Sunday, February 26, 2012

From the Archives - Getting the Brush


When I was around fifteen, I owned an album by the punk rock band Fear.  I didn’t much like Fear, but I liked to listen to them.  There was more fascination involved than aesthetic pleasure.  (A one-star reviewer of the album recently wrote, “I used to like this band until I had the misfortune of seeing this band live. The whole time I thought the singer was going to croke over and die. That’s the only reason I stayed.”)

Years later, in college, I came across the tape and played it again for old time’s sake.  The only song that still intrigued me was “Getting the Brush” (you can hear thirty seconds of it here).  I wrote a little essay about this song.  Here it is.

(If you read my previous post about rock covers, or even if you didn’t, you may be interested to know that Fear, though a relatively minor band, sparked nineteen covers, including versions from mainstream bands like Guns N’ Roses and Soundgarden.)

Getting The Brush – March 18, 1992

Getting the brush
Getting the brush
Life seems so
Getting the brush
Getting the brush
I call my baby
But she never
Picks up the phone
You know what I mean
She just leaves me there
Standing all alone!
Getting the brush
Getting the brush
You can do anything
But I can’t stand
To be ignored anymore
Getting the brush
Getting the brush
getting the brush  
getting the brush

I have quoted in entirety the lyrics to a song which is (not surprisingly) called “Getting the Brush,” sung by a wonderfully heinous punk rock band called Fear.  The song is actually far more complex than it might appear on paper.  Try as it might, it cannot get beyond the utter despondency of its main theme:  “getting the brush.” 

The song begins with this chorus; then, the opening lyrics seem to promise something more complex, but ultimately cannot deliver.  This “life seems so/futile” inspires the question, “Why?  What is your sad story?” but no explanation of the singer’s dilemma immediately follows.  Instead, he goes back to lamenting his plight:  “getting the brush.”  And then—suddenly—the drum strikes loud, accompanied by a hard pluck on the electric guitar string, and for a fleeting moment we feel the music is on the verge of finally breaking out into its normal head-banging, fast-paced, harsh style. But the drum and guitar have only teased us:  they vanish, and we’re left with nothing but another stagnant “getting the brush.”

Finally, the full lyrical theme is tackled:  “I call my baby/ but she never/ picks up the phone.”  This long-awaited explanation of the pitiful theme is a blatant cliché.  Its very intention of being a cliché is openly announced with a stock phrase:  “You know what I mean?”  Of course we do, we’ve all been dissed before—but that’s not the point here.  The point is the struggle to overcome despondency:  and in another ignis fatuus, the drums and guitar kick up louder and more defiantly than ever as the singer finally raises his voice to yell, “Standing all  alone!”  At last, the headbanger gets out of his seat and the hair stands up on his spine, his heart races, he may even begin to drool in anticipation of the angry and abusive lyrics he has come to expect from Fear (from songs like “I Don’t Care about You” and “Let’s Have a War,” for example). 

Perhaps surprisingly, but in retrospect quite appropriately, the promising crescendo loses all momentum and dries up into lifeless curls of ineffectual sound:  the band simply cannot transform the singer’s sorrow into real anger.  The nightmarish recurring theme is back:  “getting the brush”—twice more.  At this point we realize that the song is clearly nothing more than a repetitive cycle of utter despair.  What more is there to say?  Clearly nobody is listening to this voice:  he is, quite simply, getting the brush.

The singer has given up explaining the circumstances behind his distraught condition.  But before he ends his song, he makes a simple point:  he can’t stand “to be ignored anymore”—and he seems to have a final flicker of anger as he says these words.  But alas, even his band has become too despondent to back him up, and for a brief interval all is silent before a pair of drum beats tries a final time to conjure up some fury.  By now, alas, the singer has lost all drive, and submits completely to his emotional ruin:  “getting the brush/ getting the brush/ getting the brush/ getting the brush”—without any suggestion of rebellious fire.  Finally even the rhythmic, ever‑ steady thud of drum accompaniment dissolves, and the song ends in an echoing of bells in a clock tower.  The singer is trapped in an eternity of despair.

dana albert blog

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