"Pärlor åt Svinen" 7" (Silence Zing 110)
Years ago I had been trying to find all the records by 70s/80s female Swedish punk bands. Usch and Pink Champagne are probably the best-known bands in this category, and their records are classics. In my search, I came across a clunker or two (Twist Off, anyone?). As anyone who’s ever bought a record she’s never heard of before knows, when it turns out to be good (er, um, in the Shit-Fi context, bad), it justifies the frustration. A long-lasting justification for many thousands spent on unexciting records in this case is Fega Påhopp's lone 45.
When I saw the following eBay description, I readied a big, bad bid: “Killer girl punk DIY stuff in a style similar to Kleenex or even the Petticoats 45! Great stuff and I can't think of another punk band in Sweden playing in this style at that time. Fantastic picture sleeve showing all the girls in the band in a bathtub, yummy! Released on a semi-big indie label but still hardly ever shows up. Rare...” Not much, I know, but the invocation of the Petticoats was enough. Other than the picture sleeve, which does show the band members in a bathtub, I’d say this description misses some important points. (The record was released on the label that predominated in the 1970s Progg scene.) I’ll attempt a remedy.
As an angsty undergrad, I could never get one phrase from Hunter Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas out of my head: “the thin line between madness and masochism.” I thought I was perpetually on the brink of transgressing this line. It wasn’t until I heard Fega Påhopp that I realized lusting after an aloof, semi-suicidal junkie was fairly pedestrian as white male college-age angst goes. Masochism maybe, but madness, not quite. The song “Pärlor åt svinen” robustly revises my conception of Thompson’s thin line.
The song starts out sounding like an insipid honky-reggae-influenced wave track, the kind of song one could imagine a forward-thinking Swedish advertising company commissioning from a studio band as a soundtrack for a travel-agency commercial. About a minute and twenty-five seconds into it, something akin to the tremors that precede an earthquake happens. It’s barely perceptible, but one of the vocalists makes a peculiar warbling noise. At 1:30, the song breaks into a sort of bridge, during which the singer starts muttering to herself, as if unaware the tape is rolling. A short sing-songy bit ensues, which references a feminist Progg song called "Åh tjejer." When the tune resumes, it’s faster than before, as would happen in a movie when something unexpected happens, like the conductor falling from his perch, and the orchestra tries to regain a semblance of normalcy by rushing back into the music. Things begin to sound normal again. Toes tap. But not half a minute later, the singer begins to coo like a mourning dove and punctuate it with higher-pitch yelps. The yelps turn into warbling. The band sounds like it’s watching this all unfold but forces itself to stick with the tune. The warbling becomes yodelling and the yodelling become panting which becomes yelling. At 2:45, the singer is just shreiking. Glass-breaking, vocal-cord lacerating shreiks. The band continues with its bland pop, which, in relief against the shreiks, sounds all the more boring. The shreiks grow higher in pitch and longer. It sounds like the singer has completely lost it, driven beyond the mere madness of insipid pop to a higher realm. The shreiks continue for thirty seconds with the determination of someone so driven she barely needs to suck in more air to keep her exclamations coming. At 3:17, the studio engineer presses stop, perhaps fearing if not for his own safety then for that of the singer, and it’s over.
You may want to believe the song was an accident, that the band had been contractually obligated to record fluff and the singer actually went crazy, to the point of hurting herself, after a dozen repeated takes of music no one but record company executives could like. Fega Påhopp means “cowardly attack,” which cracks me up because “Pärlor åt svinen” seems like a rather direct, smartly subversive attack on bad pop music.
While listening to Fega Påhopp, a friend remarked, “At least she’s being honest.” Indeed. For better or worse, what rocknroll fans crave more than anything, methinks, is authenticity. That’s why there’s so much bad music in the world: either total numbskulls are being honest about their boring-ass, unenlightened lives or hucksters are trying to fake the funk. It is perhaps a truism that there is nothing authentic about rocknroll, especially its most “authentic” heroes, who inevitably stole from some likely forgotten Black musicians. Indeed, white people steal everything. That is really the only authentic thing about us. Yet the quest continues. And Shit-Fi is music made and shared without the inauthenticity that comes from marketing as authentic.
But here's the main point: given that Fega Påhopp orbited, if not participated in, the Rock Mot Sexism (Rock Against Sexism) movement in Sweden, maybe the best way to interpret the singer's cross-over from madness to masochism is simply this: that's what sexism will do to a person. It is a perfectly reasonable response. Thompson could never have understood that, of course, because he was such a macho, sexist egomaniac. You want gonzo? Try being anything other than a libertarian white guy. That's what Fega Påhopp's singer is saying in her shreiks.
I started working on this short article at least seven years ago, maybe more. I have no idea why it took so long to complete. Today (in December 2013), I received a translation of the lyrics to "Pärlor åt svinen," which means something like pearls to swines, from Tony Gunnarsson (thanks!). As you can see, the lyrics confirm my interpretation.
Imagine if i could jump as high as Billy Cobham
Imagine if I could run as fast as Mahavishnu
Imagine if i could play bass like Pekka P
Imagine if i could do that
Imagine if i would have a big cock between my legs
Oh how sexy I would be on stage
Update Feb. 2, 2014: A correspondent named Gustaf Hielm writes to say that "I just wanted to correct a few errors regarding the Fega Påhopp (Cowardly Attacks) translation although it hurts me to point out that the lyrics are regretfully cock-free." I corrected a couple spelling mistakes above in the lyrics (due simply to misreading the handwriting of the original). The major correction is that in the last line, it should say "big bass" instead of "big cock." Either way, as far as I'm concerned, the meaning is the same. Thanks, Gustaf.
I borrowed the attached mp3 from my friends over at kbdrecords.com. Here are their posts on the record: http://www.kbdrecords.com/2008/05/31/fega-pahopp-parlor-at-svinen-7/ & http://www.kbdrecords.com/2007/01/01/happy-new-year/.