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Friday, September 24, 2010

Eight Great Moments In Musical Punctuation History

Posted By on Fri, Sep 24, 2010 at 2:22 PM

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September 24 is National Punctuation Day, at least according to a guy with a cape in Northern California. (He's still probably cooler than Lynne Truss.) Today is the day that we brittle purists may with impunity box the ears of apostrophe abusers, comma splicers, perpetrators of plenkens and mishy-phens, and people who don't know what a pilcrow is. Also, anyone who drives a Cooper Mini.

In honor of the manifold ways proper punctuation enriches and elucidates our lives, let's take a look back at some of popular music's most memorable homages and profanations. Then let's enjoy a nice cold It's-It.

1. 1970: James Brown: "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine"

Mercifully, the song is referred to most of the time as "Sex Machine" tout court, but the full title contains an aside even more asyntactic than most of the godfather of soul's on-stage mutterings. Plenty of songs have parentheticals before or after the bulk of the title -- from Luna's "California (All the Way)" and The Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" to R.E.M.'s "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" and Turing Machine's "(Got My) Rock Pants On" -- but before and after?

2. 2001: !!!: !!!
Hapless record store clerks everywhere are forced to overhaul their filing systems after the ascendancy of this Sacramento dance-punk outfit, whose name is pronounced "chk-chk-chk," "bang bang bang," "pow pow pow," or really any other sound repeated thrice. Although it's probably best to stick with monosyllables, lest we have to ask the aforementioned record store clerks whether they have the new "indefatigable indefatigable indefatigable" LP in stock.

3. 2001: Liars: "Mr Your On Fire Mr"

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Liars just can't bring themselves to respect the distinction between the homophones "your" and "you're," or even to put the requisite (at least in American English) periods after "Mr." Are they wrong? Yes. Do they know what they're doing? Almost certainly. A chilling portrait of nihilism and ambivalence in the wake of national tragedy.

4. 2002: Godspeed You! Black Emperor moves the exclamation point
For the release of their final album, Yanqui U.X.O., the former Godspeed You Black Emperor! rechristen themselves Godspeed You! Black Emperor, paving the way for later adventurous exclamation-point placements from the likes of The Go! Team, Panic! at the Disco, Die! Die! Die!, and 3OH!3.

Imagine this conversation being had by nine shadowy Canadian conspiracy theorists:

5. 2002: Sigur Rós: ( )
On their third record, casually referred to as svigaplatan, or "the bracket album," the Victory Roses pose such questions as: what is there outside of the parentheses? What does it mean to live inside a framework of our own choosing? What lies beyond that which we are capable of apperceiving? We're assuming it poses those questions, because there are only eleven syllables in total on the album, all of them in a made-up language called Hopelandic. It could just be that they too feel like being sex machines. Cooing, murmuring Icelandic sex machines.

6. 2005: Why?: Elephant Eyelash

Yoni Wolf, one of the two founding MCs of Oakland's capitalization-flouting art-hop trio cLOUDDEAD, finds his own voice on this magnificent album, and the rest of the world begins to wonder how to put his stage name in the middle of a sentence.

7. 2008: Loney, Dear drops the comma
The sudden absence of the comma on Emil Svanängen's sixth album, Dear John, is like a man who shaves his mustache one day after wearing it for twenty years (which is, by the by, the premise of a French movie from 2005), and everyone's like, "yeah, what was the deal with that mustache anyway?"

8. 2008: Vampire Weekend: "Oxford Comma"

Vampire Weekend don't take a stance on the punctuation issue (i.e., "red, white, and blue" or "red, white and blue"?), merely using it to convey an image of preening erudition, but the song's namesake will enjoy a few months of cause celèbrehood. To wit, Punctuation Man will decide to buck the Associated Press and its anti-serial comma legislation about a month after this song comes out. That's who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma. 

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Daniel Levin Becker


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