Some people complain.

May 15, 2009

My mom has this tick.

I think it spawns from the fact that she’s a mother of two and aunt of 14. I’m the oldest of all of them, so in her eyes, we’re all perennially young.

If she ever hears someone mention the word “f*ck,” she tenses up and then gives a stern glare, demanding to know what exactly the offending speaker just said.

This made family movie nights at our house a bit tense if the stray word found it’s way into even a PG-13 movie growing up, but I’ll never forget an extended family get together where someone plugged Good Will Hunting into the VCR. No one had ever seen the movie and it was years before TNT, TBS, Lifetime, A&E, Oxygen and umpteen other channels put it into syndication after heavy editing. So the amount of times “f*ck,” or variations on it, poured fourth from the TV that night was enough to leave my mother hitting the table until she could take it no more and turned the movie off altogether after about 45 minutes. Somedays I’m surprised we even made it that far. Although I’ve personally been to Boston in my lifetime, it’s safe to say there were never any family trips there. And even if there were vague plans, that movie probably killed them on the spot.

I, however, use the word with a bit of frequency. I can censor myself in situations of course, but with my teenage years spent devouring Oasis interviews, there was absolutely no way it wouldn’t find it’s way into my vocabulary with utter frequency.

But even with as old as I am now and the fact that it’s been eight years since I lived at home, I still cannot say the word around my mother. What’s more, if I’m in her presence and a movie, show or song comes on that drops the F-bomb, I tense up in anticipation of her whacking a table and demanding I either turn the channel or turn it off altogether. Even if I’m alone and I hear the word said on TV or radio by anyone other than Liam or Noel Gallagher (who don’t get a pass because I’m a fan, but because I honestly don’t think they can say three sentences without using the word), I tense up.

Where the word comes from? No one can seem to say.The Oxford English Dictionary says the etymology is uncertain, but it is “probably cognate” with old Germanic words meanings anything from striking and rubbing to having sex.

My favorite use of the word has not come in movies, shows or any kind of popular culture, but at the hands of two people. One being my great friend, John, who spat a venemous “F*cking sh*t!” after unwittingly resting his arm in a puddle of spilled milk in the cafeteria during high school. The other came at college when I was a safety patroller. My partner and I were taking a break on a frigid night, he stirred himself a cup of hot chocolate. When he went to put the lid on the cup, he applied too much pressure (you lose sense of little things like that when your fingers are frozen from walking around for 4 hours on a Milwaukee winter night) and the cup tipped toward him, pouring hot chocolate all over his clothes. “MOTHERF*CK!” he exclaimed. I think I laughed so hard because he didn’t add the “-er.”

But regardless, the word is pretty funny when used effectively. Case in point being why any version of “My Cousin Vinny” you see on basic cable isn’t going to be as funny as the original, unedited version. Take this scene, for instance, my favorite of the movie.

However, I often find myself surprised at how unnatural the word sounds in rock and roll songs. It’s a very rock and roll word, to be sure, but when it’s used in songs it just seems to be in there for the purpose of “Whoo, look at me! I went and said it!” It’s not to say that I don’t respect John Lennon for dropping it in “Working Class Hero,” but then again, I also think Lennon put it in there for the kick. Now, most people who do put it in songs (and I’m excluding rap here, because I think a lot of rap music just incorporates the word into natural flows) put it in for the kick, but there are few songs that use the word in a way that make me not think, “Ah, you went for the easy shock” instead of “That’s actually the only word that fits.”

But that’s not to say there aren’t times when I believe its use is very well played, and for this month’s Friday Five, we celebrate the “right on” moments when rockers drop the F-bomb.

Infinite cool points if you get this reference.

Infinite cool points if you get this reference.

The Friday Five


Arctic Monkeys – Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts
I still say this B-side is miles better than its A-side, “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” despite the fact that that was the song that shot the Sheffield quartet into superstardom. Alex Turner is probably the best writer out there talking about the inbuilt frustration of young love and school yard crushes, because he’s still at an age where he’s not too far detached from it (even though he’s probably raking in much more than the rest of his graduating class). Check “Despair in the Departure Lounge,” “No Buses” and “The Bakery” for evidence of perfectly articulating the feelings we were all experiencing as teenagers, but this one I can almost relate to better than any of the others. Ah, the inherent problems of falling in love with girls out of your league and far more prone to date complete dickheads, and the unbelievable frustration that drives you to call her derogatory things as she skips class to go and mess around with said dickhead. “But she’s not nice — she’s pretty f*cking far from nice” indeed.

