Quirk Your Enthusiasm (13)
August 13, 2016
One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite New Wave songs from c. 1977–1982. Josh Glenn’s series introduction is here, and you can listen to the QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist here. Enjoy!
“88 LINES ABOUT 44 WOMEN” | THE NAILS | 1981–1982
Against the sonic percolation of a Casio keyboard, Marc Campbell reels off a list of women — medusas and muses who stopped the singer in his tracks, stole his heart and forever seared into his memory. With the ecstatic, runaway litany of a Beat poet, he describes a bevy of beauties along with their spiritual, dietary, narcotic and artistic proclivities. When he characterizes Jean-Marie as “like some French filmmaker’s plot,” the singer summons the femmes of cinematic New Waver Jean-Luc Godard. In fact, the title of Godard’s 1967 film Two or Three Things I Know About Her provides a précis of Campbell’s lyrical gambit. Praising a particular paramour for avoiding drugs (“She didn’t do that shit at all”), he adds an aside hinting at a larger story: “Not Catherine. Nuh uh.”
If that last bit seems slightly askew, the original version of the song may have eluded you. Before “88 Lines” became the Boulder, Colorado band’s jaunty signature single in 1985, the song that first appeared on a 1981 EP was broodier and less radio-friendly, with a background drone that’s almost Tuvan. The popular RCA version gussied up the lo-fi amorous inventory with pop production.
One of the great list songs, “88 Lines” has a place in the pantheon between Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” and A House’s “Endless Art.” For all the women he namechecks, Campbell’s lyrics are as much about the nostalgia of being in love as about the lovers themselves. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer marries Joe Brainard’s I Remember. Amidst the trysts and traumas, the singer comes away with lessons about sex, love, and the writing of lists that become love songs. He finds inspiration in Ronnie: “She wrote songs just like this.” As Don DeLillo writes in Ratner’s Star, “Every semirecluse has his amaranthine woman.” In “88 Lines” the singer concludes with a salute to an everlasting object of desire named none other than Amaranta: “Here’s a kiss/I chose you to end this list.”
QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Mark Kingwell on Soft Cell’s TAINTED LOVE | Joanne McNeil on Gary Numan’s METAL | Devin McKinney on Suicide’s FRANKIE TEARDROP | Douglas Wolk on Family Fodder’s SAVOIR FAIRE | Elina Shatkin on Marianne Faithfull’s BROKEN ENGLISH | Steph Burt on Altered Images’ HAPPY BIRTHDAY | Greg Rowland on Jilted John’s JILTED JOHN | Gordon Dahlquist on XTC’s RESPECTABLE STREET | Adrienne Crew on D-Day’s TOO YOUNG TO DATE | Jonathan Lethem on The Blue Nile’s I LOVE THIS LIFE | Josh Glenn on Tim Curry’s I DO THE ROCK | Molly Wright Steenson on Missing Persons’ WORDS | Anthony Miller on The Nails’ 88 LINES ABOUT 44 WOMEN | Luc Sante on The Normal’s WARM LEATHERETTE | Mimi Lipson on Dolly Mixture’s HOW COME YOU’RE SUCH A HIT WITH THE BOYS, JANE? | Tim Carmody on Talking Heads’ LIFE DURING WARTIME | Ingrid Schorr on Ian Dury’s CLEVOR TREVER | Adam McGovern on Lene Lovich’s LUCKY NUMBER | Deb Chachra on Rough Trade’s HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL | Tor Aarestad on Oingo Boingo’s LITTLE GIRLS | David Smay on The B-52’s’ DANCE THIS MESS AROUND | Jessamyn West on Blondie’s HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE | Drew Daniel on The Human League’s MARIANNE | Erik Davis on Tuxedomoon’s TIME TO LOSE | Dan Fox on Thomas Dolby’s EUROPA & THE PIRATE TWINS.
#SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.