Friday, May 13, 2011

Bobby Sullivan breaks down Hot Bodi-Gram

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Bobby Sullivan returns to explain the lyrics to the Soulside Hot Bodi-Gram LP. Thanks to John Scharbach and Bobby for this one, side B to follow. -Gordo DCXX


GOD CITY

This is God City

This is love parade

This is Mr. Fuckers last rites

There are no names

There is no pain

These walls have been pissed on

the train is leaving


God City is about DC. It was a song Scott developed on the guitar over the course of the tour as an instrumental. We developed the lyrics spontaneously in the studio. We each contributed a line, even our roadie. The dark exasperated nature of the song reflects well how strange it was to grow up in DC. The federal government has all those monuments and stories as if it was the greatest nation on earth. But while we were growing up there, homelessness was at a new peak. There were always groups of people bundled up, sleeping on the steps of so many of those temple-like structures. It was easy to see something wasn't right. The tourist town aspect with all its glitz and glitter only hid the harsh realities of the dirty city and the evil politicians running the country.

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A headless Bobby Sullivan takes flight with Soulside in Boston, Photo courtesy of: Soulside

WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT?

Life on the rooftops, saw the sun and the moon
Lost the core of the city, lost the concrete so pretty
bore the hope and the pity, forged the trust--pity
Saw the TV eyes in the mirror and mind reflect
truth and lies of the life outside and reflect the life
inside me
I want to see to believe, gimme a miracle
Conscience demands my truth

These were lyrics I wrote in Boston. I moved there to go to college between Soulside tours and ended up living there for 7 years. The scene was different, but I enjoyed it a lot. I was a constant street-skater and ended up getting involved with a few local bands, roadying for Slapshot a few times. Soulside had played there with the Henry Rollins band earlier so I had met a lot of people from the scene. 7 Seconds, Youth Brigade and the whole BYO Showcase played there my first day. The Descendents stayed at my apartment, as well as the Ex from Amsterdam. (Years later, my band there, 7 League Boots, played a lot with the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Bim Skala Bim. Their horn sections backed us up at live shows. One time a totally unknown band at the time named Pearl Jam opened for us at a show with the Lemonheads).

Being in college in Boston between Soulside tours was a mind-wrenching experience. College really seemed like a sham in a lot of ways and I was looking for ways to apply the passion and knowledge of the incredible DIY movement we were all a part of. Maybe touring had made me antsy, but sitting around reading “major authors” in class was not my cup of tea. Luckily I had Howard Zinn, author of A People's History Of The US, as a professor and many speakers to see and meet, including Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Abbie Hoffman, Noam Chomsky, Chuck D. when he spoke at Harvard and more. There was a lot going on and I was soaking it all up.

So, back to the lyrics... My friends and I used to hang out on the roof of my apartment building. From the roof, we could see right into Fenway Park on game nights. But my mind would always sway from the spectacle. I would find myself trying to figure out the constellations or the path of the moon. The sun as the Soulside logo was significant because I've always felt the pull of Nature, opposing our immediate man-made surroundings. This song is about being drawn out of our normal reality, realizing we are part of a huge cosmos. It was a reaction to apartment life and how cave-like we can be with TV's. College was filled with armchair intellectuals, creating so much verbal drama, with the subject of the day being driven by the media. I wanted to see something, maybe even a miracle to wake people up. Our minds have so many ways of thinking. Hope, pity, trust – our conscience is the link to a greater understanding of the issues at hand.

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Alexis with Soulside, Photo: Ken Salerno

PUNCH THE GEEK

Punch the geek, ego speaks

Boys fun needs boys gun

No need to aim I'm right here

No matter what I'm in,
No matter what I'm on

The air about your head

Sweet sun of a bitch


Boston was a pretty tough town. Even in the pit at shows, their style of slam-dancing was rough. Out on the streets, being punk and/or having dreads was not easy in the 80's. MTV hadn't made all the styles mainstream yet, not by a long shot. Having bleached hair meant you were a “faggot,” having dreads meant “nigger” in some places. Even in the black community dreads were something to challenge, as Afro-centricity was still soon to come with the Malcolm X ball cap craze that Spike Lee prompted with his movie on Malcolm. I can truly say that MTV changed everything, as once alternative styles became more popular, me and my friends weren't getting jumped all the time.

