Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #86. Black Flag – “TV Party”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 16, 2007


The main thing missed by people who thought Black Flag’s 1981 album Damaged was going to be the downfall of youth in America (not that I have any evidence such people existed, but AMG swears it, and they know best), as well as most of the reviewers I’ve seen take on the album, is how fucking funny it is. I mean, yeah, an album with titles like “Depression,” “No More” and “Life of Pain” isn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows, but I feel like the album wouldn’t be half as legendary (or even half as listenable) as it is without lyricist Greg Ginn’s exceedingly black sense of humor. I mean, there are definitely some harrowing moments and whatnot, but how can you hear a line like “I wanna live / I WISH I WAS DEAD!” or “They say that things are gonna get better / All I know is / THEY FUCKING BETTER!” and not chuckle?

And then there’s “TV Party“–probably the most well known Black Flag song (it was even in a Futurama episode, for some reason), and up there with Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized” and Dead Kennedys’ “California Uber Alles” as the national ambassador for early-80s L.A. punk. It’s not exactly the band’s definitive song–not a single mention of violence from singer Henry Rollins, even towards himself–but it might be the most blanketly relatable, probably the catchiest, and definitely the funniest.

The song is an exceedingly simple one, and can be more or less summed up with the introductory three-word chant (after bassist Chuck Dukowski’s awesome rumbling lead-in)–“T…V… PARTY TONIGHT! T….V… PARTY TONIGHT,” which Rollins goes on to elaborate on in the first verse–“We’re gonna have a TV party tonight / (all right!) / We’re gonna have a TV party all right / (Tonight!)” The song’s lyrical complexity level rarely rises above this, especially not in the extremely straightforward chorus, “We’ve got nothing better to do / Then watch TV and have a couple of brews.” Simple enough.

As the song progresses, it gets more and more invested in the titular concept. From the bridge of the band members shouting out the names of shows they presumably planning on watching (consequently teaching a ten-year-old me more about the world of 80s television than I ever learned watching VH1) to the increasingly pathetic verses (“I wouldn’t be without my TV for a day / (Or even a minute!) / Don’t even bother to use my brain any more / (There’s nothing left in it!),” the song keeps upping the stakes. Until the last verse, anyway, where Rollins comes to a startling discovery (“Wait a minute, my T.V. set doesn’t work / (It’s broken!)” leading to the song’s tragic conclusion–“NOOOO T….V…. PARTYYYY….TOOONIIIIIIIIIGHT!!!

So obviously, the song isn’t really a loving tribute to the wonders of the televisual medium. It’s at least 90% satire, damning the sort of mindless zombies who do nothing but sit around and watch TV all day, arguably making it somewhat hypocritical for me to be extolling the song’s virtues on this blog. Nonetheless, I do firmly believe that there’s a certain affection for the box underneath all the sarcasm–self-hating affection, but affection nonetheless. Anyway, there’s no way Black Flag could’ve come up with a song like “TV Party” without having experienced sitting around the house for days just watching TV and knocking back beers with friends at least a couple of times–what group of 20-something males hasn’t? Plus, look at how much fun they’re having in the song’s equally classic video–when the song reaches it’s denouement, it does legitimately feel like kind of a bummer (though I can’t imagine missing That’s Incredible! was really too much of a loss).

All right, so maybe I’m just looking for a little self-validation here. But hey, I’m not the one with his own talk show on IFC every Saturday night. I wonder if the rest of the band gets together to watch it? That’d be nice, wouldn’t it?


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