on 3FM)
Ben Folds – Bitches Ain”t Shit (live on 3FM)
Rage Against The Machine _ Killing In The Name Of (live)
NWA – Fuck Tha Police
Martha Wainwright – Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole
David Ford – Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck)

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  1. Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop
    May 10th, 2007 at 23:33 | #1

    The first big sweary-shock record I remember was when my sister played me the opening line of Ian Dury’s ‘Plaistow Patricia’. I was 12 or 13. I listened to it again and again and again. It was really the swearsong to end them all, and no profane lyric has come close to thrilling me since.

  2. Liz
    May 30th, 2007 at 17:26 | #2

    Getting lazy…where are the updates?

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