Cover v. Original Verdict: Lost in the Supermarket

October 11, 2008

Our readers have overwhelmingly voted for the Clash (3-1).

I knew this would happen. In fact, it’s the whole reason I proposed this song. I’m subversive like that.

Here’s the deal. The Clash are good. Damn good. I mean phenomenally good. “Lost in the Supermarket” is one of my favorite songs. But what I’m afraid of with bands such as the Clash, is that they’ve become so entrenched as musical greats that we (by ‘we’ I mean ‘me’) are not allowed to say or believe that another band can cover their song and actually do it better. We are forced into believing that a groundbreaking band such as the Clash can do no wrong. That their creations are perfection and cannot be improved upon. Well, as much as I love the Clash, and I do love them enormously, I think that is rubbish.

The Afghan Whigs are a good band. Not a great band. Not even close to the level of the Clash. They are not creators or innovators like the Clash. But goddamn, they really took “Lost in the Supermarket” to a new level. This song is lyrically haunting. It’s surreal, topsy-turvy, and dream-like. And we have the Clash to thank for that.

I wasnt born so much as I fell out
Nobody seemed to notice me
We had a hedge back home in the suburbs
Over which I never could see

The Clash have written of an experience of loneliness and isolation. It’s figured in the surreal space of a supermarket, with never-ending aisles, a ghostly voice over the PA (not actually in the song, but the picture that is painted by the lyrics) announcing the specials that you can never actually find. There is the image of the ghostly/sterile overhead lights. All of this figured as metaphor for an equally dystopic life, from birth (falling out), arguing parents, self-medication, and a going nowhere adult existence. There is an idea of going through the motions, taking note of everything as inconsequential, and giving oneself over the inevitable ephemeral sense of being utterly and completely alone. Brilliantly appropriated to the overly capitalist concept of the supermarket. Everything you need but nothing useful. Possibly THE definition of loneliness.

This is brilliantly painted by the lyrics. However, it’s the Afghan Whigs who brilliantly perform them. The music they produce for the lyrics sonically mimics that emptiness and ghostly surreal existence/experience. From the start of the haunting background voice echoing lyrics and floating “oohs” and “ahhs.” It all serves to fill up space/silence in such away that we are forced to confront exactly what the sound is trying to hide, emptiness. I think this is where the Clash fails the song. Their simplistic (I don’t mean that in the pejorative) style of play leaves the lyrics to act on their own, which I believe in the case of this song, leaves one wanting. The Afghan Whigs give us a way to experience the song, rather than just listening to it.

Long live the Clash.

Cover v. Original works like this:  A contributor presents covers and originals in a post.  Readers debate over which is better in the comments.  Final verdict is given about one week later.

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One Response to “ Cover v. Original Verdict: Lost in the Supermarket ”

  1. revisingproust on October 21, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    gosh, if that’s the “overwhelming turnout” on election day, i’m not sure if we’re lucky or doomed.

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