Monday, January 23, 2012

No. 864 – Ænema

Performer: Tool
Songwriters: Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey, Paul D’Amour
Original Release: Ænima
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

In about 1996, the ultimate blue-jeans and black-leather-vest teenage-boy rock station started up in Columbus. It was notable for its name—The Big Wazoo (WAZU were the call letters)—and its format. It was the first rock station I knew of that had no DJs. Instead, every once in a while, there was just some preprogrammed smartass air-check dude with voice-box machine set on Satan who would put down the other rock stations as wuss music.

The Big Wazoo played the hardest of hard: Metallica, Pantera, Iron Maiden, you name it. It was chest-thumping jock rock that lived up to one of Beavis & Butthead’s all-time classic credos: “The only thing cooler than a band that gets chicks, is a band that scares chicks.” The only women allowed were those named Destiny who kept their hair long so you could use it like the bridal of a horse. Even the radio station’s name was badassed.

Well, pay no attention to the corporate suit seeking to curry advertising favor behind the curtain, Destiny. One night as I drove home from work at about midnight, The Big Wazoo started up Ænema and exposed themselves once and for all for the marketing frauds that they were.

I couldn’t believe it at first: Ænima had been out for almost a year, and this song was literally unplayable, or so I thought. It features Maynard saying the f-word at least 20 times and the s-word about a dozen more. (In context, the somewhat satirical message works beyond mere obscenity. Check out a lyric site.)

After 11 p.m., FTC rules on what you could or couldn’t do on the air pre-Janet Jackson loosened up, but still … 30 times? How do you handle it? Do you cut out a couple of particularly objectionable sections, cutting the song to five or so minutes and just let a few of the big words fly, a la Who Are You? Or do you live up to your claim and let the chips fall where they may? In retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t already know the answer.

Instead, what the hardest of hard did was go totally limp: Every bad word, and I mean every single one, was blanked out, wiped from the track. The Wazoo played all six-and-a-half minutes, and before long, it got to be laughable. What’s the point of playing a song if your fraidy-cat edits make a mockery of it?

Yeah, you guys are take-no-crap rule-breakers, all right. To paraphrase B&B, the only thing lamer than wuss rock is wuss rock dressed up as being kick-ass.

As far as I was concerned, that was the beginning of the death spiral for rock radio. I’m not sure I ever tuned into the Big Wazoo again. I’d already seen Fonzie's rear end soar over the tank, so why bother?

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