Monday, July 15, 2013

PINHEAD-- Leave Home 7

No less than the cinematic sacrament to the outsider underdog aesthetic since its disastrous 1932 release, Tod Browning's FREAKS found itself invoked by unlikely (but, in retrospect, unsurprising) champions after the RAMONES caught a screening during an unexpected day off on tour. The brazen display of malformed sideshow denizens, the pre-code undercurrents of sick humor, the breathtaking climax of merciless retaliation--all held obvious appeal for the group. They hooked upon the microcephalic Schlitzie. (The group was already familiar with the ZIPPY THE PINHEAD comic by Bill Griffith, but the stream of consciousness philosophizing of that figure seemed to influence them little.) Though disabled to the point of unintelligibility, Schlitzie still proves willing to crawl through the mud with a butcher knife to help deliver storm-drenched vengeance. (In a film full of demented visuals and twisted plot devices, this remains the movie's most morbidly unsettling image.) They also zeroed in on the film's centerpiece, the delirious Wedding Feast sequence. This nightmarish interlude is prefaced with a silent era-style intertitle card, as if to brace the viewer for what is to follow. At a post-matrimonial reception the freaks welcome a scheming 'normal' to their ranks, intoning a bizarre chant which slowly builds to a frenzy until they are harshly rejected, triggering the film toward its finale. Almost immediately the band decided to co-opt the 'gooble gobble, we accept her, one of us' incantation for a new song.

Opting to flesh out and expand the pile driving middle section of HAVANA AFFAIR, the group hammered out a new, heavy, maddening concoction. With TOMMY predominantly leaning towards half instead of quarter notes, the odd impression created is that of a track slower than their regular fare but far quicker than their later mid tempo material. Interestingly, the track's key shifts DOWN a step each time a verse is sung, playing a similar (but not identical) chord sequence. This creates a tangible uplifting surge each time the root melody is returned to. (The surprisingly smart touch of stretching out E for an extra measure at the end of each verse before this happens heightens the effect considerably.) The driving pattern which kicks off the middle section (actually, a foreshadowing of the final coda) crashes into one of their most effective uses of tribal drum chants. Next, a quick reiteration of the verse theme (with the lingering E feeling even MORE powerful), they then delve into one more round of verse/chorus on their way to the rousing climax: a relentless loop of the middle eight's opening progression with the FREAKS-derived catchphrase 'GABBA GABBA HEY' chanted on top, a phantasmagoria of bizarre background voices drooling all the way to the end of the fade.

Clearly sensing that they were developing one of their key pieces, the band expended considerable effort to ensure a compelling mix for the track. Hypnotizing vocal chorus fade-ins pepper both 'tribal' sections, and there is huge resonance to the concurrent floor tom strikes. As well, throughout the rest of the song--either by studio effect, or overdubbing woodblocks, or by simply hitting slightly out of unison doubleshots-- the snare displays a fat, clopping sound. The guitars and bass are unprecedentedly dense, the monstrous precision of DEEDEE and JOHNNY's playing authoritatively amplifying the menace.

JOEY also puts his stamp all over the performance. If he isn't singularly responsible for the balance of the lyrics' phrases-- the spelled out 'dumb' accusations, or the couplet bemoaning the unlikelihood of institutional romantic involvement between our pinheaded protagonist and the female hospital staff-- he certainly instills their pathos with convincing familiarity. Studio fattening underlines the appeal of JOEY's singing tone, although, as with the rest of the album, he is still perhaps a smidge too high up in the mix. Other than that, the only possible vocal fault remaining is a error repeated from the previous album. As with BLITZKRIEG BOP's 'heys' and 'hos,' the closing mantra's 'heys' here do not get beefed up anywhere near as much as they could have been (and certainly would be henceforth, in ecstatic live performance after another). No matter, JOEY's surprisingly downtrodden interjections would be rectified by future audiences, and one barely notices their shortcomings in the midst of PINHEAD's final engineering flourish: the aforementioned babbling exclamations which huddle about the song's final minute. Attempting to replicate bedlam ambiance, the group layers on several distorted characterizations- some sped up, some slowed down-- all jabbering amusing non sequitirs: 'Pleased to meet you!', 'so much easier to pick my nose!', and even a future song title- 'I wanna be well!' This all wraps up the proceedings to a suitably hallucinatory, demented conclusion. It also marks the first major dabbling in conceptual sound effects (CHAINSAW's buzzsaw aside), which will continue to be wielded with regularity on their recordings up into the RICHIE era.

Of course in the upcoming years it would be the fans actualizing the crowded mania of the song's conclusion. By taking on the embracing persona of the FREAKS chant, altered only slightly in the unforgettable opening declamations, the band had forged an unexpectedly powerful bond to their outsider, underdog following. We accept you. One of us. Cemented as a concert favorite after the addition of an irresistible gimmick--a stagehand in pinhead garb appearing onstage flying a 'GABBA GABBA HEY' sign for the anthem's final moments-- their new cornerstone classic had codified a joyous collective acceptance of the unpopular, a welcome community for the unaccepted. And as the years wore on and the band fumbled to find their place in the music industry, the sentiment could then be returned to the RAMONES from their fans in an appreciative symbiosis so powerful that its affection would outlast even the life of the band itself.


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