Essential track: The Fugs’ ‘Carpe Diem’ -- covered by the Melvins
For its recent album of cover songs, “Everybody Loves Sausages,” Los Angeles rock band the Melvins mined rock history to reveal some unlikely inspirations. The record hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves, especially for those who love surprising versions of familiar songs, scary-sounding men and rock.
Known for its crawling, versatile melding of punk and metal on thick and brutal ‘90s and ‘00s albums such as “Stag,” “Honky,” “Nude With Boots” and the trilogy of “The Maggot,” “The Bootlicker” and “The Crybaby,” the Melvins over nearly three decades have conquered genres like Everest climbers, and illustrate their breadth on “Sausages.”
The band covers Queen (“Best Friend”), David Bowie (“Station to Station”), Roxy Music (“In Every Dream a Heartache,” featuring a menacing vocal turn from Jello Biafra), Australian garage-punk band the Scientists, filmmaker John Waters’ tranny muse Divine (a surprising rendition of “Female Trouble”), proto thrash-metal band Venom, and early industrial group Throbbing Gristle, among others. In addition to Biafra, guests include bassist Trevor Dunn, Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, former Cows and Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis and Mark Arm of Mudhoney.
The track that’s become an obsession for me is the band’s version of “Carpe Diem” by 1960s avant folk band the Fugs, whose early records on ESP-Disc contain some of the dirtiest pre-punk depravity of that decade. Formed by poet-author Ed Sanders (whose book on the Manson murders, “The Family,” is required reading) and artist-poet-activist Tuli Kupferberg, the Fugs are unsung heroes of rock ‘n’ roll, and “Carpe Diem” illustrates why.
A meditation on mortality, the track was originally issued on vinyl in celebration of the band’s New Year’s Eve gig with Redd Kross in downtown L.A. Which makes sense: It’s a vivid snapshot of the passage of time, the inevitability of our own demise.
“Carpe Diem” at first feels optimistic despite its message of doom. “Death is coming! Death is coming! Death is coming in!” sing all four members of the band in harmony, as close to a church choir as the Melvins have ever sounded. “Sing, young girls sing!” they continue, while a slow, gorgeous rock groove moves among them.
But then, for four quick bars, the song turns hard and distorted, and the metal arrives in a burst as King Buzzo yowls: “You can’t out-talk the angel of death!” The happier groove returns as though Buzzo has been quickly banished. “Sing, cuckoo, sing!” replies the chorus, celebrating life and the natural world in one quick line.
Buzzo returns: “You can’t outwalk the angel of death!” he declares, which the chorus again rebuts by citing the song of said cuckoo. The chorus moves along with the jaunty beat, seemingly in control: “Sing, soldiers, sing! Death is coming in!”
Good and evil. Life and death. War and peace. Buzzo’s evil moan returns: “You can’t outlie the angel of the death! You can’t outcry the angel of death!”
It’s a scary song, yes, and not one to play on the way to the playground with your kids or while switching your antidepressant medication. But it’s also bright and happy -- one reason the song’s so insidious. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself grocery shopping only to realize that the simple melodic line running through your head as you search for a ripe cantaloupe is reminding you of your own demise: “Death is coming, death is coming, death is coming in.”
Have a nice day! Listen below.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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