clap clap blog: we have moved

Friday, January 30, 2004
One more? Alright, you twisted my arm. But you have to go leave a comment about my song, as Mwanji and Jen so thoughtfully have.

I know I've posted a few times about this particular songwriting technique, but I continue to love it, so let's roll it out one more time. The technique I'm speaking of is turning an empty pop signifier into something real and round and whole, very specific and full of meaning. In the case of the Scissor Sister's "Take Your Momma Out," that particular signifier is "momma."

An uncareful listening--as, indeed, my initial ones were--would tag this as a simple reference to Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down," another gay cock-rock masterpiece, and in that song the word rarely rises above the level of emptiness--yes, the mother is a presence in the song, but only as a rhetorical device for the speaker, not as someone who's actually at issue, and the campiness of the whole affair does tend to make one think that he doesn't actually want his paramour to place her mother in bondage. Aside from that, the music clearly suggest a southern boogie style, and in those sorts of songs the word "momma" seems to crop up a lot, always seeming to mean "girlfriend" or "wife," taking off on the biker vernacular. Take Your Momma Out = take your lover out. Or, following Queen, take your lover out of the picture so I can be with you. No big deal, right?

In many ways, it makes sense that it would be so common throughout rock songs. It's a pretty vague word, and a common one. It sounds great in a rock-singer drawl, in that kind of southern dialect you have to adopt when singing rawk. It's pregnant with vowel sounds, and those two O's give you a lot of room to extend and fillip around. "Hey hey momma..." Yeah, it sounds great to just sort of say over and over again when the guitar player's soloing. It's in that blues tradition, and it works its way into a lot of songs. "Mama Said." "Mama Kin." All that kinda stuff. Mick Jagger makes sense saying it. Bruce Springsteen makes sense saying it. But it doesn't mean anything: it's just sitting there.

But then you listen closer to what Jake Shears is singing--and, er, read this interview--and you realize that it's actually a very concrete thing. "Take Your Mama Out is about telling your parents you're gay." Well, there you go. More broadly, it's about telling your mother that you're gay by taking her out to gay nightclubs. And that, right there, is a great idea. It's a great concept for a song. It's funny, and it's interesting. I've told people that synopsis and they've wanted to listen to the band. It's a joke, but it's a good idea, too.

And then the execution is just great. So many good lines in there: "Gonna take your mama out tonight, gonna show her what it's all about...and if the music ain't good, well it's just too bad, we're gonna sing along no matter what / because the dancers don't mind in New Orleans if you tip 'em and they make the cut / Do it! Take your mama out all night!" "It's a struggle / living like a good boy oughta / in the summer / watching all the girls pass by / When your mama / heard that you'd been talking / tried to tell you / all she want to do is cry / Now we end up taking the long way home / overdressed and wearing buckets of stale cologne / It's so hard to see streets on a country road / when your glasses in the garbage and your Continental's just been towed." Love it. Great lines about being in the closet and coming out, but not whiny or anything, just funny and fun and celebratory.

The music's great, too--the way the acoustic guitar gives way to the boogie-piano and the hard bass, it's very danceable without being, you know, dance music. It's definitely rock music, but it brings it back to dancing like glam-rock and some hair-metal did. You can shake your hips to this: more specifically, you want to pucker your lips and shake your finger no! no! no! And then break down into hysterics.

This, of course, is just one of about 8 great songs on the upcoming album--but that's for another time, isn't it?