Graded on a Curve:
Repo Man (OST)

The life of a repo man is always intense. I know this because I have, at last count, watched Alex Cox’ 1984 film Repo Man 123 times. Its storyline—shiftless punk finds himself part of a motley crew of repo men, while a mad scientist roams LA in a car with some highly dangerous nuclear materials in the back—is both whacked and hilarious, and it’s as full of classic lines (“I don’t want no commies in my car. No Christians either” says jaded repo man Bud [Harry Dean Stanton] to young acolyte Otto [Emilio Estevez]) as Apocalypse Now. What’s more, it boasts a better soundtrack, thanks to the contributions of Iggy Pop, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Fear, and The Plugz.

The film does a wonderful job of capturing the aimlessness of LA’s hardcore youth, and is so full of catch phrases (Bud: “Look at those assholes, ordinary fucking people. I hate ’em.”) you could spend the rest of your life, or at least a day or two, speaking only lines from the movie, and never repeat yourself. It’s not impossible, either. I have a friend who took a whole lotta acid and spent the next four days speaking only in song lyrics. Seriously. You might ask him how his day was going and he’d reply, “I’m easy, easy like Sunday morning” or “I feel like a bullet in the gun of Robert Ford.” I didn’t witness this, but I believe him. He’s not a pathological liar like yours truly, of whom Mary McCarthy once said, “Every word he writes is a lie, including and and the.” Come to think of it I’m lying again, because McCarthy was actually referring to Lillian Hellman.

Anyway, the soundtrack (and the movie) open with Iggy Pop’s “Repo Man.” He recorded the song with Blondie’s former rhythm section (Clem Burke on drums and Nigel Harrison on bass) and ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones on guitar after hurriedly scribbling some lines in his notebook. Jones’ opening guitar riff is titanic, oceanic, and BIG, and the rhythm section is spot on. Jones then plays a sorta secret agent man riff while Iggy sings one of his greatest couplets: “I’m looking for the joke/With a microscope.” Okay, so it’s not as good as 1969’s “Now I’m gonna be 22/I say oh my and a boo hoo,” but that line’s one in a million. Anyway, Jones demonstrates that his knack for writing riffs made him punk’s Jimmy Page, and Iggy throws out some more great lines (“I was a teenage dinosaur, stoned and obsolete/I didn’t get fucked and I didn’t get kissed/I got so fucking dense/Using my head for an ashtray” before taking the song out repeating “I’m looking for the joke.” Black Flag’s “TV Party” follows, and it’s one of their greats, a hilarious sing-along and put down of drunken couch potato punks who spend their lives chained to their television (“I wouldn’t be without my TV for a day/Or even a minute!”). Everybody loves it when the guys shout out the names of their favorite shows, but then a terrible tragedy takes place—their TV goes on the fritz!

I’ve never been a huge fan of the crossover metal of Suicidal Tendencies, but “Institutionalized” is a great song whether I love it or not. Mike Muir makes sure of that with his great vocals, which grow more frantic as he tries to explain to his family that he’s alright, really, seriously. The chorus is a chariot race, or the Roadrunner on crank, as Muir bellows that he’s not crazy in vain, while the verses finally lead to Muir repeating “All I wanted was a Pepsi and she wouldn’t give it to me,” which became a hardcore catch phrase as ubiquitous as “Repo Man’s” conversation between Debbie (“Duke, let’s go do some crimes”) and Duke (“Yeah. Let’s go get sushi and not pay.”) If I’m not overly thrilled by “Institutionalized,” I’m downright disgusted by the inclusion of Burning Sensations’ cover of “Pablo Picasso.” It’s a serviceable cover, but adds nothing to the original, and what does Pablo Picasso have to do with repo men or hardcore in the first place? Burning Sensations struck paydirt in 1982 with the calypso horrific “Belly of the Whale,” but that’s about all they ever struck, with the exception of a nerve in my forehead, which twitches every time I listen to their version of “Pablo Picasso.” Cox had a jazillion tunes to choose from, and he chose this mediocrity? It’s almost enough to make me wonder whether he really is the genius I really think he is.

