The Dresden Dolls, the official Punk Cabaret band of GeekUSA, have a new album of odds n’ sods out, called No, Virginia. (Well, their last one was called Yes, Virginia, so it stands to reason.) If you’ve seen the band live or listened to the copious bootlegs over at Automatic Joy, you probably know most of the tunes, but it’s nice to have official studio versions.
“Night Reconnaissance,” the first single, is pretty amazing. It’s one of the five new tracks, and it’s about sneaking out of your parents’ house to steal lawn ornaments with your best friend when you’re a kid in the suburbs. Seriously. It’s catchy and fun and there’s a video, filmed in Lexington, MA, where Amanda Palmer grew up.
Video and babbling below the cut.
I grew up about 20 miles west of there. Part of the reason I like the band so much is that Amanda’s songwriting occasionally feels really familiar – it’s tinged with that “suburban, Boston middle-class, over-educated, under-appreciated, shovel-your-car-out half the year and then die of heat, humidity, and humiliation, the expectations of the world always just slightly larger than your ability to keep up, marinated in apple orchards, WGBH, puritanism and violent colonial history, slightly pretentious but basically good hearted and donating money to the Decordova,” sort of thing. Its like how people listened to Joy Division and thought “ah yes, post-industrial Manchester UK.” I listen to the Dresden Dolls and it’s like “oh, I get it – it’s Route 2 from Cambridge to 495.” I’m from there. That’s how I think. It’s the mentality of growing up smart and creative and within driving and broadcasting distance of Boston, but still being stuck in a lame suburb where no one gets it. You know there are much worse places to live, and really, if you step back, you’re offered a lot of creative outlets, but what frustrates you is that most of the people around you seem to mistrust anything slightly out of the ordinary. We came from Puritans. Never forget that, fellow Bay Staters. We came from people who burned witches.
“Nothing is crueler than children who come from good homes.” That’s the first line of “Night Reconnaissance.” It goes on: “and they said/you are a socialist cokehead, we know from your clothes.” So, what do you do? You rebel in the easiest way you can – you go around pulling stupid pranks and stealing lawn gnomes. And even the smallest, silliest teenage prank can feel like a huge act of rebellion worthy of a major motion picture. Oh yeah.
Look, you don’t have to be from the exact part of the world I’m from to identify with this. Kids all over the world feel under-appreciated and act out in righteously silly ways. What I’m saying, though, is that I get what Amanda’s saying. There are many other bands whose lyrics I’ve identified with, but The Dolls are slightly different. I understand them geographically. There’s always been something Mass.-specific about them, from the occasional Edward Gorey reference to that line from “Truce”: “You get Route 2 between Concord and Lexington, I’ll take Mass. Ave from the square to my apartment.” They drop references to The Noise Board, Cafe Pamplona, all of Boston driving the same black fucking truck, Denny’s on Route 1, and the old Bank of Boston in downtown Lexington. The characters in “Dirty Business” all sound like Emerson students.
That’s not even getting into the fact that their chosen style – piano rock/cabaret with new-wave, vaudeville, and prog rock influences – sounds at once ancient and futuristic. We’re one of the oldest, stodgiest, most antiquarian and quaint places in America, and yet we’re also one of the most politically liberal and technologically advanced. It’s old and new and pretension and honesty and charging into the future dressed up like the past. This band had to come from the Boston suburbs.
(Note: (added 1:50pm) I was clicking through their website and found a bit where they say “there really isn’t a Denny’s on Route 1 – it just scans better than ‘Denny’s on Bedford St. near the Bedford/Lexington border.'” They’re right of course, except that now, technically, that particular Denny’s isn’t there anymore either – it’s now the Lexington Grille.)