music written about silver age characters

this post is hopefully going to get larger in the future as additional songs are identified

’96 tears’ by ? and the mysterios sounds like the obvious place to start as the band was named after two steve ditko characters (the question published by charlton + mysterio out of spiderman), however the song is about a revenge sex attack instead of a comic strip and as such is beyond the scope of this article [see addendum 1 below for a note about this sentence]

although virtually nobody has actually heard of the razorcuts they wrote a large amount of comic related material (eg one of their songs is called ‘snowbirds don’t fly’ after the neal adams green lantern strip about drug use, another is ‘a contract with god’ after the will eisner novel) including the .wav on the link below

eight times around the world

webster/vass, flying nun UK 1987

record f + b cover

for the non comic readers (soulless tragic automata blundering about in the dark) in their audience this track functions as a straight lament to a lost love.  on closer inspection of the record cover there is a note stating that it has been dedicated to barry allen (that’s the silver age flash, marvelites) hence it is also intended to be interpreted as being about the experience of an adult re reading a comic he read in his youth

dedication large

understanding this, a cynical person might describe the song as being a bit extreme in its expression of the singer’s feelings (bursting into tears is a very unusual reaction to reading a comic).  however, because it is open to both of the above interpretations he a) just about gets away with the excessive sentimentality + b) (significantly) allows transference of that sentimentality from one of the subjects about which he is singing to the other

to elaborate on that last point:

in a similar way to ‘golden brown’ by the stranglers describing recreational drugs in terms of a girl (hence being about both at once) eight times around the world describes the feeling of loss of the singer’s youthful ability to become engrossed in comics in terms of a romantic love affair which ended a long time in the past

this works because specifically what the pages referred to in the lyrics are part of is not made explicit – in the context of a love song these are certain to be some sort of memorabilia (love letters, photographic material, diary entries) by reading which the singer is still just about able to recall his romantic feelings.  in the context of a comic book its pages allow him a fleeting glimpse of his youth

as the distinction between the seperate subjects of the song is blurred the transference of the feelings related to those subjects may occur

the issue of the difference between adult + child comic readers has already been touched on elsewhere on this site

an adult perspective on something experienced in the past is usually different to having the same experience as a child.  ‘eight times around the world’ concerns an adult who is still (just) in touch with his childhood reading of a specific flash strip: it is not (yet) the wholly ironic reading described in my first post (22 oct 12)

the song is an attempt to capture that moment of escape from the contamination of present day stress, education, weight of experience, etc, during which the time distance disappears for a while + the singer becomes involved in the world of the text in the same way he was as a child.  as this happens increasingly rarely he expresses a feeling of sadness at it slipping out of view

flash 133

flash 133 (c) DC 1962 [the best silver age DC cover not to feature a gorilla]

most of the rest of the razorcuts’s stuff consists of the same defiantly limp wristed guy putting his heart on his sleeve: it’s only on their first few singles (from whence this track is taken) where the band are still setting out their agenda + pushing the parameters of how far they can go with this attitude that it gets excessive

the second and miles greater example is ‘annie fanny’ by the kingsmen

this is based on two things: 1) a pornographic comic strip by harvey kurtzman which ran in playboy + 2) an existing novelty record called ‘alley oop’, itself based on a comic strip (starring alley oop).  the version the kingsmen are drawing from is by the hollywood argyles, although if you have ever heard this song it was probably by vivian stanshall

to recap: the sources are alley oop (music) + the little annie fanny strip in playboy (words)

as I know very little about the comic strip + this is not a difficult song to understand I’ll refrain from writing anything else here + allow it to speak for itself on the link below

annie fanny

lynn easton, wand 1965

also note that the kingsmen wrote a song called ‘little sally tease’ which may have been suggested by the comic strip little sammy sneeze.  although this might just be a coincidence, the concept (an adult version of a childrens’ comic strip character) is congruent with both that of the song of annie fanny (the way in which the kingsmen deformed alley oop) + the comic strip (the way in which harvey kurtzman deformed little orphan annie)

PS one last thing I know about music: in case anyone remembers julian cope, his old band the teardrop explodes gets its name from a frame in daredevil 77


addendum nov 2015

a few points concerning this article have been made in conversation at various venues over the last few months

1    ’96 tears’ was a difficult song to find in the 1980s – working from memory of a 1/4 inch tape analog cassette version with the band name written down incorrectly produced the mispelling in the article above (mysterios for mysterians)

a minor search on the internet unmasked this fact as a 25 year old typographical error + also that the song predates the question by ditko by a year

rather than redraft the statement at the start of the article this is a good opportunity to write a

note to youth: popular culture used to be ephemeral + in the days before wikipedia it was remembered by people a few years older + passed on by word of mouth.  it does not occur to anyone who was alive in the 80s to check online if their teenage years are as they remember them

2    the fall refer to dc comic book characters from time to time, conjuring images of their silver age versions (although that probably depends on the listener).  titles include

‘How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man” – he’s actually saying plastic man

‘Joker Hysterical Face’

       ‘She had a Joker Hysterical Face …
       When he came home, the hi-fi was playing
       She threw his dinner down on the table …
       When he’d finished eating, the hi-fi cried
       Your face! Your face! Your face! [etc]’

which gives us an extreme comic book expression on a suburban housewife

‘Shoulder Pads’ – mentions a ‘superhero in harlequin kecks’ – a non specific one which sounds something like the trickster out of the flash.  marvel characters wouldn’t be seen dead in two tone trousers or whatever it is a harlequin wears

‘Riddler!’ – may not have anything to do with the riddler – ’round my way the people still say riddler’ refers to what children used to say when MES was a boy + the fact that they’re still saying it.  although obviously the children may originally have been talking about the riddler

‘Two-Face!’ – surely refers to the dc character, mentioning one side of his face being different in the text.  the song contains a repeated image of his face shifting into two dimensions.  there is an early 70s flash cover (203) – half grey tone + half line drawing – with barry pulling iris out of a different dimension on it.  the image in this song may be a sound version of that, or something even more difficult to represent visually

lastly there is a line about mark e smith’s deceased father appearing against the sky like hawkman or lex luthor in

‘dissolute singer’ on The Post Nearly Man by Mark E. Smith

       ‘Well bloody nora says my dead dad
       Grandad says too much weight on you anyroad
       You and your father
       Their respected faces appear gigantic left and right above the city
       Like hawkman or lex luthor
       In an embarrassment they see dissolute singer taping, tapping away at the vast stamina bank
       Built up digging endless trenches lugging iron baths
       Sweet sweat pain on lead water tank
       Dissolute singer as you live for an s on 17 <cut>

       <sung>and embarrassed they see dissolute singer’

which conjures up a glorious image of family members superimposed on the manchester skyline, composed like a US comic book cover.  armchair psychologists note MES mentions both a hero + a villain for his dad

text quoted above is drawn from

which appear to be close enough to what MES is actually saying.  note anyone publishing fall lyrics online is in fact transcribing what they think they have heard being sung.  the words on

differ substantially in some instances.  half the fun of the fall is suddenly getting a load of unintelligible text when it was starting to make sense.  if anyone unfamiliar with the band feels they need to know eg precisely what they are supposed to understand by a bazdad state-cog analyst in order to listen to guest informant – follow Mark E. Smith’s advice + have a bleeding guess

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