Slamming History: Jawbox, “Mirrorful” (1996)

The thrill of getting slammed is more sought after than one might expect, given the danger to life and limb.  It’s not just the guys playing football; it’s all those kids cannonballing into the pool; it was me, one summer, jumping out of trees.

You can feel very safe, kinesthetically, stepping down on the 1, 2, 3, and 4 beats of a rock 4/4 time, or on the 1 and 3.   But there’s a nice unsettled feeling, like being jerked upward, when the big beats come on 2 and 4.  (Compare accents in spoken language:  usually the effect of accenting syllables is to roll speech smoothly along, but when you shift the accents to alternate “wrong” places speech becomes a series of turnstiles.)  A typical boom-tap-boom-tap rock beat gives you a pleasing blend of 1-3 assurance and 2-4 chain-pulling.  But a big accent in between two of these beats—as with three of the five notes of the “You Really Got Me” riff, especially the fifth one—is really slamming.

[Spacing is correct on the main Hooks page]

Beats:                                                                                                                                       and……1……and……2…… and……3……and……4…… and
You……..real….ly….. got……me…………………………………..You

Chords:
VII
……I……..I…...VII…….I……………………………VII
(Here the VII chord is a G-flat and the I is an A-flat)

The slamming effect can be achieved also, or intensified, by changing chords against-the-scheme, as happens in “You Really Got Me” back and forth between the tonic and the flatted-seven chord.  (Imagine a Frank Sinatra version—not only would we not have a fast-jerking rhythm, the chord certainly would not change on “got” and again on “me,” not unless we slowed everything way down.)

Getting slammed on off beats by non-subtle chord changes gives a giddy jolt much better than jumping out of trees:  flexible, multiple, renewable, unstoppable.

What if there were a hot topic to go with the kinesthetic thrill?  What if something in the world were to get slammed semantically at the same time that our bodies seem to get knocked over?

Jawbox’s “Mirrorful” is a slam on History as taught in school.  In verses full of off-beat rhythmic accents, we’re told that history is “less a lesson than an alibi,” a story illustrated to “advertise [someone’s] dignity.”  The refrain is “Histories—I don’t believe.”  Look where the big-statement chords come:

Beats:
and…3… and…4…and…1…and…2…and…3…and…4…and…
His…………..to……….. ries
Chords:………………………..I……………….IV….…………………VI
(Here the I chord is a B minor, the IV is an E, and the VI is a G)

1…and…2…and…3… and…4…and
……..I………….don’t……….be…lieve

1…and…2…and…3… and…4…and
I………………..IV……………………..VI

“Mirrorful” end of verse, refrain

After the antic accents of the verse have us spinning like a piñata, the big chords of the refrain slam us like a boxer’s big punches left, right, left.  This leaves us fully as dislocated and hurting (the flatted sixth the most hurting of all possible rock chords) as we should feel at the point of renouncing what they told us was our heritage.

Advertisements

About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s