Black Grape – Shake Your Money
Everything about Shaun Ryder comes at you like a drunken and ill-tempered bull. The guy’s got enough heft to be physically intimidating, a history of drug-intake that would probably put a combined group of Betty Ford graduates to shame and the ability to spout off some of the most left field Mancunian gobbledygook you’ll ever hear, albeit with a few absolutely genius turns of phrases tucked in amongst the madness. Certainly “f*ck” was showing up on Ryder-led records dating back to the Happy Mondays’ seminal 1980s output, but it was on Black Grape’s 1995 debut, It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah where Ryder truly found the inspired musical backing (and rapping help from Kermit) to give his lyrics the added edge. On paper, “You’re a bleeding motherf*cker now, aren’t you? Go bleed in a different place” just looks crass. But given the right musical backing it sounds as triumphant as, well, “Put down your fist and ‘it ‘im with a shovel!” Eh, I can’t explain the genius of it — just listen. He’s not dropping the word several times here for the shock. He’s saying it because there is no other adjective to use.

Jon Brion – Walking Through Walls
I’m probably more biased about Jon Brion than anyone else on this list, simply because I believe any record this guy puts his hands on as a producer is automatically improved by his musical sense. And when it’s him alone? Forget it. You can’t lose. This is one of the best cuts from his little-known 2001 LP Meaningless and the fact that it sounds like a White Album-era Paul McCartney piano pounder certainly appeals to me, but the brilliance of having his backing vocal parts mutter “motherf*cker…” after he sings “Get out of my way…” always, always, always puts a smile on my face. This is my favorite use of the F-word in a song, ever. And it’s done in such a way that the listener could even miss it if they’re not devoting at least a little attention.

Old 97’s – Over the Cliff
I respect the hell out of Jon Langford. I’ve interviewed him, hung out with him and even got bleary-eyed drunk with him and Ian McLagan a few years ago. Since his days with the Mekons, Jon’s been writing and singing some pointed lyrics, but it’s really when he decided to topple mainstream popular American country music in the mid 1990s — by channeling the spirits of Hank Williams, early Johnny Cash, Bob Wills and other American giants by leading the alt-country movement at Chicago’s Bloodshot Records — that he started to get really good. The Old 97’s were briefly labelmates, releasing 1995’s grossly underrated Wreck Your Life on Bloodshot and covering Langford’s “Over the Cliff” (and even employing him to drop the “Assh*le!” exclamation in the fourth verse). But where Langford’s version of this song delivers audible bile, the 97’s attack it like a bunch of drunken 20-somethings from the outskirts of Dallas. The young, still bespectacled Rhett Miller doesn’t just spit out “Success on someone else’s terms don’t mean a f*ckin’ thing” — he means it.

Paul Weller – Come On/Let’s Go
The second single from Weller’s 2005 album As Is Now is kind of a strange forum for an F-bomb, in that 1.) it’s a single and 2.) it’s actually a song that is quite celebratory and encouraging. But then again, if the sentiment of it equates to “f*ck yeah,” then why not say as much? Weller’s used the word in a handful of songs dating back to his days with the Jam, but this is probably the most effective use — listen to the way he pronounces the offending word when he sings, “Sing you little f*ckers, sing like you’ve got no choice.” Suffice to say, when he does this live, everyone is singing along. Although I’ve wondered if this usage veers more towards the kick than being able to find a better word, I think Weller’s energy here really makes it the only word. “Bastards” wouldn’t fit, wouldn’t it? And as my friend Umaar said yesterday, Weller’s unquestionably a guy that can pull off saying “f*ck” in a song.

And go on then, what songs with F-bombs do you particularly fancy?


  1. the pea song by red hot chili peppers. what is it? “fuck you asshole, you homophobic redneck dick”

  2. I applaud this post on many levels, but mostly for sharing (or perhaps re-sharing) the brilliant “Shake Your Money.” Everyone deserves to hear that song.

    In short, great fucking five!

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