This song speaks to the bullying that leads to gun violence. It's a confidence game where guns play the ultimate role. The battle for male dominance is dangerous, especially as it plays out in our personal lives. It starts when we are kids and for some follows a frightening evolution into their adult lives. What always struck me was the mental struggle of the bullies. So insecure, striking out at others – they are pitiful men. If you look them smack-dab in the eyes, they'll often take a step back. Although... sometimes it's just enough to rile their anger.

We were most often confronted by fists, so our skateboards provided ample defense. Only once or twice were knives involved. One night though I was jumped by 12 guys on the subway. When things started getting trickier and guns started showing up, I was able to step out into the Soulside tour. Some of those scraps I had in Boston left a lasting impression on me.

CLIFTON WALL

Lipstick lies but looks so good and tastes so bad

Heard about the good life on the radio, come up on the best

Monuments in view, rock on high

Where does the money come from?

You take the bay and I'll take the sky

your head in the sun

Smarter people will do dumber things

Clifton wall, no need to advertise

No slogans apply, just say now

Can't beat the view, it's a buy


Clifton wall is a place in DC, right next to a high school where at the time of the song's writing, people bought and sold crack cocaine (the “rock on high”). It's next to a couple housing projects on a big hill overlooking the monuments. It's eery at night with the monuments lit up in the distance and hooded characters doing their trade in the foreground. Scott (guitarist) and Johnny (bassist) moved into a group house a couple blocks away, so we were in the area a lot.

“Lipstick lies, but looks so good” was a graffiti piece I passed daily when I lived in Roxbury, in Boston. I attached it to the beginning, as I thought if fit the sentiment of the rest of the song. Back to DC - the drug trade is so easy to demonize, but the causes have to be looked at. The reality is that most poor people living in the US face discrimination in the workplace, in the hiring practices and moving up the ladder, once they get hired. Most are completely shut out of the potential for economic stability, while images of “the good life” are displayed all around them.

People have to do something to pay the bills. I'm not condoning the choice to deal crack, but with deteriorating economic conditions in that neighborhood, the biggest growth industry for any entrepreneur was all too obvious. It's really horrible that crack-cocaine garnered higher sentencing than regular cocaine. The prison system is now full of these petty criminals, while the ones making real money off of the drug trade are allowed to remain below the radar of the media, so outside of public scrutiny.

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Bobby delivers with Soulside, Photo: Shawn Scallen

NEW SLOW FUCKY

Dignity in the steps of the down

Over the hill fly over the town

Meet me in the safety zone

What does my time do for you?

Social social let's be social

Don't want to spoil the day

We can cut the grass at your place

I'm in the mood for one too many ideas


The title had nothing to do with the subject matter of the song. This song and “New Fast Fucky” were written in tandem and named before they had lyrics. One was slow and the other fast. They were named after an inside joke we had after being approached on the street in Amsterdam to see a “good” show that was “real fucky fucky” according to the gentleman offering the invitation.

The lyrics show my reaction to a realization of being in a somewhat exalted position as a traveling musician, college student and a middle class kid in general. I recognized much more dignity in the walk of the downtrodden people of our society. The upper classes all over the world have “safety zones” to reside in, not affected by or even seeing the struggles of most of the world. I was at the cusp of adulthood here, wondering where I would fit in, finding new people and new ways of thinking.

I found my social time in activist circles mostly, in a search for the best way to approach the issues I was concerned with. As someone who grew up somewhat between the races, taken for both black and white by different people, I was possessed with race politics, especially surrounding the legacies of colonialism and its continuing tendencies in the western world. Grass is hopefully an obvious enough reference as I moved away from alcohol completely, enjoying other ways to expand my mind. I found my reasonings with others in this state of mind to be a lot more fruitful then the belligerent parties I was avoiding. Rasta elders were coming into my life, helping me overstand certain world phenomena and how a spiritual/historical approach to life could quell my restless mind.

