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April 12, 1985 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1985-04-12
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M us ic
for the
Meat I5 Murder
The Smiths
Slave Girl
Lime Spiders
Big Time Records
The Axeman's Jazz
The Beasts of Bourbon
Big Time Records
Tabula Rasa
Avro Part
Drop Everything
Lady Paul
Real Nighttime
Game Theory
By Dennis Harvey
F ROM SEATTLE to Sarajevo, the hits
(to paraphrase Michael Nesmith)
just keep comin', and this week they're
streaming in from as far as Estonia and
as wide as Australia. From Warsaw to
Peking, with compromisingly normal
pitstops in Manchester, England and
Davis, California, this article's mostly
accidental theme is happy inter-
nationalism. You know, that Coke-
commercial arms-linked-'round-the-
world sort of brotherhood-via-tunes
stuff, give peas a chance and all that.
This is not to be taken lightly: there is
little doubt that if world government
was left to musicians, we might all
starve to death but surely there would
be no further nuke-war paranoia.
So here we go. I take it all back.
O K , I was prejudiced in favor from
the start. Still, with their
eponymously-named debut LP last
year, England's The Smiths painted
themselves into a exquisite corner, one
rather too well defined by Morrissey's
gorgeous/grating (take your pick)
croon and glamourously difficult
junior-poet (of tremulous omigawd-i'm-
gay ilk) sensibility. Coupled with
Johnny Marr's seductive but very
limited riff-oriented songwriting, The
Smiths were undoubtedly striking, and
a clear love-or-heat prospect. The
danger was that they might not
That fear was underlined by the im-
port LP Hatfull of Hollow, which of -
fered a lot of brilliant-to-mediocre stuff
all too solidly within the limits of the band
had already set for itself. That album
was roughly half 'n' half new and old
material, 'live' (in the studio) and
studio material; it was indispensable
for affectionadoes, but probably
dispensable for everyone else. I'm a
professed Smiths fanatic, but ex-
pressed reasonable disappointment on

the behalf of the indifferent masses,
who had unfortunate justification this
time in saying "So what?"
But so much for that. Meat is Murder
is here, an entirely new Smiths LP, and
beyond the determinedly ugh-
provoking title, it all offers all the per-
suasion any holdout could ask for. It
shot to the #album, slot upon its release
in Britain, and no wonder-no band
could seem so essential to keep up with,
whether they disarm or aggravate the
hell out of you.
This isn't a consistently great album,
but only because The Smiths are still
expanding their own limits, pushing
them and occasionally stumbling on the
borderline. But it's vibrant with effort
and not infrequent greatness. There's a
far greater breadth emotion
here-Morrissy has somehow gotten
past full-time obsessiveness with his
eventually tiresome sexual melan-
choly, and as a result his lyrics are
beginning to reach the longed-for peak
balance of poetry and precision. Most
of Meat is Murder 's lyrics are
remarkable for their unrumpled in-
telligence (one generally expects
horrible lumps of gaseousness from
most issue-oriented pop prosework)
and for their musical flow; as in all the
best pop writing, you can hear this
album and be only subliminally aware
of all but the key sung phrases, which
are powerful enough to convey nearly
all necessary meaning. The rather pat
poetic disillusionment The Smiths have
offered up so far is at least explained
here; it no longer seems an instrument
of creating sexual glamour. Morrissey
still dominates, but his personality no
longer seems to use the music as a
vehicle for sympathy-courting
monologue. He's integrated. For
every time in which he makes an in-
dulgent vocal mistake-like the
perilously on-key falsetto (always a
problem) on the otherwise delightful
"Rusholme Ruffians"-there are
several compensatory passages of per-
fect light phrasing and romantic but not
pathetic crooning.
The adjustment-demanding stop-
start guitar cacophony at the beginning
of the opening "Headmaster Ritual'
speaks of the Smiths' new and im-
proved willingness to push our expec-
tations outward, as does Morrissey's
wordless, near-yodelling chorus. This
band has clearly discovered the studio
as collaborator. Meat is Murder (god, I
still can't stand the educational blun-
tless of that title) connects and fills out
its songs via aural theatre, like the
whirring-razor sounds buzzing out
morbid thoughts during the title song,
and the crowd noises framing the car-
nival giddiness of "Rusholme Ruf-
This album makes The Smiths sound
terribly simple (which was precisely its
charm at the time). Johnny Marr's
compositional abilities are progressing
far beyond the connect-the-riffs
limitations of his earlier work. He's a
remarkable guitarist, and on Meat is
Murder he begins to seem a
remarkable songwriter as well. The in-
teraction between instrumentation and
singer is fairly unusual for a rock band;
the song would certainly sound com-
pletely repetitious without the vocals,
and by themselves the vocals would be
sparse to the point of tunelessness-a
feel of melody occurs only through the
interweaving of both. The blend is
near-perfected here, in the sense that
Marr's work has gotten more complex
and Morrissey's has gotten less atten-

