For the week of 9/24/2012…

“13” by the Brian Jonestown Massacre

In 1996, the Brian Jonestown Massacre issued three full-length albums, each of which points to a different aspect of the Rolling Stones’ late-’60s oeuvre.  Take It from the Man! expertly mimics the Stones’ mid-’60s style of rhythm-and-blues-based guitar rock; Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request pays homage to the first Request, a dip into psychedelia; and finally, Thank God for Mental Illness draws upon the Stones’ subsequent back-to-the-basics approach to their music, which resulted in the heavy country and blues influences heard on Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed.

Now, if Thank God for Mental Illness is an offspring of Beggars Banquet, that makes the BJM’s “13” some sort of cousin to the Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues.”  Both songs are about attempts to seduce underage girls.  The “stray cat” is a 15-year-old groupie in the album version of the Stones song and, for maximum salaciousness, a 13-year-old in the live rendition on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!; the title of the BJM song refers to the age of the object of the protagonist’s affection.  Still, the “Stray Cat Blues” makes it clear that its protagonist is a predator who’s up to no good — no matter how many times he assures us that “it’s no hanging matter, it’s no capital crime,” a creepy-sounding guitar riff and lines like “no I don’t want your ID” warn us that this character is lustful deviant.

“13,” on the other hand, sounds like a perfectly normal song about love, not lust.  It’s an upbeat tune in the form of a 12-bar rhythm-and-blues, filled out with bright electric guitar notes, twangy acoustic guitars, tambourines and handclaps keeping the beat, and “Sympathy for the Devil”-style “woo-woos.”  In this context, it’s downright disarming when frontman Anton Newcombe throws this curveball:  “Yeah you’re the girl I’d marry, if you’d only take my hand/Well I know you’re only 13 honey, but I hope you understand.”

Why add that twist to the song?  The BJM surely aren’t interested in normalizing pedophilia.  It’s possible that that line was a wink at the subject matter of the “Stray Cat Blues.”  It could also just be a nod to the Rolling Stones’ reputations as the darker side — the bad boys — of the British Invasion.  Or maybe Newcombe was just honoring the rock and roll tradition of outraging social conservatives with provocative, salacious lyrics.

Regardless, there is actually an important lesson all present and future parents can learn from this song:  Don’t let your 13-year-old daughters talk to strangers, especially when they look like the guy on the Thank God for Mental Illness album cover.  …Or look like Mick Jagger.

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