David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 234: Gang Of Four (At Home He's A Tourist)

March 14, 2023

What's your go-to FU music when you're mad as hell as you can't take it anymore? When you get in the car to go home from work, seething at that person who gave you a problem at 4:56, knowing you need to crank the car stereo to 11 so that you can sing at the top of your voice all the way home?

Mine is Gang of Four. They are an easy choice because, minimally, the music sounds like people trying to destroy their instruments. More importantly, the lyrics also either outright celebrate anger ("FMUSA" or "He'd Send In The Army") or more subtly capture the helplessness of human beings in a way that can only feed anger.

That helplessness almost always comes through perspectives that skewer human capital, less so about the abundance of resources that might be defined as "capital," but more as human stock for consumption to feed the powerful and wealthy. Because many of their songs wrap the personal around the societal, no matter what I am angry at (and in the end, doesn't our anger always come down to one or the other) Gang of Four feeds my primal rage.

This declaration of humans as capital is all over their 1979 debut album, Entertainment!  Humans are sedated and blinded to "the dirt behind the daydream/the happy ever after . . . at the end of the rainbow" ("Ether"). Our "relations are of power/we all have good intentions/but all with strings attached" ("Natural's Not In It"). And that's just the first two songs. For song three, we get a history revision lesson ("it's not made by great men"), while song four, strips it all down to just sex in the supermarket with "Damaged Goods." By the time, we get to the 12th and final song, we truly are the "beetle on its back" as "love'll get [us] like a case of anthrax" ("Anthrax").

Yet, nothing from the album beats "At Home He's A Tourist," a single-take, all-out-thrash on the meaningless of life in a culture of consumption. The rhythm section explodes from the outset, Dave Allen's throbbing bass, especially prevalent, before a guitar riff signature Andy Gill shaves, rips, and tears through the onslaught. Never has anyone made a guitar sound more like a shredder. When Jon King comes in with the plodding title line "At home he feels like a tourist/at home he feels like a tourist," the stage is set for a jarring examination of the lives we pretend to covet.

King, in a 2009 review of Entertainment! track by track for Clash, describes the tonal blitzkrieg so well: ". . . the strings being hit and screaming in pain as they're bashed and cajoled into a beautiful anti-solo".1 King went on to describe the song as some kind of "mutant disco" where dance, funk and rock seemed to have mated.

Through this all, the lyrics describe the pathetic way the masses try to adjust to society's expectations. Our man of the house "fills his head with culture/he gives himself an ulcer." He can find no escape, even when he sneaks off to the local club, ready to seek superficial gratification: "Down on the disco floor/they make their profit/from the things they sell/to help you cob off/and the rubbers you hide/in your top left pocket."

Meanwhile, our woman of the house stays home, where "she looks for interest," both to combat her boredom but also as reward for her investment to the man out looking for extra-marital relations. When King sings that "she said she was ambitious/so she accepts the process," he declares a devastating summation of the choices many women have made for their own stilted place in the prevailing culture.

The bridge is all about ebbing water: "two steps forward/six steps back," setting up the final chorus with the additional "Why make yourself so anxious?" sandwiched between the two "you give yourself an ulcer." Meanwhile, Gill's guitar sounds more and more like it's being pared down to slivers. The song's final chorus and dramatic ending, 15 repetitive notes, could be the moment anyone questioning their lives, as they go from the difficulties of work to the emptiness of home, gets cited for a loud music ordinance.

Or, at least that's the story I always have ready for the local cops.

1Murray, Robin. "Gang Of Four Track By Track." Clash. October 9, 2009. https://www.clashmusic.com/features/gang-of-four-track-by-track/

Gang of Four. "At Home He's A Tourist." Entertainment! EMI, 1979. Link here.

Day 233: Mary Black "Song For Ireland"

Day 235: Eric Clapton "Lay Down Sally"

See complete list here.