They Are Not In Heaven Because They Fuck The Wives of Ely
Many of the moments that give me the chills in any form of story are when a character (usually an underdog) approaches another character (usually a huge motherfucker) and tells them off. But not just tells them off... tells them of their obvious plight -- something so clear throughout the tale -- and spices it up with a curse word.
I was thinking about this as I watched the film 8 Mile for the fifth time yesterday. This guy gets screwed and screwed and screwed and finally in the climactic rap battle he does not choke, but tells off the primary antagonist. The line that specifically gives me the chills is when Eminem goes up to the dude and says "Don't ever try to judge me dude, you don't know what the fuck I've been through".
Whew. First off, great use of the word "fuck". The timing, the emphasis; it all comes together quite beautifully. The word "fuck" is able to express a certain degree of pain and anguish.
No one is quite certain what the true origins of the word "fuck" are, but many believe they arise from the German "ficken", meaning "to strike". Regardless, the contemporary meaning of the word can be anything, and it truely has become one of the most versatile in the English language.
I haven't listened to So-Cal punk band The Ataris for quite some time, but in high school they had one song that I found extremely affecting, if only for the inclusion of the word "fuck". The song was called "Angry Nerd Rock". It began with a dark, bubbling bass line building tension as the singer told a tale of social isolation. He was "stuck inside of someone else's dream", as if his life had turned out perfect by any casual observation -- he's in a successful rock group, he's enjoying himself with his friends. But there's the anonymous authority figure, or perhaps a friend just trying to help him get out of his funk. He complains that everything is the same as it's always been, just "different faces, different names". The cliche of the line isn't as important as the fact that it feels real, it feels like he's honestly needs to get out of this life that he leads.
It finally boils down to the intense climax of the song, all instruments finally blazing forward dull-throttle when he shouts "I don't have to listen to you, so don't you fucking tell me what to do". Is this the angsty statement of a teen yelling at his dad for not giving him the car keys. The fact that this guy is in his twenties and has a kid leads me to think this is more than that. But what is particularly interesting is his use of the word "fuck". It conveys the anger in ways that simply shouting could not. "Don't you fucking tell me what to do".
Similarly, but less provacative, is the song by beloved 90s pop-rock group Third Eye Blind entitled "Graduate". This song uses swearing and the zeitgeist of college living to convey a frustration that is surely specific, but universal to anyone who hears it. This time the frustration is not only with the establishment, but with the self. The vocalist ponders "Can I get my punk ass off the street?", hoping to find some motivation to remove himself from his abstract predicament. In a sort of third person soliloquy, the singer confronts his down-and-out self with a more motivational, optimistic self. He muses, "Talking to somebody like you, do you live the days you go through?", which I find to be one of the more profound lyrics in the band's discography [and yes, I do believe that the band Third Eye Blind is not taken as seriously because of their pop culture status, but they really do cover topics that other bands of their stature might steer away from. I mean one of their singles is about being jaded with a life of sex, drugs, and rock n roll and yet another single is about choosing whether or not to have an abortion... and these are the singles].
The motivation for the song's protagonist comes in the form of fighting the system, not through teenage snottiness, but by fulfilling your potential and accomplishing your goals in the face of the very people who thought you'd never make it. But cursing is still an effective way to convey this frustration when he confonts the antagonizing authority figure with "To the bastard talking down to me, your whipping boy calamity, cross your fingers I'm going to knock it all down".
The curse doesn't seem forced. It isn't a casual use of the word "bastard", nor is it a rebellious childish use of the word; this is a guy who really thinks that this other guy is pretty much a huge bastard. Some of the worst insults are not when someone calls you something totally outrageous and provactive or insults your mother or something of that matter. No, the worst insults are when someone calls you something totally minor, but means it. If someone thought I was truely a bastard, it would be more affecting than someone who called me a fucking dumbshit cunt head. There's a level of calmness and rationality in the small curses.
And yes, all of these described moments still have the power to give me chills. Maybe I like cursing. Or maybe I like underdogs. But when the two come together in a verbal attack on the proverbial dickheads of the world, I really dig it.
Earlier I implied that the song "Graduate" deals with college living. The more I think about it, the more I think that it uses the literal idea of graduation as a metaphor for entering a next stage of life, rather than the actual act of graduating from school. This also makes sense because frontman Stephen Jenkins was in his early thirties when this song came out.