David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 317: Poe (Trigger Happy Jack)

January 14, 2024

At the same time Alanis Morissette tore up the charts with Jagged Little Pill, apparently bringing a new wave of feminism to fervent young fans, Poe could have been doing the same thing, but to a lot less fanfare. Female students in my classes in the mid-to-late 1990s worshipped Alanis, especially the messages of "You Oughta Know" and "All I Really Want." When we got talking before or after class about music, I would say, "have you heard Poe's Hello? It's pretty awesome itself."

In retrospect, I am lucky that I was never called in front of the dean for suggesting something so inappropriate.

While Poe and Morissette were dabbling with the same box of paints, infusing their art with passion, literary references, and the first real signs of "girl power" (sorry, Spice Girls, you came along a year and an infinite number of original ideas later). Poe tended to be a little more abstract than Morissette, but defined herself by finding a way to be much more disturbing. Was I really encouraging young women to embrace "Choking The Cherry," regardless of how the lyrics represent standing up to misogyny or male-dominated society: "hey, man, don't you know that you're choking the cherry/hey, man, don't you know me better than that/sucking me in, spitting me out/one day I may just leave you far behind me"? I have to admit these lyrics might be a bit harder to embrace than "I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone/I recommend walking around naked in your living room" (Morissette's "You Learn").

Glen Ballard, Morissette's producer and co-writer for Jagged Little Pill, knew of Poe, and probably helped introduce Morissette to some darker representations of her woman power. Knowing that, the "spitting me out" reversal of a sexual innuendo can be found on Morissette's "All I Really Know" in the lines "I'm like Estella/I like to reel it in, then spit it out." "Estella" comes, of course, from Dickens' Great Expectations, showing Alanis's literary chops, made all the more ironic (I won't go there) by the fact that Great Expectations was a 1998 movie release, with Gwyneth Paltrow starring as Estella. That film had a pretty cool soundtrack, featuring songs from Tori Amos, Pulp, Iggy Pop, The Verve Pipe, and, you guessed it, Poe. But, no Alanis.

Poe too is willing to lay out a level of cultural literacy not commonly found in pop music. Hers tend towards horror references, many of which can be found in "Trigger Happy Jack (Drive By a Go Go)," which is "All I Really Want" when put in the hands of a psycho. After all, the chorus, if we can call it that, includes a rather machine-like vocalization of "you can't talk to a psycho like a real human being."

Like "All I Really Want," "Trigger Happy Jack" depicts a dysfunctional relationship. Morissette approaches her subject with a little light-heartedness ("Do I stress you out? My sweater is on backwards and inside out and you say, 'how appropriate.'") Poe comes straight to the heart of the matter, no cute anecdote ("He scares easily/it makes him so angry at me." From there, Poe, delivers us the anecdotal evidence, straight from B-horror movie, not literature: "and his head spins around just like in The Exorcist/and I find it ever so hard to resist his cries."

Both songs careen with violence, employing the gun as central metaphor, for physical and mental abuse. Right after her opening verse, Morissette sings "and there I go jumping before the gunshot goes off/slap me with the splintered ruler/and it would knock me to the floor if I wasn't already there/if I could only hunt the hunter." Poe, not surprisingly, keeps with the darker approach, singing "but there's nothing more sadistic than an infant/waving his pistol in my face/he wants me right down on my knees/crumbling in disgrace."

I hope you can see why I count my lucky stars I wasn't called in by the dean.

"You recommended this song, Dr. Fleming? You do see the error of your ways, right?"

"Well, Dean, I think you have to listen to the whole song."

"Oh, as in the chorus, where Miss Poe sings 'Trigger Happy Jack/you're gonna blow/but I'm gonna get off/before you go.'"

"So, it's not Virginia Woolf, but I guarantee she would love this song. Oh, and by the way, I am guessing she prefers Ms. Poe."

Eventually, Poe's central conceit of "you can't talk to a psycho like a normal human being" makes you question who is the psycho, the trigger happy man or the woman who finishes the song by singing, "and I hate myself just enough to want him/but I hate him just enough to want to get off/but I understand him/maybe I'm just crazy enough to love him/why not."  Mind you, this comes not too long after she claims that Jack has her feeling like roadkill.

I think I could still defend the song to the dean, if need be. There is something very honest about Poe's depiction of a relationship clearly unhealthy for the woman, but still desired, in part, because of the way society has forced women to look at relationships with men. So, yes, I could defend encouraging students to listen to the song. Besides, musically, "Trigger Happy Jack" explores more newer territory than "All I Really Want," which also probably describes why it is mostly forgotten while all of Morissette's hits off of Jagged Little Pill were played consciously.

The video, though? Maybe an even harder sell. The link below is to the video where Poe taunts a tiny man in a jar. It's not Nine Inch Nails disturbing, but a little jarring. Ba-da-bump. It was jokes like that probably made most of my students at that time ignore any or my recommendations anyway.

Poe. "Trigger Happy Jack (Drive By a Go-Go)." Hello. Atlantic, 1995. Video link here.

Day 316: Dire Straits "Lions"

Day 318: Grand Funk "The Loco-Motion"

See complete list here.