Game Theory: Theirs is the year's first truly great pop album

tion-grabbing. Certainly "How Soon is
Now?," with its enormous psychedelic
reverb effects, comes as close as any
Smiths song to rendering Morrissey
(despite some agreeably plaintive
lyrics about the futility of looking for
partners in bars nearly irrelevant, a
well-used pawn in the midst of a big
pool of sound).;
Morrissey's obsession with
unrequited love-usually less with the
object than with himself as receptable
of frustrated desire-seems unexpec-
tedly jaunty, even self-mocking on "I
Want the One I Can't Have," even if the
instrumentally beautiful but rather in-
dulgently sung "Well I Wonder" leans
backward toward the self-pitying side
of romantic croonery. The thumping
"Barbarism Begins at Home" seems
the likeliest dance single, and here the
big beat has an effectively bitter under-
tone, because "a crack on the head is
what you get for asking... and for not
asking." The song suffers a bit from its
. dance-mix length on the LP, but it's
certainly the rare song that moves feet
within the context of a powerful
message, in this case subtly protesting
child beating. Cheerfully vaudevilian
in sound, "Nowhere Fast" cues its
ruefully funny view of so-this-is-
adulthood angst from "I'd like to drop
my trousers to the Queen/every sen-
sible child will know what this means,"
while the driving melancholy of "The
Headmaster Ritual" rewrites the
English boarding school horros of
Another Country in terms both wistful
and loathing.
The album ends with "Meat is Mur-
der," which is, perversely, its least in-
teresting piece of music; yet the
monotony of the tune and relentless
repetition of the words "death" and
"murder" realize exactly the
propagandistic intent-the song does
leave you genuninely chilled, however
briefly, at the idea of omniverism. As
guilt-inducing pop music, this is cer-
tainly a thousand times more potent
than "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

and its sugar-coated pals. But the
album's real climax is at the end of side one.
"That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"
starts out with the bittersweet strum-
ming of a lone acoustic guitar and ex-
pands to an epic ballad texture amid
some of Morrissey's most touching
lyrics, a litany of creeping personal
isolation that fades out with the
terrified repetition, "I've seen this
happen in other people's lives/and now
it's happening in mine... . " one can
easily object to Morrissey's seeming
stance as bruised conscience for us all,
but here his tortured sensitivity has an
edge of real panic that's devestating.
Meat is Murder doesn't really sound
depressing, but it still spends the vast
majority of its time in the exquisite ar-
ticulation of protests and failed
dreams. Unusually complex and
serious by any standard, it may not be a
flawless album, but it comes close
enough to give one pause. Marooned on
that figurative desert island with only
an album or two to keep my company, I
wouldn't begrudge the company of The
Smiths, even if they might tend to make
me dismiss rather than miss the
civilization left behind.
T he brief scare over an Australian
music scene may have turned out
to be much ado about very little-and if
the so-what backlash rids us of Men At
Work, so much the better-but it did
spark enough curiousity to unveil a few
minor suprises from Down Under. Un-
der a rock, and crawly, in the case of
the clients'of Big Time Records, who
appear to be basement grunge-rock
specialists and are now starting to
release records stateside on their own
L.A.-based label.
Big Time was responsible for the
Hoodoo Gurus, who kicked up some
college station play, an A & M contract
and plenty of dust last year in their A
Rick's American Cafe concert with
cheerfully morbid spookrock from their

