Is This Song And Video Tasteless Or Profound?

Black Lips is a curious little punk outfit based in Atlanta that has earned a nice cult following in their 15 years of performing and recording. Hailing from the South gives the Black Lips’ music a flavor you don’t often get from the northeastern or northwestern Punkers. These guys don’t thrash so much as they twang, kind of like a cross between mid-60s garage rock and old-time rockabilly with a nice loose feel, missing notes from time to time and not giving a shit about it. They’ve also got a great sense of humor to the point where you can’t always be sure they’re not yanking our chains.

It’s good to know all this before watching the video for “Crystal Night”, the first single off their new album Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, the title of which may provide another clue as to what they are up to here. The song is a lot of fun on first take, a nicely played (with a crazy-toned guitar solo) sendup of late-50s Rock & Roll, or maybe a girl group from the early-60s, singing about lost teenage love. But then they get to the part – “We never say goodbye / Now you’re sent to die / On Crystal Night” – and you realize they are singing about that Crystal Night, Kristallnacht, that horrible day when the Nazis first began to round up and murder Jews in 1938. And suddenly the song is not so much fun anymore.

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Should we really be making fun of something as awful as Kristallnacht? I’m sure there are people who would find this song and video to be pretty tasteless. But here’s the thing: despite the tone of the music, they were not trying to make light of anything. In fact, just the opposite. Black Lips vocalist Cole Alexander was quoted saying that the song “was written as a fictional account of the forbidden love of a Gentile and a Jew during Nazi Germany. This song was our attempt at saying love trumps hate.”

I watched the video a second time and I was moved. In a year when Nazi sympathizers have astonishingly re-entered the American conversation, the song is a gentle yet powerful reminder that such a hateful philosophy needs to be taken very seriously.

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