As should be clear from the contents of this blog, I fly my nerd flag proudly. One way in which this nerdiness manifests itself is absurd pleasure in etymology lessons. (For instance, I’ve just discovered the Civil War-era origins of ‘shoddy‘ and ‘sideburn‘ and feel curiously gratified as a result.) This morning, I’ve chanced upon another instance of my nerdiness. Some twenty years after first listening to Skinny Puppy‘s ‘Nature Revenge,’ I’ve finally found the source to that grim track’s memorable sampling of a mysterious, haunting, conversation that goes like this:
Woman’s voice: You’re scared? You really are?
Man’s voice: I’m not scared.
Woman’s voice: Well, what are you?
To me it had always seemed this conversation took place over a telephone, imagining the setting as follows: the man calls his female friend, scared, frightened, looking for help; his friend tries to calm him, perhaps trying to locate him–for I had heard the ‘what are you’ as ‘where are you’ –as the chaos swirls outside. The reason for this interpretation is not hard to find. The song’s lyrics conjure up a bleak vision of man adrift:
Weather turning towards a storm
Broken down road continue on coexistence
Imitating paradise unlike any seen moist
Has been dancing crazy overcast ash grey
I imagined the protagonist wandering through this strange, benighted landscape, lost, scared, looking for succor, calling for help. I remained intrigued; the sample seemed to have been drawn from a movie; which one was it?
Today, thanks to YouTube, some twenty years after first hearing it, I’ve discovered the sample’s source, from the movie Communion, the cinematic rendering of the book by the same name, which tells the story of Whitley Streiber‘s alleged encounter’s with extraterrestrial aliens; the speakers are Lindsay Crouse and Christopher Walken. (Apologies to all and any that have known about this forever.)
The interpretations we force on lyrics often, or almost always, have a great deal to do with our particular obsessions at that point in time. Early in 1992, I was contemplating making a move to dump my boring, seemingly pointless job and to make a return to graduate school. I drove thirty miles to work each way, south on the Garden State Parkway (in New Jersey), against the traffic, on largely empty roads, unenthusiastically heading for yet another rendezvous with interminable meetings, pompous, incompetent managers, and paperwork. The office building I worked in was a perfect instance of the soul-destroying industrial workplace: a large parking lot, a nondescript exterior, windowless offices for the vast majority. In the evenings, as I drove back, I could see further evidence of futility: the backed-up traffic in the southward direction, filled with frustrated commuters, as an empty highway stretched out in front of me. A constant companion for me then, in the CD player in my pick-up truck, was Skinny Puppy’s Too Dark Park. While ‘Rash Reflection,’ and ‘Spasmolytic‘ got plenty of air-time and were quite evocative of the sense of desolation I felt at the time, nothing did it quite as well as ‘Nature’s Revenge’ did.
Later that spring, I drove to Montreal to apply for a multiple-entry visa so that I could take a vacation to India without being worried about reentry to the US. In five years, I had spent three weeks with my family back ‘home;’ I was desperately homesick; I worried about whether I would be denied a visa, whether I would return empty-handed. (I would, thanks to some remarkably idiotic Consular personnel in Montreal.) That night, as I plunged on into the darkness on the New York State Thruway, heading for crash space in Montreal, I was playing Too Dark Park again, and again being mesmerized by ‘Nature’s Revenge,’ held in the grip of it’s relentlessly desolate vision, one that mirrored quite well, or so it seemed, the state of my mind then.