Day Seventy-Two: "Trigger Happy" from Off the Deep End
With Al, the happier and more upbeat a song sounds, the more likely it is to be deeply warped lyrically. “Trigger Happy” accordingly boasts one of the swellest melodies in all of Al’s oeuvre and weds it to a darkly comic exploration of American gun lust at its most gleefully unhinged. The song exuberantly cross-breeds the wholesome, All-American, archetypal California aesthetic and sound of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean with the "Have you hugged your gun today?" sensibility of the NRA and other folks who got their jollies from making sure our country will forever be numero uno when it comes to preventable firearms accidents.
USA! USA! USA!
“Trigger Happy” lives up to its title. It's both incongruously happy, even joyous, and most assuredly about a man with a very, very itchy trigger finger. Al and his collaborator nails the vocal harmonies, California-sized anthemic choruses and air of carefree innocence that characterized the surf sound of the 1960s as well as the misplaced self-righteousness, defensiveness and recklessness that have long defined the contemporary American gun enthusiast.
“Trigger Happy” is one of Al’s most satirical songs, but because it’s Al, the social commentary comes organically out of the comedy. I doubt Al would characterize it as an anti-gun song, or political at all, but “Trigger Happy” slyly mounts a credible augment for gun control without seeming didactic or killing the morbid fun.
It’s a quietly devastating character study of the Second Amendment radical as an emotionally stunted, insecure, power-mad lunatic who needs to keep an AK-47 by his pillow in order to sleep well at night and who hasn’t quite “figured out the safety on my rifle yet” but nevertheless feels duty-bound to "shoot first and ask questions later."
Terrible things happen to the singer throughout “Trigger Happy.” Or, more accurately, terrible things happen to the people and animals around him. There's a big difference. He mistakes his own father for a “gun-crazed Nazi” and shoots him. It’s only a flesh wound, but the singer does commit one of the great sins in our society when he fires an entire round into a kitty cat named Fluffy. Assuming Fluffy wasn’t wearing a bullet proof vest, I’m guessing he’s now dead.
There is famously an unwritten rule in comedy about not killing off animals unless you want audiences to turn against you. I suspect the only reason “Trigger Happy” gets away with killing a cat is because it’s so gosh-durn catchy and wholesome-sounding and because, like The Simpsons, Al’s avuncular affability allow him to get away with just about anything.
The only exercise the demented protagonist of “Trigger Happy” seems to get is in exercising his trigger finger along with his Second Amendment rights. It’s about a man who puts the “nut” in “gun nut" and “danger” in “danger to his friends and family." Like Al’s other obsessives, his life revolves around the only thing that makes his soul sing. Alas, this misguided gent’s passion for gunplay no matter the nature of human cost is a whole lot more troubling, and deadly than tongue-in-cheek obsessions we’ve previously explored, like Ed McMahon, potatoes or Spam.
“Trigger Happy” is so much fun, and breezes by so cheerfully, that it can be easy to overlook what a bleak song it really is. Never before have sentiments like “Better watch out punk or I’m going to have to blow you away!” or “I’ll blow their brains out with a Smith and Western!” been expressed with such gee-whiz glee.
This goofball ditty about one of our nation’s persistent tragedies depicts an amoral obsession with deadly weapons combined with a complete disinterest in safety or the sanctity of human life not as some strange deviation but rather as something endemic to our character as a nation. In “Trigger Happy”, gun violence is as all-American as surfboards, the flag, the Beach Boys and apple pie.
Gun rights activists like to portray themselves as meek creatures who want only to be able to defend themselves from groups like drug-crazed Nazis and invading Communists with modest killing machines. The singer here is no different, but it’s obvious he just wants to shoot a whole bunch of people, and animals, and things, and is terrible at hiding his blood lust.
He’s a tin-pot Dirty Harry so it makes sense that this mouse of a man would borrow his hero’s catchphrase (and own his hero’s gun) when he asks a hypothetical bad guy in his scope, “You better ask yourself, do you feel lucky, punk?
“Trigger Happy” is about California’s dark shadow. After all, before that whole unpleasantness at Spahn Ranch, Charles Manson used to hang out with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who was pretty gosh-darned dark and troubled in his own right. It’s an exceedingly light song about brutal subject matter that’s both breezy and enduring, a slight-seeming song about some very heavy subject matter.
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