for rent or utility bills.
Residence staff and counselors urge
students who know someone who they
suspect may be alcoholic to question
not only drinking patterns, but also
reasons behind drinking. It is better to
confront an alcoholic or leave him or
her alone than to be an "enabler," they
Tulin-Silver of counseling services
says that catching students early on
and pointing out the progression of the
disease has proven "marvelously effec-
For most, recovery means never
touching a drop of alcohol and breaking
friendships with people who were heavy
users themselves. That's not an easy
message to give any student. But
recovered alcoholics say it is possible
for someone who wishes to return to a
college environment.
"Sometimes the thought comes," says
Jim, an' LSA senior who is finishing
school after a bout with alcoholism.
Staring out a window in the Union into
the afternoon sunshine, Jim relates how
earlier in the day he fought the tem-
ptation for a drink.
"I was just staring ouside my door,"
he says. "I live near a playing field and
I was watching these guys playing
frisbee. It was quarter to 12 in the
morning and they were drinking.
"I can easily think "Wow, it looks
great!" That's really glamorizing
alcohol. That is the good part of alcohol,
going out on a sunny spring day and
throwing a frisbee and drinking.
"I can see all the way through that
glamorization of alcohol. Yeah, I can
see me playing frisbee and drinking
beer on the field. But I can also see me
lying in the field the next day, lying in
the mud or wishing I was dead."
ONCE a year, workshops on alcohol
and drug use are held in the
residence halls. But attendance is scar-
ce. If they're lucky, the staff of a 1,700-
resident dormitory will draw a crowd of
30. Most can tell you of occasions when
fewer than 10 showed up.
Leonard Scott, a counselor with
University Counseling Services, says
advisers of the Alice Lloyd Pilot
Program were amazed that 17 students
registered for his pilot course "Alcohol
and Human Behavior" each term this
year. And he remarks that at coun-
seling services, more students come in
wondering if there is something wrong
with a roommate who routinely vomits
after dinner, than a roommate who has
a bottle of whiskey rather than lunch.
Similarly, a campus chapter of
Alcoholics Anonymous formed two
years ago rarely attracts more than
four to six students at weekly meetings.
An Alanon support group for students
who know someone who is an alcoholic
was launched this winter as well, but
attendence is just as sparse. And at AA
and Alanon meetings at the YMCA,
there are several high school students,
but a college student is a rare sight.
Together, the Washtenaw Council on
Alcoholism and Ann Arbor Consultation
Services, the two primary treatment
.facilities to which students are
referred, see about 150 students a year.
Does that suggest students don't take
advantage of available facilities?
Scott and others say no. They contend
that students simply fail to see the
symptoms of alcoholism in themse es
or their friends because the use of
alcohol is the most socially-accepted
drug today. Even if a student thought
someone he or she knew had a problem,

........ - - --------

For help call
996-91 11
1-22142 1



.A ... . ... ..

a casual look around campus would
provide plenty of evidence against the
notion that anything was unusual.
At the Greek Week Beer Chug, for in-
stance, students clapped and cheered
their friends who gulped glasses of
beer, rewarding the team that could
chug the fastest. The contest par-
ticipants, for the most part, didn't ap-
pear to feel very well afterward, but the
message was clear: Chugging alcohol
is fun, accepted.
The Greek system plans to hold a
campus-wide "Alcohol Awareness
Week" next October and sponsor a
variety of activities to raise money for
charities such as Alcoholics
Ironically, one of those activities will
not be a "dry" party. According to Al
Zimmerman, social chairman of the In-
trafraternity Council, the event's plan-
ners turned down the idea for fear it
would be unenforceable. He wouldn't
speculate as to whether anyone would
show up.
SHOULD the University come down
harder on alcohol abuse? What

"We can say students should be
responsible drinkers. But what if they
aren't? What should the University do
then? And I don't think we've decided
Before the University changes its
current position there must be some
evidence that current education efforts
are failing, Johnson says, sitting in his,
third floor office in the southeast corner
of the Union.
Directly outside Johnson's window,
men and women are partying, beers in
hand, on the roof of Sigma Chi frater-
Thomas Greenfield, author of the 1974
University freshman class study on
alcohol use and now a member of the
Alcohol Research Group at Berkeley,
says the University lost interest in
sponsoring research on alcohol after
the decline of the "drug menace" which
pervaded college campuses in the late
1960s and early 1970s.
"I don't think anybody was really
ready to hear the alcohol replaced drug
problems," he says in a telephone in-
terview. "I think it speaks to society's
profound ambivalence toward drinking
among young people. It's not seen as a



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421 5435


should the University's stance be in
regards to alcoholism?
Henry Johnson, vice president for
student services, says the University's
role is to encourage responsible
drinking and provide information on
alcohol abuse.
"We assume we are dealing with a
highly-motivated, intelligent, adult,
aware population that will seek out help
if they need it," he says. "The bottom
line is that the individual has to take
responsibility for their own behavior."
Stepping up involvement in
alcoholism prevention would be
swinging back to the days of in loco.
'parentis in a sense, Johnson says, and
that would mean the University would
have to address a wide range of
problems, everything from bulemia to
cocaine use.
"The issue now becomes, is this
something else we want to deal with?"
he asks.

moral question in the same way as
drugs were."
Inside the University's Office of
Housing, education director Marvin
Parnes is wrestling with the same ob-
servation, trying to develop policies
and programs that will teach respon-
sible drinking but, at the same time,
root out problem drinkers.
"There's often been the point of view
that college students are experimen-
ting" he says. "Of course, they're going
to drink too much, have big drinking
parties. That's kind of an image of that
part of life. That may be so, but it isn't
so that there aren't students within
that system who might be experiencing
alcohol chemical dependency."
The housing office has posted a part-
time position for an administrator who
would coordinate alcohol education
programs around campus for students
in the residence halls. Parnes says the
residence staff has received special

12 Wdekend/Friday;April 12, 1985


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