The Animal Slaves

by Yule Heibel on November 16, 2003

After my last post, I had to play the Animal Slaves. Elizabeth Fischer is the most amazing vocalist, and Rachel Melas on bass is fantastic. And giving the guy in this trio his due, Ross Hales on drums is excellent, keeps it steady. Guest guitarists on Animal Slaves (on MO-DA-MU records, 1984) are Elaine Steff, Harris van Berkel, Neal Osborne, and David Phyall. It’s only a 45 — not even an LP — but shit, this record is good. It makes me glad that I was just young enough to catch punk, which was angry, me-me-me, but also had enough strength on its good days to turn that rage into political insight. And on that note, here are a couple of the other songs from this album (see my previous post for the lyrics to Scratching Hives):

Contrary to Rumour

Contrary to rumour I’m not a junkie, I nod off to contemplate myself,
And I still have all the original pictures on the floor,
And I’m mashing my feet into the glass.
When you think of me think of two people — myself, and the driver within.
How would you like to have someone stumbling all over your tender organs with her dirty feet.
There is someone living my life and I don’t know her.
Do you want her, I don’t want her.
Take all my pictures and letters away.
Contrary to rumour I’m cold sober, in a rage deluding myself with the golden glow of self-confidence.
It kills the pain of seeing yourself.

That’s on side two. Side one includes:

Wasting Time

Carving corners, corrosive introspection, allusions delusions, illusionary fusions.
In order of importance one two three discreet collusion.
Tete-a-tete metric, find the sceptic.
Moving targets bent on cremation. Crabapple tenants always eat together.
Infamous infested with the seeds of corruption and wasting time with numbers.
Fellow pharmacists wired for hire, narcotic toiletries to pass the time.
Gnawing on bones in the interest of justice, stuffing the holes with a good time.
Coffeecup warriors with character references, complex conmen crying crocodile tears.
Young yearn flounder. Talk about it. Passing sentences, proscribing programs of social protest. Talk about it.


Man from Glad

The newspaper is reading me, it tells me what I want to be.
What I don’t know is not good for me, I bought myself a policy.
God lives on a rack at the supermarket, dispences advice for trading stamps.
A friend indeed is a friend in bed, that is what the good book said.
I’m so happy, I’m fine. The television tells the time.
Time for breakfast, time for bath, time to meet the man from glad.
I’m so glad.
Before I go to bed at night I give thanks with all my might for the arrid desert in my head.
What I don’t know won’t kill me dead.

It’s hard to convey just how good these songs are if you can’t hear Elizabeth Fischer‘s voice or Rachel Melas‘s bass (yes, and Ross Hales‘s drums) because the meaning of the words is modulated and changed by the expressiveness of the voice and the pacing of bass and drums. One of the key things that expressionism strives for — and sometimes achieves — is letting a mimetic moment escape the control of language (and I’m including art and technology as language): at its best, expression becomes an in-your-face moment unmediated by your ability to harness that objective otherness into something you can handle/ sort/ classify/ …control. It instead touches you there, someplace other than language, which can be a very dangerous place. (At its worst, it’s bathos, schlock, and kitsch, but Animal Slaves didn’t have that problem.) That’s probably why Plato counselled against poets and theatre: he suspected that theatrical expressiveness could cut the binding consensus, the web, the matrix of agreed upon convention, the convention that says that I am a sovereign subject while everything around me is (to me) an object. The kind of mimesis I’m talking about is not a case of one subject coolly imitating another subject (and thereby making that subject into an object, an Other); real theatre transforms you-the-subject. You get knocked off your throne for a few seconds, you get to freefall into the other, you get to experience alterity. Animal Slaves manages this, and then — because this is 80s punk, and it’s Canadian, on the Pacific fringe of punk Vancouver — they raise the curtain on a social theatre, brilliantly.

For Fischer’s voice, for example, imagine a cross between Marianne Faithful at her most edgy, add a late 1940s film noir movie diva voice at its most paranoid (think Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard), and then mix in the breathy orgasmic strains of a little bird dying a little death. That’s Fischer’s voice. And the bass! Controllers everywhere must be spinning in their graves, bwahaha!

Chinese Restaurant

The writing’s on the wall, I’m waiting for the fall.
Fifteen years of slinging hash, fifteen years behind a bar, fifteen years of singing in a Chinese restaurant.
Pink cheeks glowing in the firelight, imaginary demons to fight.
Protect the right of the white to turn daylight into night.
Monkey see, monkey do, I smear my chest with a jar of goo.
I pound my chest, I howl my thanks, I leave my organs to the organ banks.
What was once good has turned to dust. You made a religion of rust.
Thanks to you what was once blue has turned into a ball of glue.

It was a great moment of expression, I’m thinking to myself nostalgically: a certain kind of 80s punk, in an ex-colonial outpost, still oddly far from the looming cynicism produced by corporate capitalism and instant cooptation through advertising, not yet enmeshed by MTV…. Real theatre, not predigested scripts.

Bah, nostalgia….


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