Swearing at Motorists: How to Make Use of the Word “Fuck” Leave it to the guys at Secretly Canadian (label to revered Songs: Ohia) to bring you something musically unexpected but cool, smart, and humane without being unsubtle, that also totally rocks. Swearing at Motorists make liberal use of the word “fuck.” Not as in “fucking,” but as in the aggro expletive, “fuck!,” as in the surprisingly moving lyric, “I’ll shut the fuck up when you calm the fuck down” on their last wonderful album, which I can’t stop playing, Number Seven Uptown. Even with all this swearing, the music is, in its bittersweet, yearning way, romantic. Swearing at Motorists get inside the downward choking tsunami that is desire and love. Sometimes in America in 2002 it’s hard to remember that straight men have it in them to honestly love women. Sometimes it seems as if women — all of us — are supposed to be porn stars, on top of whatever else we are (academics, moms, teachers, secretaries, grocery clerks, post-riotgrrls, Carly Fiorina). All American women should á priori have buns of steel to realize their true female nature. Once we bend over we’re supposed to be hairless, pink, airbrushed replicas of Lucille Love and Sandra Sexpot. Maybe all this exists merely within the symbolic hyper-real. But that begs the question — the hyper-real is, precisely, the terrain of popular culture: new words in the vernacular like “XXX” are, it’s no secret, the number one search term on Yahoo!. Porn videos featuring girls that appear pre-pubescent rent the best. Horror of horrors: we’re a culture of bimbos and pervs, a culture disconnected from its roots. A culture built of cheap plastic parts. Is there a place, some other land, where one can hide? Strangely, and I hardly expected this — in fact, I had no expectations whatsoever — Swearing at Motorists’ rocking live show and beautifully produced CD reinforced a positive, hopeful message: men can and do love women, from an honest, real place. Even if it ends up fucked and full of heartbreak, thank god for it. It’s like an old Nikon F2: it’s not plastic. And like an old Nikon F2, around in the late ’60s and early ’70s, (I think) Swearing at Motorists is a post-modernization of the heart of American pop-rock of that same period. In a way, some songs sound like they really could have been on the radio back then (when radio was good). Yet, clearly they’re contemporary because they’re doing all sorts of “now” things musically — lots of genre-fuck — and talking about love and life from some hard-learned perspectives developed in our culture over the last two to three decades. Basically, Swearing at Motorists are two guys who produce a lot of sound. The songs are built upon atypical constructions. Although they ring familiar, many have “weird” — as Doughman puts it — time signatures and unexpected waltz rhythms. Many build from quiet to loud. He cites the Pixies in terms of the extreme quiet to loud aesthetic, sometimes even moving from a gentle a capella number to an ear bending rocker. So they rock. Sometimes that rock is hard, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin (Doughman even has the Robert Plant rock-star mane, which he swings passionately while strumming and jumping). Sometimes the rock is garagey, reminding one of The White Stripes (especially since they’re also a two-piece, although Doughman claims he’s never heard them). Sometimes it’s country rock, with an “Indiana Wants Me (Lord, I Can’t Go Back There)” — or a “Me and You and A Dog Named Boo” — quality. Yet, several songs are power pop and/or have some have a folky aspect. They pull from many different directions into a blend of something that sounds fresh and new to me. In the process, they get people to dance, bang heads and smile. It’s a good aesthetic and not one you hear everyday. A good example of how they blend all these styles is their mournful, pretty rocker (which I can’t stop playing), “Inadvertent Christmas Song”. It’s a great song all year round, and more of a song for road trips than Christmas. In this atypical mix, the thought, “The Beach Boys” kept oddly bubbling up. Doughman confirmed that Brian Wilson is a favorite, and also named Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills & Nash, Crosby Stills Nash & Young and Broken Arrow-era Neil Young. I also thought I heard a Guided by Voices influence, since most of the songs are short with pretty riffs, yet they rock hard. On the new album, many of the songs are two minutes or under, and the one “long” song, “Talking Pictures”, seems epic at 3:45. Swearing at Motorists’ original drummer, Don Thrasher, drummed for GBV on albums like Bee Thousand. Like Swearing at Motorists, GBV is also from the Dayton scene. However, Doughman says he has worked to sound different, since the band is friends as well as neighbors. Says Doughman, “We’re more Minutemen than GBV.” And while there are possible GBV echoes, I don’t consider Swearing at Motorists derivative. Doughman is doing his own thing. Still, folks who like GBV may like Swearing at Motorists, and this is a good thing. In lieu of bass (love those bassless acts!), Doughman’s guitar uses a form of open tuning modeled after Riley Puckett from the 1920s bluegrass band, Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers. Doughman explained that it’s almost a bastardization of banjo tuning. The bottom-end tuning, together with very thick (#10) strings (as for a bass), gives the band a lot of rich sound without bass. And, Doughman’s vocals do a lot of work carrying the melody. He’s not just an effective vocalist because he sings with emotion. He does that, but he’s also got an awesome, beautiful tenor, a voice that goes beyond the usual in terms of emotion conveyed and sound quality. Swearing at Motorists is going for raw emotion. “To play those songs right I need to feel like I did when I wrote them,” says Doughman. “That’s why I make all these horrible faces. What you see on the stage is really going on for me. It’s like I’m singing my journal.” The word “emo” – whatever that means – inevitably comes up. Are they? “To piss me off,” says Doughman, “one of my ex-girlfriends would say, ‘you’re just a fuckin’ emo band.’ It is emotional rock n’ roll, if that’s what an emo band is. But the J Street Boys aren’t coming to our shows.” Swearing at Motorists are set to release two new records in 2002, and Doughman claims, “The new records are the closest I’ve yet come to putting what’s in my head on the stereo speakers.” The new releases won’t be emo, but you can bet they’re gonna move you. Doughman is emotional himself, but a firecracker onstage and a bright guy behind it. “I’ll be on the road two months straight but I’ll still go out to see music every night because I love music. On this tour, on the highway between Boise and Seattle, we had an accident in the van. Then, before Portland, we had a blow-out. When we finally got to San Francisco I was very ready to play. I wanted to get right on the stage. It was like having sex. Oh, uh, sorry for being crude,” he smiled. “What’s special about our shows is that it’s me letting reality out and everybody likes to watch a car accident.” I told him I didn’t. But I did like seeing his show, and hopefully he and Danny will drive carefully and avoid swearing at motorists.
Swearing At Motorists