Pod-Canon #4 Punch Up the Jam: "It Wasn't Me"
One of the great benefits of my curious trade is that I get to evangelize endlessly on behalf of the things that I love. That’s particularly true of this stage of my career, where I have the creative freedom to be self-indulgent enough to only write about things that I really care about rather than things that will attract a mass audience.
So even though I wrote about Punch Up the Jam’s “Summer Girls” episode for this column not too long ago I’m returning to it because I’m obsessed with the podcast and want to abuse my platform here to try to get as many people to listen to it as possible, and pledge to its Patreon account and elevate hosts Demi and Miel to the level of Gods.
Besides, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is not a Democracy. No, it’s a crazed theocratic dictatorship with me as its half-mad syphilitic despot imposing my crazed whims on the masses, my sordid existence a half-remembered opium dream of decadence and depravity. And self-indulgence. A level of self-indulgent at once sinful and heroic.
As a half-mad despot it’s important to highlight what makes me happy, that brings laughter and levity to a world full of straight up haters and infinite despair like Punch Up the Jam. Punch Up the Jam’s mere existence improves my quality of life. I look forward to each new episode on Thursday the way a child looks forward to Christmas morning.
“It Wasn’t Me” is the perfect song for Punch Up the Jam because it is what my college professors would call “textually rich.” That is to say that it is so dense with incident and absurdity and a blissful dearth of self-consciousness and self-awareness that it begs to be picked apart, line by line, word-by-word by hosts whose mockery of pop music is invariably informed by a deep love and understanding of the form. Demi and Miel aren’t making fun of pop music because they hate it but rather because they love it and want to share the ridiculous joy of pop idiocy with you, the listener.
“It Wasn’t Me” has an astonishing number of distinctions and glorious idiosyncrasies, beginning with a spoken word interlude that makes the song feel more than a little like an audio play some children might write and perform, or a stage musical or sitcom, as the hosts and guest Ify Nwadiwe suggest.
The opening spoken word interlude raises more questions than it answers. What, exactly is the relationship between RikRok and Shaggy? Is Shaggy his uncle? Mentor? Wingman? Guidance Counselor? Froggy voiced Life Coach? Infidelity Consultant?
The podcast takes delight in tiny but delightful little details like the incongruously whimsical, fluttering way Rick Rock pronounces “buck naked” when singing about banging on the bathroom floor with the girl next door, who, needless to say, is reduced to her sexuality and her address.
In the cold light of 2018, “It Wasn’t Me” is, as Miel points out, a gas-lighting anthem whose seeming endorsement of lying, mind games and cynical manipulation to cover up flagrant infidelity doesn’t look quite so amusing or light-hearted today. But it’s also an elaborate humblebrag about a man so virile he can’t limit himself to one woman or stop having sex just because his partner is giving him murder eyes as he participates in what Miel hilariously refers to as location-based “scavenger sex.” These lovers seemingly aren’t canoodling for pleasure but rather so that they can cross off rooms on some weird sex checklist.
Punch Up the Jam portray “It Wasn’t Me” as the “Louie Louie” of semi-impenetrable reggae-inflected R&B story songs, since much of Shaggy’s contribution is garbled to the point of being completely incomprehensible, which may be intentional, since he’s doling out the kind of life advice you’d expect from Patrick Bateman rather than Dear Abby.
It’s worth noting that “It Wasn’t Me” is about infidelity at its most flagrant but, as the hosts chucklingly observe, it’s also a weirdly deflating story song about a man receiving bad advice from a creep that he roundly rejects as insane and impossible not to mention wildly unethical, advice that ultimately makes “no sense at all.”
For the episode-ending punch-up/parody, Demi took exaggerates the sociopathy of Shaggy and RikRok’s toxic and deeply weird, co-dependent relationship and worldview to gut-busting comic effect by transforming “It Wasn’t Me” from a song about the moral and ethical transgression of flagrant infidelity into a song about a man trying to get away with murder and another man intent on helping him escape consequences for his crimes despite the killer being possibly the most guilty person in the history of the universe.
How guilty? Instead of copping sheepishly if semi-proudly to enthusiastic infidelity, the guilty advice seeker in Demi’s parody admits “I killed somebody man”, going on to sing/explain (singsplain?), “Honey came in and she caught me red-handed trying to kill a random man/Picture me in a blood-soaked tee-shirt, murder weapon in my hand/How did I forget that I had given her an extra key?/She just stood there watching while I committed a felony.”
In this version the Shaggy character is explicitly a lawyer out to convince a jury that his client is innocent even though the song concedes that “he made the murders well known! And he filmed it on his cell phone! They heard him screaming, ‘I Will kill you’/He put the video on Youtube! He tweeted “About to kill David/And signed a written affidavit.”
“It Wasn’t Me” is supposed to be a funny song. It’s essentially a novelty song but Demi’s brilliant spoof makes it explosively funny in a completely different way. When I first heard the episode I spent a solid hour listening to the song over and over again, savoring every loving detail and killer (no pun intended) turn of phrase.
The songs lovingly critiqued, lampooned and “improved” on Punch Up the Jam have to slap, they have to bang, they have to worm their way into our minds and memories to the point that we know them almost by heart even if we actively hate them, or profess to hate them, because the sentiments expressed in them are often odious, creepy, reprehensible or, in the case of “It Wasn’t Me”, borderline sociopathic. For what are Shaggy’s words of counsel if not the ice-cold sentiments of someone incapable of empathy and compassion, who thinks men should be able to wiggle their way out of any jam simply by lying convincingly and repeatedly?
With pop songs played bazillions of times, Stockholm Syndrome sometimes blurs with genuine enjoyment and ironic enjoyment so thoroughly that it can be hard to tell where one ends and another begins.
Do I love “It Wasn’t Me” ironically or sincerely? Do the hosts of Punch Up the Jam? Does it really matter. All that really matters is that Shaggy and RickRock’s timeless gift to pop culture, music and comedy is enormous fun to listen to, even more fun to hear joyously mocked and ultimately the most fun as a fall-down funny, pitch-perfect, just plain perfect parody from one of the most consistently hilarious duos in podcasting.
I make my living largely through crowd-funding so if you would be kind enough to consider pledging even a dollar over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be