Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Music Stands for Comfort 4: The Au Pairs

Being a Mongolian Communist look Stylish and Fun

Music Stands for Comfort 4: The Au Pairs
Category: News and Politics

The Au Pairs are a two women/two man band from Birmingham, England, formed in the late 1970's. They played a punky/funky/dubby music with leftist-feminist lyrics. There front woman, Lesley Woods, was an out lesbian.

There are two sides to the Au Pairs: the free-wheeling, sensual and celebratory side that sang about female love and lust with a sort of joy that I haven't heard much of. They do an important thing with this: they make being a lesbian sound like a lot of fun. They make songs about leaving your husband for a woman that have all the sugar and pop rush that anyone could want. It's the freedom we all want from music.

The other side is a paranoid leftist streak that has helped them make some of there best and worst songs. The question in terms of quality is whether they lean more on paranoia or politics: like a lot of people, there anthemic politics end up coming off as silly and simple minded, which is exactly what they were good at avoiding: they were always good at figuring out the complexities of situations.

One of there best songs is called 'Headache for Michelle'. It is a thick slab of gray dub, sounding like how fog feels. The fog specifically is the fog of heroin that surrounds the narrators head. The song is in the form of questions: I need to get out of my head, are you working with the state ? Why are they selling us smack ? What is going on ? It's an intensely oppressive song, where the oppression is everywhere- inside, outside, all over. Which is the truth about oppression: it lives inside much more effectively than it lives outside. Heroin is a metaphor for the oppression we all feel inside, the fog that we all feel enveloping us as we go about our lives. As an argument, the song is powerful.

There worst song is one called Land Of Milk and Honey, which is about the (white) rape of Africa. The song is a plodding mess: they music only underscores the stupidity and simple-mindedness of the lyrics- apparently the band was falling apart from drugs and indifference and you can tell. No way would they have tolerated such dour lyrics that had none of the humour, spite or energy- Africa is a pretty messy place, with a long, ugly and complicated history and to sum it up as evil colonizers, helpless natives is a dis-respectful to everybody.

These preferences though may just reflect my own political prejudices: I think that the freedom to pursue our own pleasures is far more important, and of far realer concern than explaining world history as the predation of one group on another. People aren't stupid: things happened and people made decisions.

My own political evolution has gone from Marxist leftism (I read capital vol. 1 and 2 when I was thirteen) to a pro-capitalist libertarian/liberalism that I currently have. My beef with both current parties is that I think neither goes far enough in terms of making our lives free-er. I am disgusted by the equivocations and bigotries expressed around homosexuality, drugs, prostitution, taxation, crime and religion.

I don't know what appealed to me about communism, except that it was violent and told me that the world sucked, which is pretty appealing when your 13 and writing poetry about world war 1.

Not that I knew anything- anything at all. I wanted to read books by Stalin, by Mao, Che, figuring these people were profound thinkers- instead of homocidal maniacs. I thought Stalin seemed OK- all I knew about him was from a computer game, "Red Alert".

I never did read those books though. Two volumes of Capital, plus 'State and Revolution' was enough. I went back to reading science fiction.

Nonetheless, I remained in love with leftism- it seemed sexy and easy to like, and rebellious and impressive in high school. At least to me- I can't say that idiotic leftism was any good as a strategy for popularity.

My flirtation from leftism morphed into a sort of left-liberalism with time, and then a shift to a sort of rightism that Sam and I went through together (mainly over foriegn issues- we totally thought the Iraq war was a GREAT idea, after we attended one protest and became really disgusted with the people there), and now, as I've worked in business, become serious in rock n roll, and grown up, I've stopped seeing economic 'justice' (whatever that is) as a serious goal: i'm suspicious of it: I want politics who's goals are to increase personal freedom and options, and to maintain a stable society. I want the government to guide the country towards technological advancement and enrichment- not fairness.

The primary difference between liberalism and leftism, I believe is that liberalism wants people to have equality of opportunity, while leftism seeks equality of outcome.

Political ideas need celebrity endorsement as much as anything else: its hard to support something that seems to only have losers and jerks supporting it. Kennedy was great for liberalism because he was wondeful to watch (though he's not good looking by modern standards), Reagan glammed up conservatism, Mumia Abu Jamal the anti-death penalty left, etc. etc. Look at the screaming crowds of teenagers for Hitler- they had no real idea about his politics, they were in love with him.

As spokeswomen and men the Au Pairs make what they do at there best sound really fun. It helps to explain gay rights and feminism in a way that no book could: it makes it sound joyful and natural, that its not about self-denial, but freedom. Politics too often becomes boring and joyless, when it should be about creating a free-er, better world. And they were at there best a lot- there first album 'Playing with a Different Sex' is a masterpiece. The hooks, the energy is all there, married to a musical and lyrical sophistication that makes you want to jump and shudder.

At its best, music can let you see a bigger world, a different world, and that is what the Au Pairs do. Which is why I love them still.

1 comment:

ohnochriso said...

This post rules. I love "Playing with a Different Sex" so much. I think it's really underrated and ignored as far as what people pay attention to from the Au Pairs' catalog. For some reason everyone gives attention/reissue status to "Sense & Sensuality" which I think is a far weaker album, both lyrically and sonically.

Do you have their BBC Sessions CD? It's really awesome and has a couple tracks they only ever did live including "Monogamy" which is brilliant.