PEMBROKE

It's the time for the break life baby 

soon come happy good life itchy

itchyooo

Let's talk of honesty but crooked Peter's bugging me

Can't wait to live my life

Can't wait to get the pictures back

Don't disappear


This was a song about feeling trapped in a situation you're not comfortable with, but still need to see through. The tour was getting long and I was more increasingly left out of the band's late night hangouts. I was happy to go find fun in what ever town we were in, but after a while it was wearing on me. I was ready to move on, to be free from this “itchy good life.”

Crooked Peter was a character in a book I read as a child. He was the one always stirring up strife. He was symbolized by one individual in particular in my life at the time. I was ready for the tour to be over and to figure out where I was going to make my mark. Getting “the pictures back,” referred to being done with the tour and the strife...


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Bobby in the shadows with Soulside, Photo courtesy of: Soulside

15 comments:

dangerclose said...

Thanks for the second installment folks...
but I was always curious about that dialogue at the end of one of the songs...
it sounds like it came from an old science fiction movie: I am also very worried about the huge apparatus that hangs over us and is a barrier to our movement forward

Anonymous said...

Wow, such a great interview. Thanks again, DC.

ShayKM said...

The format here is great! Many of these songs were tough to make sense of when I first listened to this Lp. It has been decades, but it is nice to finally see the thinking behind this stuff. More like this would be welcome!

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite piece on Double Cross so far. thanks.

Anonymous said...

A burrito. Aburrido.

Anonymous said...

AAAH! The shirt! The Vile Cherubs shirt! I've searched for one of those for YEARS in vain. Lucky Bastard.

Anonymous said...

One of the best post of the year, great storytelling too... quite unexpected to learn that Bobby roadied for Slapshot ;)

Thanks guys for the good work.

proven hollow said...

probably my favorite band of all time, soulside. i met his brother mark while he was roadie-ing for fugazi back in the day and he told me he and his brother (bobby) were working on a new band together (sevens) and i almost had a heartattack. speaking of mark, kingface could be my second favorite band of all time, haha.

Lewis.72 said...

Amazing interview! I had the pleasure of seeing Soulside shortly after the Bass/103 7" was released and it already seemed like there was a split in the band. Bobby at one point briefly mentioned some political cause (I think it was Mumia, but I could be wrong) and cut the comment short saying something to the effect of "the guys don't want me talking about that". Soulside were one of the greatest live acts I've ever witnessed. I always wondered about the more cerebral/vague lyrics from Hot Bodi-Gram... cool!

Brushback said...

This was great.

Anonymous said...

One of the best posts yet!. Hot Bodigram was always a little too esoteric for me. Now I'll listen to it with a whole new set of ears.

Check out Bobby's acoustic/roots/rasta band Spontaneous Earth. Awsome! If Bobby reads this, release more CD-Rs of Spontaneous Earth please!

hog said...

nice work! thanks

nodeli.com said...

The (musically and lyrically) 'esoteric' nature of that album is what appealed to me at the time! I was just a kid when it came out, and the record absolutely changed how I've listened to rock ever since. It's nothing short of a high water mark in the Dischord catalogue, and really one of the best LPs I've ever heard.

That said, and - not that I care for gossip - but: I'd like to hear about the all-bran diet when side B gets played here. How did bran influence these lyrics? Did bran play a major role in the band splitting up? Are bran and spirituality inexorably linked? Etc.

Thank you for these posts.

jmhouse said...

Great stuff! I remember reading an interview with Bobby after the Soulside break-up where he admitted that some of the abstract lyrics were veiled references to other band members. That certainly seems to be the case with Pembroke.

Looking forward to Side 2.

Anonymous said...

Bobby Sullivan from Soul Side as a roadie for SlapShot??  Did he don a hockey mask and act as Choke's surrogate, scanning the crowd for the unclean audience members drinking malted barley beverages so that he could slap the "poisons" from their hands while the band played "I've had enough"??????