SATIRICAL SONGWRITING: DON'T BOTHER
Updated: Sep 4, 2021
SUPERB artwork by Chris Drane
Before Farewell Horizontal we had a micro-hit (among local stoners) called Marihuana Is A Lot Of Fun, as Gnohms (us plus Mark). It had a very cool music video; one of the few by any artist I actually like...
SUPERB music video by Glynn Urquhart
The song was well-reviewed, probably on the ‘strength’ of its title and not much more. I wrote it in 2013/14 (as in, approx those years - not a bizarre time signature), strumming an acoustic guitar in my folks’ living room and mumbling non-words over it. “Marihuana” (spelled with an “h” for extra ‘why?’ factor) fit nicely in a spot that might have sounded more like the “now I wanna” bit of the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. "Now I wanna" is one of those effortless phrases with a lilting emphasis and singable vowel/consonant ratio that lend themselves to lyrics. A bit like “on and on and on", “together forever and ever”, and words like "baby" and "tonight". I kept the word “marihuana” because it held some thematic interest (although I considered its pseudo-edginess a minus) and it rolled into “is a lotta fun” - rhyming its way to the final beat while also making sense = good enough! And that’s why it’s called “Marihuana Is A Lot Of Fun”.
Then I stuck descending, ham-fisted metal power chords under it that put the one-note melody harmonically under a kind of weird light. The song’s pounding beat and dumb hook had me imagining THIS
mixed with THIS.
(And maybe even a bit of THIS.)
Usually I demo the entire song, melodies and all, before writing the words. A lot of artists do the “melody last” method: pop writer extraordinaire Bonnie McKee, Kurt Cobain (he was the guy from Skid Row), and John Fogerty (CCR), who aptly said "lyrics are hard". I invented a sarcastic character as a puppet for the all stupid things I’ve ever heard about the 'grooviness' of weed. “Sarcastic” is the key word here. Many years later, to correct my lyrical shitness, I read some how-to books; more than one warned gravely against using a sarcastic POV, which I'd already learned from my vaguely annoying experience with this song.
Here's the lyrics. Do you detect sarcasm? "Well I don’t know what they tell kids in school, but I’m telling you it’s really cool. If you’re the only one left in your grade, well, it might just be what gets you laid. Marihuana is a lot of fun. It turns you on, it unshackles your mind, it lets you leave your square life behind. Skip off class, stand out back in the lane, elevate to a higher plane. Marihuana is a lot of fun. You’ve got to smoke it, smoke it, smoke it, yeah. Now don’t you worry about working your hardest. Don’t you worry about being your smartest. If you just suck on this enough you can become a famous artist. It’s this great secret no one knows about."
There's a story to it. When I was 14 I was sitting at the station heading to school. I’d just had my braces tuned by the orthodontist (so rock n’ roll my youth was). With aching teeth and Megadeth’s “Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good” blasting into my falling-apart earbuds, this shonky guy approached me holding a plastic bag and said something. I didn’t initially hear him and said “Pardon/what/sorry?” as my memory caught up and I realised he’d asked, “Oi, mate, wanna buy some choof?” He reiterated, eyeballing me disdainfully, “some mariJUANA???” (in the exact same tone as the bartender who says "anything else, your majesty?" on the Simpsons when Homer goes to a different, shittier bar than Moe's and asks for a clean glass.) I nervously squeaked “no thanks” and he left, in apparent disgust. Such was my naivety that I sat wondering if I’d just survived a near-death experience in which I could have been stabbed in a drug deal gone wrong.
Richmond station: the site of my near-death experience, leading to years of therapy
I drew inspiration from this story - about the sheer loserdom of drugs - and put it ironically next to 'subtle' classic rock-style mythologising about the mind-expanding power of getting super stoned (e.g. countless Black Sabbath songs). I thought about the chief stoner in our high school, whose parents allowed him to grow a tree-sized weed bush in the back yard. The price of their tolerance was a never-ending queue of slightly ashamed-looking teenage boys filing through their family home, straight to their son’s room of beanbags and Bob Marley, where moronic conspiracy theories were discussed on a carpet covered in stray weed and pubes. (I never understood how one boy could shed so many pubes.) There is a funny cognitive dissonance between how uncool stoners actually are and how cool they think they are. That's the song's whole point.
It's a shame this revolutionary artist, to many, is just "King of the Stoners"
Of course, marijuana is known to be more fun below the age of ~25, and decreasingly so after that. I wasn't smoking it, or cigarettes, or even getting drunk OR EVEN DRINKING COFFEE for several years before I wrote this song, for medical reasons (which I also recommend for mental health). So, the song really was 100% a piss-take. 'Drug songs' are a stupid idea - you're either going to look like an idiot, or persuade some other idiot to go down the fruitless path of stonerdom. I don’t wanna get on my ‘high’ horse - it's your life, go nuts - but I know many people, mostly musicians/artists, who have (or had) a drug dependency, and today I believe we all would have been better off if we’d tattooed those stupid X’s on our hands and pretended Minor Threat weren’t shit and never touched a drop of alcohol/tobacco/marijuana/caffeine/Windex to begin with.
Go straight edge - you could be as happy as this guy!
At gigs this song would get the best reaction of our set. I had to ham it up and play it for laughs, because it really is such a stupid idea. But by the 30th time we played it, I just felt embarrassed; it’d be like being the 1910 Fruitgum Company performing “Simon Says”: bringing joy to the world while dying inside.
That’s the trouble with sarcasm: if people pick up on it, it's a novelty song and you’re instantly a clown/jester/comedian by default. Although I think humour is an important ingredient in lyrics, I NEVER write “joke” songs; I'm always serious about the song despite whatever funny levels it might work on. On the other hand, if people DON’T realise it’s sarcastic, that’s even worse. I would see these junior millennials (as opposed to senior millennials like me) in the crowd with the bushy hair squished under a cap like a 70s petrol station attendant - grinning and digging our 'message' about loving weed.
This was supposed to be a photo of millenial stoners with hats who need haircuts, but I found this by mistake and I don't think I'll be able to top it
Looking at our streaming stats recently, that song was by far Gnohms' biggest one. It wasn’t our best, but I still like it. I just wish I hadn't failed in communicating the point. I don’t think people realised it was satire. I think they just thought “yay weed LOL!” which made us no better than weed-smoking gimmicks like the Dune Rats.
The Dune Rats doing what they do best: sucking hard.
Nowadays when I’m writing Farewell Horizontal songs I’m extra cautious about such ‘unfortunate implications’ and will check my songs to make sure I’m not construed as a dickhead with a crap sense of humour. If you're unlucky, you'll pick up on such vibes before you actually release the song! The moral: writing sarcastic lyrics may be a lot of fun, but forever explaining that your song was misunderstood is actually quite boring.