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“Handling Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Authority Song’ and the Possibility of Title as Found Art”

From the dry, arid and almost unlivable climes of Arizona can often come some pretty gorgeous and some especially melodically rich radio rock music. My personal favorite example of this would be the Meat Puppets and their bevy of catchy and texturally sound tracks they’ve lain down over the last 40 years.

Another I believe would be Jimmy Eat World, who call the Phoenix suburb of Mesa their origin. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that “The Middle” pretty much took over my life as an omnipresent anthem, somewhere around 2002, right about when I was finishing up high school, no less. The story of the album Bleed American has some spicy twists and turns, too, with the record company forcing them to nix the name after the 9/11 attacks, the band then allowed to reinstate it on I believe the deluxe edition administered by Geffen, instead of the album’s original home of DreamWorks. 

In general, Bleed American [1] certainly does some things well, one of which would be, surprisingly, edginess. There’s the sonic abrasion rampant right away on the title track, a tune which also unfurls some pretty gritty lyrics on the misanthropic, chemical-drenched reality of what it perhaps means to be “American” at the dawn of the 21st century. Also, any compunction left that lead singer Jim Adkins might be a goody-goody or a cheese-ball should be annihilated by “Get it Faster” and the stern chorus of “I’m holding out / Not getting an answer / I’m finding out / That cheating gets it faster”.

Further along these lines, there’s no question that these guys had a knack for singing about relationships. Still, though, their most prominent, winning tracks like “The Middle”; “A Praise Chorus” and “Sweetness” seem to steer pretty clear of the sort of hackneyed relationship drama we get from some other pop acts (ahem, Fiona Apple) [2]. 

“The Authority Song” is another example of their ability to steer from tired old romance and probe some fresh lyrical themes. Here, the scene is a bar with a juke box where Adkins depicts playing “Authority Song” (sic), the John Mellencamp hit about clashing with the law as a natural outplay of one’s life. 

Earlier I mention an arcane, crusty concept of “found art,” and what this basically means is art that wasn’t originally intended as such but that functions as such by its placement. The entire phenomenon is introduced and explicated beautifully in the movie Ghost World based on the Daniel Clowes graphic novel, with the effect materializing in a “Coon Chicken” flier, which obviously shows the racist fabric of old ad campaigns. The flier depicting the stereotypic black person enjoying fried chicken, along with a racial slur, acts as “art” because it delivers us to a sociological realm that’s now foreign, but is also authentic for its seamless depiction of the social landscape of that time. 

And you can derive inspiration from anything, if it happens. Jimmy Eat World prove that with “The Authority Song” and this whole discourse where this guy’s reality revolves around this song he’s playing on the juke box. The chorus goes “Honesty or mystery / Tell me I’m not scared anymore / I’ve got so secret purpose / I don’t seem obvious do I?” He’s telling us that he wants to play this song on the juke box and he wants to assimilate his identity with it. Nothing exists for him outside of rock and roll music — his entire mind and being are completely subsumed therein, and even though he’s not successfully gallivanting as an outlaw or punk “bad boy” type (maybe he is to other people but not to himself), and he’s looking for a lifeline. The Jimmy Eat World tune “The Authority Song” is a musical conduit rendered by Jim Adkins as a way of bridging the semantic chasm between himself and a sort of mythical outlaw of punk rock, as which I think John Mellencamp is being implicitly depicted. Adkins has no inner discourse with which to bolster this inspiration he’s feeling, this longing and this need to be a musician and to speak the language of rock and roll he craves so desperately. With this being the case, it just wasn’t in him to give his song a title in the true sense, and he simply transcribes the verbal DNA of the source of his inspiration, making the title similar to found art for its ability to carry meaning without even attempting to make a statement of any kind. 

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[1] It goes by this name on my own personal Ministry of Thought that is Spotify, so I feel pretty safe in employing it in the blogosphere. 

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[2] I’m sorry but I can’t stand Fetch the Bolt Cutters or most of the things said about it, the most pompous of all perhaps being that it “contains no pop forms.” This is especially annoying to me seeing as Apple got her start by getting naked and singing a pop song. It’s biting the hand that feeds you, or that feeds your subject, as it were. 

156 thoughts on ““Handling Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Authority Song’ and the Possibility of Title as Found Art”

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