- Jeffrey Alan Bright
satisfaction, I can't get no
Rock-and-roll music, what is it? From what urge does it emerge? From where did it come? By now, nearly three-quarters of a century past its initial markings, scholarly dissertations have piled upon themselves ad nauseum. Critics have explained. Documentary films have been made and remade. We’ve been told and told again. The market forces of obsessive consumer capitalism and even the earnest yearnings of socialism have made sure we know it and know it well. So, what’s the harm in one more feeble postulation? Rock-and-roll is a jarring sound. A piercing, clanging bell signifying the start of a race to find a course — typically defined by someone other than yourself — for your best life before the last grain of sand leaves the top of your fate-allotted hourglass — before gravity sucks you and your last breath back into the earth’s loamy stew. That’s all it is, really. All of that and nothing more. At no time do you feel this anxious thrumming in your being more than in your teenage and early adult years. With the attractions and temptations of modern life, coupled with all its tedious and overbearing constrictions, at the onset of our individuality, we get this loud shouting against the game, as it were. We kick back against the pricks. And each new generation has the previous generation of pricks to kick. Because we are all relentlessly sold on a quotidian model of satisfaction — to such an annoying degree that we’d just as soon poke out our own eyes as succumb; no life is complete without it, we are told — we are all so dissatisfied, perpetually. And rock-and-roll is the voice of this restless tide of dissatisfaction. Those of us weaned on rock-and-roll may never lose our association with dissatisfaction. A soundtrack of stubborn rebellion plays permanently in our brains. Our psyches are molded to resist. Be assured, we will always kick back with as much style, aplomb and outright swashbuckling swagger as we can rouse until we can rouse no more. The first single and ersatz title track (by way of the song’s first lyric) from MaLT’s forthcoming Instant Karma Cannot Get Me LP, “Show Me Pearl” showcases the band’s directional arc after the 1992 Citizen Self EP: heavier in theme and sound than their 1991 material; shaded with trippy, mid-tempo syncopation; experimenting with guitar samples and thicker soundscapes; playing on dark humor to make sly socio-political statements. Significantly, the song’s point is the sharpest, least oblique, least surrealism-shrouded point on the LP. Arguably, “Show Me a Pearl” is the Torch’s most distilled anthem of dissatisfaction, the most rock-and-roll of their rock. To get there, they borrowed shamelessly from the pinnacles of pop music dissatisfaction. Singer Bright launches the song with an inversion of the opening line of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma (We Shine On),” then further cranks the ratchet. His second verse quotes directly from The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” dispensing with disguise altogether. Plagiarizing Jagger and defacing Lennon’s iconic line might be dismissed as lazy songwriting. More aptly it could be seen as implying, sarcastically: Here we are again, a generation after those monumental statements, still bearing the same burdens and social ills. After all the clamor and tumult of the 1960’s, we still can’t get no satisfaction. AND we can’t get no satisfaction in our sacred expressions of dissatisfaction! This is a double bummer of the tallest order. But, hey Jude, don’t miss the joke, OK? Make no mistake, Myself a Living Torch was an art band, or maybe a literature band, with references to (particularly French) novelists sprinkled among their output. As such, they could be accused of being overly concerned about the art of their potency — a practically unpardonable sin in rock-and-roll. But here, in this one concentrated instance, MaLT seems to be as much concerned about the potency of their art, and as much focused on the sharpness of their message. What’s more, as if to spite the cultural gravity, they were not too high-toned to jump in on the long-running, never-to-be-settled Stones vs. Beatles debate. (For the record, guitarist/arranger was a Beatlehead, singer/lyricist in the Stones camp.) “Show Me a Pearl” is as much a song about dissatisfaction as it is a song about songs about dissatisfaction — and, as much as anything, how those thoughts and songs will likely continue to shape (and haunt) Western civilization and Western thought until the hourglass must again be flipped. “I want the cleansing rain / I wanna feel it fall / Bring me the Hindu truth / I wanna know it all / I'd be less cynical with a million in the bank / I'd be less cynical if I knew how.”
The single “Show Me a Pearl” drops on Friday, May 28. The full Instant Karma Cannot Get Me LP drops a week later on Friday, June 4, 2021.