They Call Me Quiet, But I’m A Riot

Ebulliently defiant on your car radio, Katie White—no matter what friendly guess or nickname she’s offered—is all sass and holding her ground: that’s not her name.  Performing live, though, as half of the pop duo The Ting Tings during the frantic final choruses of their breakout hit, That’s Not My Name, White turns the song’s title into an incantation, chanting it with a frantic intensity well beyond what’s heard on the studio recording.  Delivered live, the words are fired out over a stripped-down arrangement that’s been built, bolero-like, to an almost desperately urgent frenzy.  Amped-up live versions are only what we expect, yes, but c’mon, all this for a guessing game?  Can she not just tell us? Really?

Maybe not. That’s Not My Name, as one reviewer has it, is “an anthem for those who struggle to make enough impact on those around them that someone remembers their name.” Plausible enough, but again, there’s an over-the-topness to the live performances that belies such a prosaic take. For all of Katie’s trademark brattiness, there is, as with Pink’s Get The Party Started, something larger-than-life rather than personal here. Strictly speaking, the lyrics focus not on the struggle to make an impression, but simply to speak. What we do hear, as the reviewer says, is an accusatory howl—no happy ending included. Yet if ever there were a song of which it can be said, “it has a good beat and you can dance to it,” this is it. It’s an extra-sweet marshmallow Peep with a bitter medicine center. And it’s been a Top 40 hit on various continents for over a year now.

The trapping and presenting of tension between opposites is, of course, simply good art, good technique, good songwriting. When you have craftsmanship like that, you have a foundation that may well support insights that reach beyond the life or the experiences the song is “about.” So we can ask, what is this song like, what’s it similar to, with what does it resonate? Where else do we find situations where certain things—names, identities, perspectives, even styles of consciousness—cannot, for whatever reason, be directly communicated?

Such situations obtain for those who are subject to censorship, or who are otherwise invisible. There is “the love that dare not speak its name.” There are politicians in stealth mode who use coded language, “dog whistles,” meant only for certain voters to catch. There’s Peter, Paul & Mary’s, “But if I really say it, the radio won’t play it.” And there are those who know about the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down—or, the trick of burying what there is to say in between layers of electropop ear candy, leaving it to listeners to hear what they will.

Four-letter word just to get me along; it’s a difficulty and I’m biting on my tongue.
I keep stalling, not keeping it together; people around gotta find something to say now.
Holding back, everyday the same. Don’t wanna be a loner.
Listen to me; oh no, I never say anything at all.
But with nothing to consider, they forget my name ….

I miss the catch if they throw me the ball; I’m the last kid standing up against the wall.
Keep on falling, these heels they keep me boring, getting glammed up and sitting on the fence now.

There are a lot of us who can relate, sure. (Me, I never could dance in heels; you?) But were we to look deeper for experience that’s even more like this—who or what is it that epitomizes the image at the heart of social awkwardness?

I have never appreciated the dynamics of group friendships. I have been able to have satisfying one-on-one interactions sometimes, with some people, in some situations. But until very recently, I had not been able to participate in groups. Sure, I could be there physically, but that is very different from participating. For years, I never said much, and most people assumed that this meant I was shy or had nothing to say. To communicate well with one person requires a large expenditure of energy on my part, and a great deal of patience from the other party. Even in these one-on-one conversations, I am often left behind. For each additional person added, the energy drain and frustration increase as I try to keep up.

Those are the words of Bev, who as you can see is vividly present as a person via text, if otherwise all but invisible—and she’s doing groundbreaking work, with extensive commenter participation, over at her blog, Asperger Square 8.

Katie White and her bandmate Jules, meanwhile, are an easy interview, full of charming laughter and funny stories. It bears mentioning, though, that White has laid claim to the savant-like ability to memorize any lyric on one hearing—not that I’m suggesting she’s diagnosably autistic or has any explicit awareness, necessarily, of anything she’d call autism. All of which leaves us, then, with this question: If Katie White isn’t sounding the dog whistle here, if she’s not offering up this de facto shout-out to the lost tribes of the Asperger Nation, who or what is? That is the name, I’m suggesting, which has been forgotten.

The oddest line in the song? This one—and no, there’s no typo:

They call me hell. They call me Stacy. They call me her. They call me Jane. That’s not my name.

Whenever I hear the word “hell,” I look around for crevices in the ground, openings, entrances. I’m always intrigued; what’s down there? Memoria. Primary Process. Thesaurus Inscrutabilis. The Unconscious—except, maybe not so unconscious, maybe not so quiet after all. Nor are those necessarily its rightful names, either. We’ll see how this all plays out, but for now it seems that re-membering those names, learning how to do archaeology in the Dreamtime, in the Underworld, is what we’re up to, down here in Shift’s rag and bone shop. Welcome!

on 08/28/09 in Society | No Comments | Read More

Leave a Reply