Punk is a funny thing. While it may have once stood for an accepted style, sound or even a fashion sense, punk is, first and foremost, an attitude. It's an "anything goes" mentality; doing what you want and not doing what you're told; and a DIY ethos, to pick up an instrument or a microphone and make it happen.
Punk is built to poke and provoke, to delve into uncomfortable questions and question institutions. Punk rock is the catalytic spark that spurs the engine of change into shuddering life. Punks have a tendency to say whatever's on their mind, and sometimes act without thinking, which creates the stereotype of the loud, obnoxious, liberty-spiked, gobbing, two-fingers-in-the-air anarchist. It's an image that is often rooted in reality.
Why Does Everything Make Me So Upset? from LA's Misty's Fantasies reminds us of everything that is right and great about the punk spirit, and an example of when things go wrong and how it can potentially ruin a rather great record.
Misty's Fantasies is operating from outside society. Singer Lydia speaks the antisocial language of an outcast, comparing herself to a cockroach ("Cockroach") and society to a teeming cesspool ("pools"). Her lyrics are surreal, disturbing, strange... she makes you feel what it is she's saying. They're some hard emotions, not exactly "easy listening" but well constructed, really letting you know what it feels like to be on the margins of LA society.
So while Lydia covers all manner of uncomfortable topics while on the mic, a male vocalist takes over for "Asian Girls Don't Want To Be My Friend," a track that's supposed to be amusing, but isn't, almost wrecking Why Does Everything Make Me So Upset? in the process.
The male vocalist sings, in a warbly, tuneless sarcastic sing-song, about how "Asian girls don't want to be around me" and "Asian girls think I'm a sex offender." I wonder why that might be? Lydia's lyrics, while upsetting, disturbing and strange, are couched in a poetic way that lets the listener relate and empathize with what she's talking about... i.e., art. "Asian girls don't want to talk to me," what are we supposed to do with that? Sounds like a bunch of pointless bellyaching with no rhythm or melody in addition to being almost entirely offensive.
Let me take a moment and pause to say, while I'm passionate about equality for everybody on Earth, I'm not the sort to get really out of sorts when somebody says something out of line or stupid. We all do stupid things, and we all have systemic, institutionalized biases floating around in our brain pains. While not being entirely excusable, it is at least understandable, and I am of the opinion it's better to have a level-headed discussion about such things rather than jumping down someone's throat.
Lydia does occasionally make you feel pity for the rest of the album's 13 tracks. And I do admit there may be a bit of a "sugar and spice/puppy dog tails" dichotomy distorting my hearing, I've listened to this album 5 times. I perk up, and want to hear more when Lydia is speaking.
It's obvious that Misty's Fantasies is coming from the Dead Kennedys school of punk rock, sarcastically smashing everything they hate with irreverence and vitriol. Lord knows people like Jello Biafra, Steve Albini and David Yow have said their share of stupid, mean, senseless things over the years. At times, it's almost enough to make you stop being a fan. But at least it was in the '80s, a lot of the time with a very active macho misogynistic mindset still in place. At this point, there's no excuse. And there's no point.
Don't let this deter you, however - maybe just skip that song. For those that like to experience the uncomfortable side of life, Misty's Fantasies gloriously messy punk metal noise onslaught will suck you into the cesspool like an undertow, to drink in the murk and filth of society. You might block out your windows, afterwards.
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