Wednesday, November 02, 2011

"...Someone Ought to Warn Him Before I Knock Him Off His Chair..."

In programming, we're familiar with the concept of an infinite loop. Mess up your code, and it will actually happen: the logic will get stuck in some dumb cycle—wash, rinse, repeat, wash, rinse, repeat...

I have now encountered the same problem in my brain: There's a song by country singer David Allan Coe called "Longhaired Redneck", and it's very weird, and I'm very fond of it and have come to know all its words. ("...'Cause my long hair just can't cover up my red neck...") Trouble is, the actual song never musically resolves: it just goes in this chord progression that always leads right back into another round. ("...I've won ever fight I've ever fought...") On the record, they solve this by fading out. But my brain doesn't have a fade-out. ("...And I don't need some turkey tellin' me that I ain't country...") I have just enough internal pseudo-Tourrette's to have this song play ad infinitum in brain. ("...And sayin' that I ain't worth the damned old ticket that he bought...") It does sometimes shift to some far-back process space for much of the time, but then it comes forward again. ("...'Cause I can sing all them songs about Texas...") I often absent-mindedly sing bits of it outloud ("...And I still do all the sad ones that I know..."; ), causing puzzled looks from my co-workers and annoyed eye-rolls from my children.

There was that Star Trek movie where they battled the Borg and finally won by infecting it with some sort of "logic virus" ("...They tell me I look like Merle Hagard..."), an unresolvable conceptual conundrum. The Borg was destroyed. ("...And sound a lot like David Allan Coe...!")* Am I similarly doomed? Will I ever escape this spinning wheel of surly oddball outlaw country?** Help!

* The unresolvable musical structure is one part of the song's Tourrettic stickiness for me, but its weirdness is another. It brims with Coe's idiosyncratic crazy-cracker post-modernism (so say I), obsessed with issues of self-identity, self-mythologizing, his own historical context, and allusions to the history of country music. When he sings "them songs about texas", he slips into a nasal Bob Wills impersonation, then drops into a parody of country weeper whisper-speak for "all the sad ones I know". Then a bit of country legend name dropping (common to many of his songs), then hits a musical peak while referencing himself in the third-person. Nutty. Narcissistic. And stuck in my brain.

** Just between you and me, I'm not entirely sure I want to escape.


  1. 1) Wow, be careful before you google 'David Allan Coe'. NSFW! After a few listens, I'm struck by LHRN's vast self-regard. There seems to be no knowing self-deprecation to charm the listener at all. It actually frightens me a bit to imagine who would like this song, especially when I keep in mind the cretinous sexism of some of his other songs. Is this really a grown man?
    This all makes me hear something diabolical in the infinite loop. Fascinating in the worst possible way.

    2) An infinite loop song I like is the Non Nobis Domine traditionally ascribed to Byrd. It's a repeating canon, and to end the sung sentence, you have to start a new musical phrase. But to end the musical phrase, you have to start a new grammatical sentence. So it can't end.
    A more evil example is this part of Bach's Musical Offering. The piece ends one whole-step higher than it began, and repeats, climbing one step for every repeat, forever.

  2. Mmm, yeah. I don't know the breadth of his opus, mainly just a few of his semi-hits from his near-brush with mainstream success in the seventies. Even from those, it's clear that he's a crazy bastard (I mean both those terms literally, not in the jovial "hey, you crazy bastard, you" sense), and his particular flavor of crazy runs hard towards the self-aggrandizement with nary a hint of the -deprecation. (And his subsequent booze- and drug-drenched decades don't seem to have improved things.) Yet I still like the song. (And can't shake the damn thing.) There's no accounting for taste. (Or probably there is, but don't ask me to do it. This could be the launching point for a lengthy discussion of ethics and aesthetics, but I'm sleepy right now and unwilling to ponder such ponderous ponderables.)