The Freelance Mentalists.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Some Songs ARE the Universe in Microcosm

Jackie Wilson, "Baby Workout," 1957.

This is a song about dancing to this song. It is a song about banishing fear and about the facts of nature. It is about loving someone who hurts you precisely because she hurts you. It is a song about putting your hands on your hips and letting your backbone slip. It is everything that is the case, it is what is to be done, it is the universe in microcosm.

Jackie Wilson is God: "Hey you!" he thunders from his lofty throne, right before thirteen ominous trumpet blasts dissipate the fog. It's a holy and righteous summons, and we respond to it AS IF we believed in Him. But it turns out that ol' Niebuhr was right, the Fall is not to be taken literally, and God partakes in that dialectic, stepping forward to reveal Himself as Man: specifically, Sexualized Man: specifically, Proto-Crunk Direction-Shouter: "Get out here on the floor!"

The insistent rhythm begins, iambic to the exxxtreme, the same rhythm with which one is supposed to stimulate the clitoris. And then, just to segue poorly, it's all about Jackie Wilson's many tongues. He sings in so many voices here that it's the whole Babel Tower Fiasco all over again. Didn't He learn anything the first time? Burning it down, he goes operatic right into gully, low-balling to high-siding, he pleads and commands, he is Detroit-hard like the Golden Gloves boxer he was and then code-switches right into Southern-ish smooth slippery soul stylistics.

It's also fundamentally undecipherable. Or, rather, like most Scripture and Prophecy, this is a text onto which the recipient can project anything. It is a ritualistic dance: the background acolytes count off the steps for us, tell us what to do in what order, chanting like the Justified Ancients, while our leader keens above with his multi-lingualistic onslaught: "Move up! Move back! Shuffle to the left! Wobble to the right!" One expects Lil' Jon to show up with a bottle of champagne; one expects Luda to descend from the angry sky on a chariot of gold; one expects so many things.

But this is also a story of thwarted romance, which means we're talking about some other God than old Judeo Christus. She's abusive in some way to our poor heathen god, and it's made him doubt himself just for a second: "It's plain to see you put a hurtin' on me," what is this some kind of voudou some john the conqueroot laid on my man, our hearts go out to him, because we've all been there, that time when Monique told Stacy to tell us it was over, which was fine because that's the way the game is played in junior high, c'est la guerre, still though doesn't mean we all haven't turned our heads away and listened to the sound of a million billion stars...but then! triumph! in the very next line!: "But it's a natural fact / That I like it like that!" As do we all! "So work out!"

And it is a story about how the band is playing, the Band Is Always Swinging, time marches like apocalyptic horsemen, no reverse in the time continuum, the time is NOW: "Baby, round and round we go / Don't you know? Don't you know? / Round and round we go / Where we stop nobody knows." Truth, delivered in however manner, is truth. And with those jericho horns set on maximum blastosphere and the entire Metropolis-colored populace chanting "Work, baby, work work," it's a paean to our lives, our beautiful tedious cozy 9-to-5 button-pushing lives, the horror and comfort of which can only be escaped through dancing, working out, working it all out to the demands of our nine-tongued God.
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