J Geils Band, Guy Debord, and the Ambivalence of Today

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I was driving in my car the other when the J Geils Band song, Centerfold, came on. It's a song I know, that I grew up on. But, this time, I noticed how complex and tragic a song it is.

The story of the song, as you probably know if you're over 38, is that the narrator had a crush on a girl in high school. Years later, unexpectedly, he sees her nude in a magazine.

The song has a celebratory feel to it as if he finally got what he wanted. But the lyrics tell a very different story. The chorus alone, a chorus I knew well, beautifully articulates his anxiety:

My blood runs cold
My memory has just been sold
My angel is the centerfold

He had this bitter sweet memory of youthful love, adoelscent lust, neither of which were consummated.

Slipped me notes under the desk
While I was thinkin' about her dress
I was shy I turned away
Before she caught my eye

I was shakin' in my shoes
Whenever she flashed those baby-blues
Something had a hold on me
When angel passed close by

Indeed, despite his lack of consummation, "the memory of my angel could never cause me pain."

But now this sweet memory has been sold, made part of the Spectacle, a commodity, no longer this private, personal longing but a public display bereft of the same affective resonance, available to all. Ergo, his blood runs cold. Despite the rah-rah mood of the song, the lyric is chilling. "The pages from my mind are stripped."

He's understanding and tries to summon the power to overcome this intrusion of the Spectacle into his individual memory:

It's okay I understand
This ain't no never-never land
I hope that when this issue's gone
I'll see you when your clothes are on

Take you car, Yes we will
We'll take your car and drive it
We'll take it to a motel room
And take 'em off in private

And yet just as the mood of the song suggests, there is a profound ambivalence:

A part of me has just been ripped
The pages from my mind are stripped
Oh no, I can't deny it
Oh yea, I guess I gotta buy it!

I find this an oddly apt expression of the contemporary moment (at least for those of us over 38) — our memories have become so much fodder for the Spectacle, Bob Dylan in a Google ad, John Lennon's Instant Karma selling Chase — Chase! Of all things! —, our girlfriends of old splayed in the pages of Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

But it's not all bad. After all, Angel is the centerfold! Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na.


arik said...


paul said...

stop fancying yourself an independent thinker

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