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how do i love and insult thee?
let me sing it in a couple different ways...
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

So, this is February. A surprisingly warm February. I say "surprisingly" because I mentioned global climate change in my last column and don't want to sound like a broken record. Broken record. Broken record. Broken record. (No, I can't imitate the sound of a broken CD.)

February, for those of us old enough to remember last year, is usually fraught with much more peril - snow, wind, sleet, sub-zero temperatures. In addition, there are so many pitfalls awaiting us, in the form of holidays, holidays, and more holidays. We stress over whether Phil will see his shadow (and in New York, why he and Chuck disagreed so vehemently). We fondly remember the days when Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday were two separate days off, and not this hybrid "Presidents Day" that's just too confusing - people walking around in a daze wondering how to celebrate James K. Polk. And, given this week's big holiday, I know we all go a little crazy.

I don't know why Tu B'Shevat does that to people.

Oh, you thought I meant the other big holiday this week. I guess that makes sense, especially if you've just spent the equivalent of your entire food budget for the month on something called a Journey Pendant (a stone in love?) or find yourself begging the woman at FTD that you know it's 8 p.m. on the 13th but you really prefer your testicles attached and if there's any way she could get that bouquet to arrive by 9 a.m., you'd gladly serve as her butler for a year.

I'm not actually saying that I dislike Valentine's Day (or, in my father's parlance, V.D.). Sure, I dislike being single on the day, but that's another column for another time. I appreciate any holiday that commands people to show how much they love each other. Especially if they're really hostile the rest of the time. You can be the biggest piece of trash, that absolute ass who actually addresses his girlfriend as "woman" (as in "Woman, put down that plunger and get me and my buddy Snake here another brew."), yet come Valentine's Day, God help you if you haven't at least bought her a new box of Swiffer Wet Jet pads and a six-pack.

I'm pretty sure that last paragraph was offensive; I'm just not sure to whom exactly.

Anyway, my point is that there are certain times when it just behooves a guy to be on his best behavior - Valentine's Day and her mother's funeral come to mind - and when it doesn't happen, he'd best be wearing a helmet and a cup. But that all makes sense to me. What I don't get - and it's come up in conversation with a few friends recently - is supposed love songs in which the singer is, shall we say, less than complimentary in his description of his significant other - and not in an attempt to break up (see "Different Drum" by the Stone Ponies for a good example of a lyrical breakup - penned by Michael Nesmith, actually).

I mean, sure it's art, there's poetic license, sometimes you wake up in the morning after a bender and you've written your next big hit, but in general, I still can't stop myself from asking, "Why is this fictional woman in question dating this unbelievable bastard?"

For example, the song "Rebel Rebel" by David Bowie. Among the gems in this apparent love song are the following: "They put you down, they say I'm wrong/You tacky thing, you put them on," and "Rebel rebel, you've torn your dress/Rebel rebel, your face is a mess." No, really. I know women are supposed to like poets and love rock stars and all, but try calling your girlfriend a "tacky thing" and see how far that gets you. I'm sure your wife has been waiting all her life to hear "your face is a mess." I mean, sure, the last line of the chorus is "I love you so," but - oh, wait. Sorry. It's "Hot tramp, I love you so." I do hope Mr. Bowie was smart enough never to tell the object of his affection, "Sweetheart, I've written a song about you."

Hot tramp. "At least he said hot." Ummm...no.

Another one I was discussing recently with one of the bands I'm in was actually suggested by my boss, which makes sense, since it was written by the Boss (though according to the Rolling Stone style guide, he hates being called that) - from a song ostensibly about convincing a girl to leave a "town full of losers" with him: "Thunder Road." The line in question, of course, is "Show a little faith, there's magic in the night/You ain't a beauty, but, eh, you're alright." I'm sorry, what? Just the two words every woman wants to hear before she climbs on the back of that motorcycle and leaves her life behind forever. "I'm 'alright'? Well, sign me up, Mr. Springsteen."

Oh, and then he finishes with, "And that's alright with me." Yeah. I'm sure 12-year-old Mary used to stay up at night, wishing to herself, "Someday, I'll find a man who thinks I'm acceptable."

What else? Oh, a more modern "I hate you, be with me" moment - this one was actually suggested by a friend (I'm saying this largely because Nickleback lyrics don't normally come to me unbidden, or otherwise): "You're like my favorite damn disease." Well, no wonder she does so much cocaine. No, seriously, for anyone not familiar with this song (which, I'm guessing, includes much of my readership), it's basically about a guy who both loves and hates a subservient coke whore (and I use that term not in the pejorative). It's called "Figured You Out." And, based on the lyrics, there wasn't much to figure out. "And I love your lack of self respect/While you're passed out on the deck." Sounds like he got it in one guess.

Honestly, I think I've made my point with that one, but really, it just gets so much worse. It's clever in a "I hope my sister doesn't turn out like that" sort of way. But at least he loves the way she can't say "No." Honestly, that's in there.

Now don't get me wrong; there have been plenty of insulting songs over the years, but mostly having to do with, as I said above, breaking up with the object in question. And I was going to include Van Halen's line "You're semi-good looking," except that song is actually called "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," so not really fitting into the Valentine's Day theme I'm pretending to have going here. What the songs I'm talking about all have in common is that they're theoretically about an object of affection, and yet, apparently not so much. In some cases, they're just backhanded compliments. But in one - my favorite one - they're just not very nice, in a weirdly poetic way: T Rex's "Bang a Gong." This one's so riddled with "did he just say that to her" moments that it needs a list:
1) Well you're dirty and sweet
2) Well you're slim and you're weak
3) You've got the teeth of a hydra upon you
4) You're built like a car

That bears repeating: "You're. built. like. a car."

And those are just the ones that are obvious. It's entirely possible that "You're an untamed youth/that's the truth with your cloak full of eagles" is an insult (same with "you've got a hubcap diamond star halo"); I'm just not entirely sure. Anyone? Bueler?

Those of you not familiar with the lyrics to the song may be thinking right now that I've missed the point. "How can a song in which he tells a girl she's the teeth of a hydra be a love song?" Here's how - the refrain is "You're dirty, sweet, and you're my girl." He even says he loves her on a number of occasions. Of course that's followed up with a plea for sex, but still. I shudder to think of the women Marc Bolan was with who responded positively to being told, "you're slim and you're weak." Actually, I shudder to think of a woman slim and weak and built like a car.

So anyway, there's my short list. You may have others. If so - and I cannot stress this enough - keep them to yourself this coming February 14th. Because even the lyrics to "My Funny Valentine" aren't that funny when you realize they actually mean, "You're ugly, fat, and stupid."

But, eh. You're alright.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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adam kraemer
2.13.12 @ 2:00p

Please note that "surprisingly warm" does not describe yesterday. I wrote this last week.

dr. jay gross
2.13.12 @ 3:11p

I kind of see your unhappiness with 'just another love song', but give the timid amongst us a day that allows them to express their inner emoticon. I would like to have a day that is just the opposite of V.D. Can anyone think of or invent one? The entire depressing part of this celebration is the knowledge that the money hogs refuse to share the bounty, for instance; Hallmark, Dairy Queen, soda and booze companies, and of course the illustrators and hack writers that put lover's heads on a platter and serve it up as another 'John' request from a very spoiled lady.

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