As for Juicy Bananas, their entire career spanned one song, “Bad Man” on the Repo Man soundtrack. About all I can tell you about them was that the Circle Jerks’ Zander Schloss (who plays Kevin the Nerd in the film) was part of the band, while Sy Richardson, who played the super bad ass Lite in the film provides vocals. It’s not great but it works. Richardson lays down the repo man law over a slow soul groove, and delivers some great tough guy one liners (“I walk into a bar or someone’s place of work they’re shit scared.”) and (“Like music? Listen to this. I was into these dudes before anybody. Asked me to be their manager. Called bullshit on that. Managin’ a pop group’s no job for a man.”)

The Circle Jerks merit two songs on the soundtrack. “Coup d’état” is a great slice of hardcore, all stop and start and screams and whispers of “coup d’etat” while the guitars buzzsaw their way towards a revolution that’s never going to happen. But who cares? This tune is better than any revolution because real revolutions are messy and can last years while this baby is over in less than two minutes. Even better is their campy acoustic take on their sorta protest song “When the Shit Hits the Fan, which they’re shown playing it in a bar in the film. Keith Morris couldn’t sound any more bored as he sings, “We all gotta duck/When the shit fits the fan” and “Let’s all mooch off the state/Gee, the money’s really great.” My favorite moment occurs during the brief guitar solo, when Morris half-heartedly scats, “Doobity doo wop wop say what yeah.” Never fails to crack me up. And I love the guitar solo that ends the song cuz its every bit as lethargic sounding as Morris. Great song, no doubt about it.

As for Fear’s “Let’s Have a War,” it’s one sarcasm-laden call for violence and bloodshed as a means of population control (“We need the space!”), with vocalist Lee Ving singling out the gauchos, New Jersey, queers, and the middle class, and I’d like it more if I didn’t think it was more mean-spirited than joke. That said the frantic repeated chorus (“There’s too many of us/There’s too many of us/etc.”) is catchy, though not as catchy as that greatest of all pro-war songs, Black Market Baby’s “World at War.”

Last, but by no means least, we have LA’s The Plugz, one of the first Latino punk bands. They perform a great cover—“Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)”—of the Johnny Rivers’ classic, with Tito Larriva kicking ass on the vocals and non-Plugz Steven Hufsteter on lead guitar, but it’s small potatoes next to the great “El Clavo y la Cruz,” which starts slowly with a great Chicano cry before breaking into a beautiful and cool tune with some nice horns. Then the song totally opens up, with Larriva singing, followed by a horn, then Larriva singing again, and so on. And all this is accompanied by great cries from the band. It’s not hardcore but it’s hard to beat, and one of my favorite songs of all time. Finally, The Plugz perform the instrumental “Reel Ten,” the LP’s soundtrack theme, once again with Hufsteter on guitar. It’s slow and haunting and Hufsteter’s guitar is a thing of beauty. Then it’s interrupted by a strange interlude with Hufsteter playing stray notes before the main theme returns, more mysterious and beautiful than ever, before ending with a big orchestral flourish. Repeat after me: The Plugz forever!

I can think of ten good reasons to buy this album and only one reason not to, and those are good odds. My friends and I never had TV parties but we definitely spent a lot of time drinking while listening to this baby. It was a sure fire winner, along with the Minutemen, Meat Puppets, and early Black Flag, and the movie it was the soundtrack to was a sure thing too. I guess what I’m saying is you should listen to it, if you don’t already know it by heart, and I’ll tell you why: suppose you’re thinkin’ about a plate o’ shrimp. Suddenly someone’ll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o’ shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin’ for one, either. It’s all part of a cosmic unconsciousness. You got that? Well get this. The LP, that is.


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