Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Flaming Lips: Christmas At The Zoo

This song always has a bittersweet feel for me. I first heard it sometime between Christmas and New Year's Day back in 1995 - days I would traditionally take off from work whenever I could manage it. I was driving in Wilkes-Barre near Lee Park Avenue, having just been at Gema Comics, and I was listening to one of the many local college stations - most likely WUSR from the University of Scranton. Back then "college music" was still synonymous with "alternative music*", and hearing a song from a Flaming Lips album (Clouds Taste Metallic) that had just been released a few months earlier was not that unusual.

I remember the place I was the first time I heard this song because...well, that's how my memory works. I remember the time because "Christmas At The Zoo" had meant death for a lot of primates in Philadelphia a few days earlier. There had been a fire at the Primate House at the Philadelphia Zoo on December 24, 1995, killing 23 rare and endangered primates. While I had never been there, I found the incident shocking and saddening, and hearing a song about someone who deals with a snowless Christmas Eve by attempting (unsuccessfully) to free an entire zoo full of animals was somehow...hopeful, maybe? Relevant, perhaps. At the very least, it was an odd coincidence.

(If, by chance, the copyright holder removes this embeddable version of the video from YouTube, there is also an "official" but non-embeddable version here.)

*"Alternative music" had burst onto the mainstream with Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in 1991, though it had previously gotten considerable airplay on college and pirate radio stations for years. Of course, once it was mainstream, the "Alternative" title became somewhat invalid. Kurt Cobain abstracted himself from the scene in April 1994, signalling the beginning of the end of the era, and the Coming of the Pop Princesses in 1997 spelled the start of the final throes. The Alternative Era, by my reckoning, officially ended with the breakup of the Smashing Pumpkins in 2000. (The Pop Princesses, who appealed to both their own Generation Y demographic - which wielded considerably more buying power than the anti-materialistic, demographically insignificant Generation X that had embraced Alternative Music - as well as horny males from very other generation, may have effectively slowed or even stopped the collapse of the music industry, which had been undermined by both slowing music sales and increased music piracy, or at least forestalled it by a decade or so.) (Author disclaims any responsibility for damages resulting from attempts to diagram that last sentence.)


whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Did you know that they put out a new album a year or so ago?
Talk about selling out!

And your * = Amen!

D.B. Echo said...

Oh, yeah. I bought the new Pumpkins album...and never played it. It's just Billy Corrigan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, plus a couple of other musicians. Not even Melissa auf der Maur, the way cool and sexxxay bassist and blogger (http://www.lightningismygirl.blogspot.com/) who replaced not only D'arcy Wretzky in the Pumpkins, but also the late Kristen Pfaff in Hole. Oh, well.