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Monday, February 06, 2006

Kissing An Arab and An Existential Contest

Author’s note: There is a contest at the bottom, so you may want to skip all the words at the top if you don't like to read. The band is just finishing recording demos for the album, and will begin work in the studio proper on Friday. Pictures and notes will follow shortly on this blog.

In 1980, the Cure re-released their debut albumThree Imaginary Boys under a new title, Boys Don’t Cry, with their first three singles added in place of songs with names like “Meathook” and “Foxy Lady” (a cover of the Hendrix classic). “Killing an Arab” was the band’s first single. The song is based on Albert Camus’ short novel The Stranger, in which the protagonist murders an Arab—hence the Cure line, “I am the Stranger/ Killing an Arab”—and is subsequently tried in court for his misdeeds. The Stranger (a.k.a. Mr. Meursault) shocks all in attendance at his court proceedings when he blames his digression on the sun, and displays a total lack of remorse.

Meursault is Camus’ Existential Man; he believes life has no rational meaning or order, and that it is best viewed as a sequence of unrelated and empty events. The Goths (including whatever genre early Cure is classified under), inspired by Robert Smith’s interpretation of the French classic, latched onto Camus’ hero of undergraduate philosophy wholeheartedly… It went along swimmingly with dressing in black, obsessing with death, and mulling over the meaninglessness of it all. “Killing an Arab” was a hit.

This was great for Cure and Camus fans, but those pushing for racial harmony were understandably troubled by the song’s subject matter. How could a song with that title not encourage violence towards Arabs? Robert Smith railed against the single’s detractors at first, mailing out copies of the novel along with the record to radio stations, but he eventually relented. The band stopped playing the song at live shows until recently at festivals, where Smith now alters the offending lyric to “Kissing an Arab.” More importantly, however, the Cure’s career was given a huge kick-start over the controversy, and for the most part, no one was hurt in the process.

As most readers are probably well aware, Islamists are currently rioting across the Middle East in reaction to an editorial cartoon lampooning the Muslim prophet Mohammed published within a Danish newspaper. Muslims were further outraged when several European newspapers republished the riot-igniting cartoon, citing its newsworthiness as a result of the initial riots, thusly igniting more rioting. Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have subsequently withdrawn their ambassadors to Denmark and boycotted all Danish products (somehow I can’t imagine black licorice and pastries being all that popular in the Arab world to begin with—the actions are more symbolic than anything) and tensions between the nations are running high.

Am I the only one wondering why a pop band hasn’t capitalized on all of this yet? Work with me here… The Cure penned “Killing an Arab” just after the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979. Frictions between Arab and Western nations were peaking. Sure, the Cure song is about the plight of the Existential anti-hero and all that, but I’ll be damned if Robert Smith didn’t know that its literal subject matter would stoke the fires of controversy. Today’s political relations with the Middle East are just as shaky as they were in 1979, if not more so. If played correctly, a Pop Band could parlay an offensively titled song about Arabs or the Nation of Islam into International Pop Superstardom. (Of course, the lyrics of said offensively titled song, when interpreted metaphorically, must be relatively innocuous or literary.)

Future Pop Stars, here are some suggestions for song titles and thematic storylines to aid you on your way:

“Killing A Sword-Bearing, Black-Robed Arab”
-Detailing Indiana Jones’ thoughts when confronted by the imposing black-robed swordmaster while fleeing from the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film encounter is brief—Jones shoots him and runs—so the song could really delve into the archaeologist’s pathos behind the shooting. Could include lines like: I’m not adept at swordplay/ And I’ve no time to delay/ I’ll just shoot this sword-bearing black-robed Arab and run/ Then kill some more Hunns…

“Arabs are Killing the Doctor”
-A third-person account of Dr. Emmett Brown’s murder in the opening scenes of Back to the Future. The doctor’s assassination and Marty McFly’s terror are repeated over and over throughout the course of the song, and the narrator expresses a deep-seeded desire to go back and change things. Could employ the lines: If only you’d have covered your chest/ With a bullet-proof vest/ These Arab terrorists wouldn't have gotten you/ Oh, you genius Jewish doctors are too few...

“Teaching My Adulterous Wife to Love Again While Killing Arabs”
-A narrative sung from the point of view of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in True Lies after his adulterous wife (who he still loves) has been captured by the Crimson Jihad. The song should focus mainly on the protagonist’s pain and anguish at his wife's infidelities, and his ability to make her strip using ultra high-tech spy gear. Could include the line: It’s not revenge, baby/ This is a Jihad to renew our love…

“I, Mummy: Killing Arabs in Search of My Love”
-Sung from the point of view of Imhotep in the 1999 version of The Mummy, the narrative emotionally illuminates the undead’s desire to resurrect his lost mistress and take over the world. Could include the lines: I’m the Mummy/ Searchin’ for my honey/ Come on all you Arabs/ Get in my tummy…

Aside from a deep-seeded desire to see more Pop Stars in the world—Lord knows there are never enough—my point is, when a song is titled “Killing an Arab,” in addition to whatever figurative meaning is implied by the narrator, the song is also about killing an Arab. It will be interpreted as such. (On a side note, Camus doesn’t exactly paint a flattering portrait of the murdered Arab, either. He—like the Arabs in the action films caricatured above—is nameless and faceless, existing only as a non-white stereotype.) For every metaphor created, a literal also exists. An Artist must be willing to face the literal consequences of his metaphorical actions, be they riots and social unrest, or in Smith’s case, fame, fortune, and International acclaim.

(And if anyone ever gets rich or famous by way of any of my suggestions, I demand credit.)


Okay, the contest. The first three persons to name the band that wrote the following lyrics will win a limited edition silk-screened The Blood Arm poster autographed by the band.

I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus
Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
Like I was seventeen
That would be a scream
But I don’t want to get over you

Please email your responses to by Friday, February 10 with “contest” in the subject line in order to be considered.

Good Luck!

-Ben Lee

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Killing an Arab" was actually written and released originally in 1978.

9:29 PM  

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