Ghost Dance

It’s a Bomber, It’s a Bomber, It’s a Bomber

"Bomber" is a classic piece of hard rock power-mongering, identifying with the thing it loves and hates: "Scream a thousand miles/Feel the black death rising moan/Firestorm coming closer/Napalm to the bone /Because you know we do it right/A mission every night/It's a bomber/It's a bomber/It's a bomber." But it doesn't vaunt itself the way metal usually does—it's too fast, too crude, too prole. And though the poorly read might get the impression Lemmy thinks napalm is cool because he too attacks every night, they're wrong—the only reason Motörhead fans don't know he's written as many antiwar songs as Bruce Cockburn is that they've never heard of Bruce Cockburn. I prefer Lemmy's because he understands better than Cockburn—whose greatest moment, to his undying credit, expands on the theme "If I Had a Rocket Launcher"—the attractions and uses of violence. The same goes for a lot of loud rock and roll, where what's praised as sexuality is often sublimated aggression. But that didn't make make my song hunt any easier, and casual listening, to escape or find solace or get some fucking work done, was a trial—most records I could hardly bear to play. Everything lacked the proper focus and gravity. Everything seemed too sure of itself.

As the trauma recedes, my ears are coming out of their shell a little. So I suspect it will take more than one unspeakable catastrophe to destroy the aesthetic I've made my calling, and wish I had faith there won't be another. But for all the solace I've derived from other people's nominations—Joy Division, Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, and especially the Ramones' class-proud Too Tough to Die, a favorite of missing firefighter Johnny Heff, known to his fans as punk rocker Johnny Bully—the record I've played like a teenager is one I ransacked for my show that first night. I wanted a victory song, which in rock and roll too often means a plodding march steeped in the European triumphalism that metal takes from the symphonic tradition, and I also wanted a reconciliation song, a rebirth song. These cravings weren't rational; maybe I should have known better. But I felt compelled to locate my copy of Alpha Blondy's formerly nutty "Yitzhak Rabin," and in some crevice of my memory, prised open perhaps by the artiste's Rimbaud-worshippin' penchant for desert mysticism and other Islamic BS, I zeroed in on Patti Smith. And that's how I got to Easter.

Amazon bestseller Nostradamus has nothing on Easter. The booklet says "Till Victory" is about "the destruction of the machine gun by the electric guitar," and I hope that's a prophecy. Meanwhile an anthemic melody, one that like all great Kaye-Kral-Daugherty reclaims European vainglory as Americanese vernacular, channeled my rage into "Take arms, take aim, be without shame" and "God do not seize me please, till victory." After the Springsteen-styled hit that seems so beside the point now, "Ghost Dance," a Plains Indian chant meant to resurrect anyone's forefathers, segues to the minute-and-a-half spoken-word "Babelogue," where I was amazed to hear Smith ranting "In heart I am Moslem; in heart I am-an-am-an American" before launching the fierce and no longer suspect "Rock N Roll Nigger." And only later in the week did I register "25th Floor." An unhinged rocker about fucking in a men's room high above Detroit: "Oh kill me baby/Like a kamikaze/Heading for a spill/Oh but it's all spilt milk to me." It spills into another rant, about shit and gold and alloys and "all must not be art," and also "the transformation of waste," repeated like a mantra. Great song. It's aggression changed back into sexuality, it's "some art we must disintegrate," it's the music I'll take away from the death of the World Trade Center and God knows what else. It's a transformation of waste. It's a dream of life. It's a small thing that will have to do.

Robert Christgau can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. on Voice Radio .

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