So Princess Zurg has had to read Albert Camus’s The Stranger for school, and she’s been suffering. I was kind of surprised to find The Stranger in ninth grade curriculum. I mean, people didn’t think George W. Bush was smart enough to get The Stranger, and say what you will about that guy, he did go to Yale and become president and crap, so I wouldn’t expect folks to have so much more confidence in the intellect of the average ninth grader. But I’m happy to be proven wrong. Princess Zurg, on the other hand, has not been happy because while she is intrigued by existentialism, she finds The Stranger really, really boring.
And frankly, I sympathize with her. I wasn’t so fond of The Stranger myself, and I was a grown woman when I read it. I read The Fall in high school and loved The Fall. Later I read The Plague, and I really liked that too, so it’s not like I just don’t like Camus. I am willing to buy that I’m just not intellectually sophisticated enough to enjoy The Stranger–which I barely remember, aside from the fact that I found it boring, and his mother died and it was hot and he went swimming and was kind of a douchebag. Oh, and //SPOILER ALERT!// he kills an Arab. I remember that too. Don’t remember why, exactly, except that the sun was really bright and life is absurd or something. So yeah, I’m a Philistine. Maybe. I seem to recall an episode of Who’s the Boss? where Tony was complaining to a fellow college student about Camus–specifically, about The Stranger–and she said that L’Etranger had never had a decent English translation. Who knows if that’s true or if it’s just something snobby French students say, but I’m happy to use it as my excuse.
I meant to re-read the book so that a) I could help PZ understand it and b) I could see whether or not it was really boring or I was just in a cranky mood when I read it. I actually own a copy of the book, but I haven’t been able to find it, and there are no copies available at the library, and I’m sure as heck not going to buy it again when I a) already own it and b) don’t even like it.
That’s neither here nor there, except to explain why, for the last several weeks, I’ve been going around the house and about town singing “Killing an Arab.” You know, in this day and age, “Killing an Arab” is probably the worst possible song by the Cure to find yourself singing in places where other people might hear you, but I just can’t get it out of my head. (Oh, like you don’t sing to yourself in public, ever. I’m sure.) My research tells me that even the Cure doesn’t feel all that comfy performing the song anymore–which is understandable, since no decent person wants to be thought a racist murderer–so they’ve changed the lyrics to “Kissing an Arab,” or alternatively, “Killing an Ahab” (with new lyrics inspired by Melville), or “Killing Another.” Personally, I think all of these are kind of lame. “Kissing an Arab” doesn’t even make sense. “Killing an Ahab” might actually be funny, but that’s an entirely different song, isn’t it? (Lyrically, anyway.) “Killing Another” works, I suppose, technically–I mean, it’s not like the Arab had to be an Arab in order for Meursault to kill him, but at the same time, calling him “another” is so vague it sort of strips the victim of his humanity, in my opinion. (I mean, even fictional victims deserve to be seen as actual people, don’t they?) May as well just not sing the song at all, I think. But no one asked me.
This is just my excuse to talk about songs about or involving strangers.
“Killing an Arab” by the Cure
I’ve already given you my commentary on this song–which takes less time to listen to than it does to read the book, but it’s no substitute for the Cliffs Notes–but check out this video. Does it make any sense at all? Yes, I understand it’s the Cure. I’m just saying, I don’t get it.
“The Stranger” by Billy Joel
This is actually one of my favorite Billy Joel songs. It has nothing to do with Camus or existentialism. It’s about becoming estranged from your lover. It’s a little bit funky, for Billy Joel. Sounds a little dated, in fact. But I like it.
“The Strangers” by St. Vincent
Sugar Daddy and I saw St. Vincent perform at the Doug Fir Lounge a couple years ago–despite the fact that we aren’t hipster douchebags. I may have blogged about this concert. In fact, I’m sure I did. I wore awesome–and, if I’m to be honest, a bit hipster-douchebaggish–boots that were extremely impractical for a standing-room-only show, and I had to remove them at one point and I stepped in some hipster douchebag’s spilled beer and it was unpleasant. The show itself, on the other hand, was fantastic. I think this was their opening number. Tangentially-related aside: Every time I wear my St. Vincent t-shirt, people ask me if it’s referring to the Portland hospital. I guess it just goes to show that I don’t hang with much of a hipster douchebag crowd.
“Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp
I don’t have anything to say about this song, except it has to do with a stranger (specifically, one that you’re saying goodbye to–hopefully not as he’s killing you). There are several “videos” for this song on the YouTube, all of which are pretty bizarre. Often people will make videos for songs that are just a series of still shots of the band/artist or album covers or whatever, but it looks like all the videos for this song are random pictures of random things. I like this one the best because it’s just random shots of some dude’s Harley, interwoven with random video of him riding his Harley. (I’m assuming it’s a dude, although that’s probably sexist of me.) Is there an existentialist message embedded in this video? I doubt it. But I will be impressed if you can manufacture one from it.
“Don’t Talk to Strangers” by Rick Springfield
At the height of Rick Springfield’s musical success, I was in the fifth grade. One of my friends had a huge crush on Rick Springfield. Huge. I didn’t really get it. Maybe because I hadn’t watched General Hospital. Maybe because he just wasn’t my type. (I had a thing for Paul McCartney, which my friends thought was weird because he was so old. But, you know, he was younger then than I am now. That’s kind of weird to think about.)
But dig this video. It is so awesomely cheesy, creepy and Eightylicious. Why is he following that girl? Is he warning her about himself? Who told him it was okay to hide under a table and fondle a woman’s legs while she was on a date with another man? Why is the police car on fire? Someone should write an existentialist novel based on this video. There is plenty of absurdity to work with.
You may now fill the comments section with anecdotes about songs about strangers. Or about Camus. Or songs about Camus. Or existentialist jokes. I subscribe to a big-tent philosophy when it comes to my comments section.