Friday, October 24, 2008

The Epic Song of Superman in Five Parts: Part Two

Part Two:

“Superman, Where Are You Now?”

 In our last episode, we witnessed the adventures of the Man of Steel on the battlefield of love…now we see him tangle with politics and the economy…

 The 1970’s saw the free market in America hit with a financial crisis, and it would take more than heat vision and super-strength to handle it. This is where the flaw of the original idea of Superman starts to show: born in the 40’s during WWII, it was enough to think that all we needed was a stronger military, but that was never enough. Like Superman, America was a strong country, but pragmatic: intellectually reliant on old-world ideas, ideal in spirit but practical in practice. Like Superman’s archenemy Lex Luthor, the enemy in American pop culture went from the “mad scientist” to the “evil businessman.”  The reaction in song lyrics followed suite.

 The Kinks released the album LOW BUDGET in 1979, with not one, but TWO songs about superheroes and the economy (“Catch Me Now I’m Falling” names “Captain America” in need of a bailout). In ‘Superman (Wish I Could Fly)”, we see the wish of many people of that time to fight the crisis not with intellect, but with the power to fly away, as the “nine-stone wobbly weakling” tells us:

 

Gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike/

Got to be a superman to survive/


Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills/


I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive/


 Unlike the “Supermen” in pop songs, here the singer confesses:



If I were a superman then we’d fly away/

I’d really like to change the world/

And save it from the mess it’s in/


I’m too weak, I’m so thin/

I’d like to fly but I can’t even swim/

 

The problems of politics and government were not just the problems of the everyman who could not be a superman, but also blamed on Superman himself! In 1972’s “Thick As a Brick,” minstrel-rockers Jethro Tull gives this old-world European take on American capitalism:

 

So!

Come on ye childhood heroes!/

Won’t you rise up from the pages of your comic-books/

Your super crooks/

And show us all the way/

Well! make your will and testament. won’t you? /

Join your local government/

We’ll have Superman for president/

Let Robin save the day/

 

Jethro Tull was joined in the ‘80’s by prog-rockers turned pop-rockers, Genesis, who still straddled the fence from pop to the sarcasm of earlier Peter Gabriel-penned lyrics of class warfare. In the association of Superman with the government, (like Frank Miller's depiction of the big blue boy scott in The Dark Knight Returns), Genesis’s Superman is associated with the Reagan era; see their Spitting Image designed video for the song “Land of Confusion”:

Superman where are you now?/

Where everything’s gone wrong some how/

The men of steel men of power/

And losing control by the hour/

Of course, control is what it’s all about for many would-be Supermen…


NEXT: Part Three: Superman Ain't Savin' Shit

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