Monday, July 26, 2010

Primus sucks!

Last year, one of my freshmen wrote in his journal about how one of his favorite bands was Primus. I wrote in the margin: "Primus sucks!" Now, you might be thinking: "Hey, Lance, just let the kid like what he likes. Why do you have to editorialize and judge people who don't like what you like?"

Well, if that's what you're saying, then you're not a Primus fan. I was worried that he might not get the reference, actually. After all, I'm a fan of Primus, and I saw them play New Year's Eve for three years in a row starting in 1992. This kid wasn't even born then! Luckily for me, he got the reference, and I think that he was pleased that he had a teacher who was a fellow fan.

The thing is, just like my chili beer, Primus isn't for everybody. If you're sitting there, scratching your head, wondering why fans of a band would chant that the band sucks at their concert, then you're definitely not the type who'd be a fan. If you think it's weird to sing about fishermen, race car drivers, and an inbred hick who bashes in some guy with a baseball bat, then Primus definitely isn't for you either. If all you want to hear are bands that sound a lot like other bands, and sing about the same kinds of things as other bands, then Primus isn't gonna be your bag.

'Cause the thing is with Primus, there just ain't two bands like 'em.

So just who would like Primus then? Well, the first song on their first studio album is a song called "To Defy the Laws of Tradition." (Sadly, I can't find a decent version of it on Youtube to include on this.) Essentially the song is about just that - doing things differently from what we're used to. And whether you like Primus or not, you have to admit that they have always done things their own way. In other words, anybody with any sort of nonconformist bent to them just might like them.

Of course, being different isn't enough to make a band great. They're also great musicians. Sure, they do some wacky stuff. First of all, you don't have a lot of bands where the bass creates the primary melody. Not only that, but what Les Claypool plays can be best described as ridiculously complex. Now, complex doesn't equal good, but he manages to create sounds that are simultaneously convoluted and catchy.

And how about Larry LaLonde's guitar? Honestly, I sometimes think that's my favorite part. He manages to find that right balance between following the melody and being completely chaotic at the same time. It sounds like a buzzsaw that just got loose and developed a mind of its own. Of course, you need to have one amazing drummer with Tim Alexander (later the equally capable Brian Mantia) to hold it all together and not get lost in the shuffle.

As for their lyrics? Well, they're silly. But they're deliberately silly. I've mentioned before that I prefer a deliberately silly lyric to something that's bloated and pretentious. I also prefer it to generic, insipid love songs that completely devalue such a powerful emotion. Why not sing a song about how sometimes the only thing that can satisfy your hunger pangs is a nice slab of beef?

I'm more than aware that there are plenty of people who say "Primus sucks!" but they don't mean it in the same spirit that fans like I do. I'll even admit that I'm somewhat surprised that when I listen to their music after all this time, I still like it. (What about Claypool's solo stuff and side projects? I find that to be rather hit-and-miss.) What pleases me even more is that they have some real staying power, and I have students and former students posting on Facebook about how they're planning to see them live. Obviously, there must be some lasting appeal to loud, crazy, catchy, chaotic, nonconformist music.

I just read that Les Claypool is forming a new incarnation of the band. Here's hoping they continue to suck! And let's get some Rock Band downloads already!

1 comment:

Nolan said...

How you could get through this whole entry and not mention their biggest contribution to American -hell, world- culture, I don't know. South Park theme song ftw.