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Poke and Destroy

I have a funny story about this song. Once upon a time in college, I was hanging out with a new friend and her friends on a beach in Santa Cruz. We were walking through a field to get into town and started talking music. She asked me if I had ever heard of The Presidents of the United States of America. I said something like I thought that I’d heard of them but wasn’t sure if I’d heard them. She then told me about this song called “Poke and Destroy.”

“Yeah, it’s really great,” she says. “It basically goes, ‘Poke and destroy! Poke and destroy! I’m a boy, I wanna poke and destroy!”

I thought this was funny enough, but then at that moment, one of her friends (they were all men – and far enough in front of us to have not heard anything) came across a barren tree. Just a lonely tree in the middle of the field. No leaves, just spindly branches. At that moment, he leapt up, grabbed a branch with both hands, snapped it off, and dropped it on the ground before proceeding to walk away as if nothing had happened.

“See???” my friend pointed out. “Poke and destroy!”

I will always think of that moment when I hear this song. Which is hilarious, by the way! I don’t have much music by PUSA (only 5 random songs, actually), but this one will probably always be one of my favorites, and I will almost always sing along to it.

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Rockit

Seeing as how it’s awards season and the Golden Globes just aired the other day, I thought it would be appropriate to share this song and accompanying creepy video – “Rockit” by Gorillaz.

The first thing most people ask me when they hear this song is “Is that the ‘Macarena?!'” No, but it’s a pretty neat sleight of hand (ear?), isn’t it?

“Rockit” was the precursor to Phase Two: Celebrity Takedown, which you can think of as the second phase of the Gorillaz’ career. It was the period that spawned what I think was the greatest album of their career, Demon Days. This single was never released on the album, but rather as part of D-Sides, a collection of B-sides and remixes.

(A little side note: If I speak about the Gorillaz in past tense, it’s because they’re on “indefinite hiatus.” They probably won’t get back together again, at least not in the next several years. But that’s a subject for another day.)

What a great transition to their next album. Gorillaz was fun and, when you look at the band’s career overall, pretty lighthearted. But Demon Days came from the moment they realized that people were listening, so why not say something important and make it sound good at the same time?

“Rockit” was one hell of a preamble. The video features the animated band trekking across a barren wasteland toward a statue of the Mesopotamian demon Pazuzu, while tree branches encroach on them and the cartoonish dismembered heads of various celebrities fall from the trees’ blossoms. Meanwhile 2D (vocals of lead singer Damon Albarn) drones on, almost in monotone at times, about drinking too much and falling victim to the sexiness of the world, with a constant refrain of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah’s.

What does it all mean???

To understand a little better, we have to take a look at what was going on at the time. The song was released in December 2004, about three and a half years after their last album. In that time, the music industry saw the brief rise and fall of the U.K.’s Pop Idol, which was imported by the U.S. as American Idol, where, as we all know, it went on to become a huge hit. After that, the U.K. got The X Factor, marking the successful infiltration of the music industry by reality TV culture, where anyone could become a star.

Around that same time period, the Gorillaz almost made a movie, but quickly abandoned it after becoming disenchanted with the harsh reality of Hollywood.

“Rockit” was a reaction to all of that noise. It was the Gorillaz’ pessimistic commentary on the state of the music industry and pop culture in general. In the video, I can easily spot the dismembered heads of Simon Cowell and Britney Spears, the latter of whom had a whirlwind 2004 (remember when she got married and divorced in 55 hours, then remarried 9 months later)? It’s all so much to bear that 2D can’t even bother singing about what he doing or where he’s going. What does it matter anyway? It’s all the same. Blah blah blah.

It’s a pretty angsty song. The only hopeful verse seems to come from the background refrain of “rock it,” reminding us that not all music is lost. Even in the video, the band wearily pushes on through chattering zombie heads as Pazuzu calls out to them (“rock it, rock it”). It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, we get the message: “REJECT FALSE ICONS.”

The only thing I can’t figure out is what the hell Noodle mouths to the camera toward the end. I read somewhere that you’re not supposed to be able to tell though; it’s supposed to make you wonder. Oh, well.

“Rockit” is a hauntingly beautiful song. Listen to it while watching the video and it’ll haunt you for days.

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