Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"Flagpole Sitta" -- Harvey Danger (Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?)

A short programming note: for those of of you figuratively champing at the bit for the release of Control Of Electromagnetic Radiation (the brand new E.P. from The Calculus Affair! Woo!), there will be a brief delay for some editorial work before I release it to the world (Also, I didn't want to step on today's release of U2's No Line On The Horizon). It's not that it turned out badly--I can't really tell at the moment because I'm incredibly sick of it, but I think it turned out pretty well. But I also think it could be better. So, yeah.

How to become an overnight rock sensation: step one, cut a hole in a box. No, step one, form an über-crunch power-pop band. Step two, write songs that set a twee-intellectual sensibility against hyper-fuzzed up guitar and bass instrumentation. Step three, have one of those songs be incredibly catchy (okay, and what's up with the actual video being pulled from YouTube? Must we go through this again?). Step four, have a DJ on the local alternative radio station start playing your song. Step five, MTV.

"Flagpole Sitta" seems to be one of those occasions where the world somehow shifted and a perfect Harvey Danger-sized hole opened up in popular culture, and Harvey Danger was there to fill it. There's a lot to say about why that hole didn't stay open, but maybe it's as simple as: their second single flopped, they recorded a follow-up album that was (and remains) frickin' awesome, but record-label machinations and the cluster-fuck that is the music business insured that it was a failure before it was released. That's all probably outside the purview of this blog, though.

There are a bunch of things this song does well. It rocks like punk, it has a bubble-gum pop chorus, but the lyrics are "I'm not sick but I'm not well/And I'm so hot/'cuz I'm in hell." That's it. It's simple and the 2/4 march beat gives it a lively bounce. And then it's just cool. Cool like you can't even quite define how cool it is. Cool like it's smarter than you and it's mocking you a little bit but you don't realize it. It's sort of like the Kicking and Screaming of pop songs.

It's this last attribute--it has distilled what I've referred to above as Harvey Danger's twee-intellectualism to it's purest form, where it just kind of nibbles at you ("I wanna publish 'zines/and rage against machines" is about as spelled-out as it gets)--that might be what put it over the top. Compare it to the single from King James Version, Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Some days, today for instance, Sad Sweetheart is my favorite H.D. song of all time (I mean, the video stars Ione Skye. COME on). On the other hand, maybe it's just too smart for its audience. And it's not that "Flagpole Sitta" wasn't also, it's just that it was clever enough to sneak it by them.

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