Thursday, June 15, 2006

Attractive Li'l Honey Pie and the Ill-Fated Venture on Public Transportation of Doom

During the golden technological age when Audiogalaxy was my personal cultural savior and mp3s flowed freely from one dorm network to the next, I encountered a slew of bands heretofore unknown to me. The music I was listening to surpassed what I had listened to in high school — and the bands had these unusual names that, to me, spoke of their members’ creativity. Neutral Milk Hotel. The Clinic. Olivia Tremor Control. Belle and Sebastian. The Apples in Stereo. What was new then still directs what I seek out today, and for that I’m very grateful.

However, in the pursuit of a breadth-over-depth survey of the indie music I’d been missing out on, I came upon a then little-known band with a name I couldn’t stand. Little of what I downloaded from this particular band stayed on the hard drive very long, and the only track whose title I can actually remember was called “Fake Frowns.”

The band in question, for those of you who only have experienced Transatlanticism and Plans, is Death Cab for Cutie. I actually still can’t stand the name, though I feel better about the band’s music. In any case, the only question I wanted answered more than “Who would name a band that, anyway?” was “Where the hell did they get that name?” The question went unanswered and generally disregarded until the last year, when that damn show made everyone with a desire for indie credibility like Death Cab — and made Death Cab a huge success.

Just a few days ago — or months ago, depending on whom you ask — Spencer pointed me in the direction of an answer. “Death Cab for Cutie” was a song long before it was a band. Written by Vivian Stanshall and initially performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in 1967, it is best known for having been featured in Beatles film “Magical Mystery Tour.” To a striptease, no less. I was a little amused to find that the title is quite literal — the lyrics tell the story of a woman, Cutie, who dies in an ill-fated taxi cab ride. Apparently Stanshall, the Bonzo Band’s lead vocalist, sang it in an Elvis Presley style in mockery of 50s sob songs.

The final step in determining just where this annoying and now-omnipresent string of words comes from goes back even farther to a book — a collection Richard Hoggart’s essays on British popular culture called The Uses of Literacy. In this book, Hoggart discusses “sex and violence novels” and provides faux titles that represent the genre’s tendency towards a very specific kind of phrasing. Among the other examples — many of which I like better than “Death Cab for Cutie” — are “Sweetie, Take it Hot,” “The Lady Takes a Dive,” “Aim Low, Angel” and “Sweetheart, Curves Can Kill.” The original Death Cab, by the way, was hyphenated. I must admit I like “Death-Cab for Cutie” least of all.
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The funny part of all this is that I’d bet the song’s title makes it nigh impossible to download on most systems, since the band of the same name is vastly more popular. Or not. I’m actually not going to try, but I’d like to hear if anyone has luck with it. If it’s as hard as I imagine, you all will just end up downloading Plans again anyway. More power to you.

2 comments:

  1. First time I ever heard of them, I thought the name was Death Cap for Cutie, which made sense to me, if you think of the poisonous mushroom in conjunction with certain stereotypes about emo.

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  2. How does listening to an overplayed MTV top 20 hit acquire one indie cred? The world makes so little sense to me, but this is not new.

    Good luck tracking down the song.

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