Day Sixty-Six: "Generic Blues" from UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
I suspect that most white people these days are familiar with the Blues not through the work of seminal artists like Robert Johnson or that one white teenager who was surprisingly good at playing blues guitar, but rather through the cheeky lampoons of caucasians making fun of both blues conventions and whiteness in a surprisingly deathless sub-genre I dubbed “The Comically Incongruous White Folks Blues” all the way back in my “Buckingham Blues” article, when this column was only beginning to be ignored by all of humanity.
“Generic Blues” begins with its down and out yet surprisingly and refreshingly reasonable singer moaning only the first in a series of blues cliches he then immediately subverts. In this case, the bluesman begins with an opening so familiar and ubiquitous that it could be deemed downright generic: “I woke up this morning…”
It’s an opening gambit that inspires a certain automatic suspense. We know that this blues-stricken man woke up in the morning, sure, but then what? Al is all about cleverly upending expectations here so he immediately negates what little action has happened in the song by specifying that after waking up in the morning, he went right back to bed. The singer does eventually emerge from their bed, however, and the lyrics that follow suggest that’s a mistake.
Other verses begin in a soothingly traditional way, like when the bluesman moans melodramatically, “Well, I ain’t got no money, I’m just walking down the road.” That’s a common concern for a blues song, and a blues singer, but the cause for his unfortunate situation is hilariously banal and contemporary: it seems like the poor man done went and forget the pin-number for his ATM card, although Al being Al, and in love with weird, specific turns of phrase, he refers to it as his “automated teller code.”
Elsewhere, Al exaggerates the blues’ emphasis on human misery to comic effect. The crooner moans, “I was born in a paper sack in the bottom of a sewer/I had to eat dirt clods for breakfast, my family was so poor” before segueing into absurdist silliness when he continues, “My daddy was a waitress, my mama sold bathroom tiles/My brothers and sisters all hated me 'cause I was an only child.”
Al really throws himself into the soul-consuming self-laceration of “Generic Blues” lines like, “I'm just a no good, scum sucking, nose picking, boot licking, sniveling, groveling, worthless hunk of slime/Nothing but a low-down, beer bellied, bone headed, pigeon-toed, turkey-necked, weasel-faced, worthless hunk of slime”, which makes the incongruously reasonable conclusion he comes to (“Guess I have a pretty low self image/Maybe it's a chemical imbalance or something, I should probably go and see a doctor about it when I have the time”) even funnier.
A lot of the song’s humor comes from Al’s delivery, particularly the whiplash shifts between the full-on moaning and despair of the bluesy set-ups and the purposefully deflating sensibleness of the punchlines. This is particularly true of the song’s central dilemma. The singer is so down on himself, so convinced he’s nothing but a “no good, scum sucking, nose picking, boot licking, sniveling, groveling, worthless hunk of slime/Nothing but a low-down, beer bellied, bone headed, pigeon-toed, turkey-necked, weasel-faced, worthless hunk of slime” that he only sees two, slightly dissimilar paths before him.
He could give into the suicidal despair that is every blues singer’s inalienable birthright, and end his miserable existence by blowing his brains out. Alternately, he could go bowling instead. The bluesy complainer half of the song, the one rooted in the tropes and conventions of Blues, would probably choose suicide as the preferable option, but the reasonable half is going to gravitate more towards bowling. He's facing the dilemma we must all face, eventually: do you give in to life's howling cruelty and impossibility, or do you head down to the local Bowl-O-Rama with some pals for some bowling and brews?
As its title suggests, “Generic Blues” follows a pretty familiar, well-worn template in taking the piss both out of blues cliches and the mundane banality of being caucasian but it does so with wit, cleverness and full-bodied musical and lyrical conviction. Al doesn’t exactly reinvent the The Comically Incongruous White Folks Blues here but he gets the very most out of what’s usually a very limited formula.
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