CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (9)
August 9, 2020
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite punk songs, c. 1974–1983.
“SOFT SOUTH AFRICANS” | THE HOMOSEXUALS | 1978
The Homosexuals kept as low a profile as any great punk band that left any evidence at all of their existence. In their original (late-’70s, London) incarnation, they were apparently written up in exactly one fanzine, once. They released a handful of singles and EPs, sometimes under pseudonyms; there was no Homosexuals album until years after they broke up, scavenged from disintegrating tapes. (A 3-CD catchall, Astral Glamour, came out in 2004.) They changed their name from the Rejects — which was entirely generic for that moment — to something that could actually have gotten them beaten up at the time. And they made some extraordinary music, maybe most of all this song.
There are no South Africans mentioned in “Soft South Africans.” There are, however, “soft diamond dinners with the Queen and her regiment,” according to the dot-matrix printout lyric sheet included with the single on whose B-side it was first released in 1978, so maybe “South Africans” is slang for the hardest thing that gets mined there. The song’s words are surreal, in André Breton’s sense; they hover around collective meaning, and scatter when you focus on them too carefully. “Status foetus sucks the Bishops breasts/Newed bicycles brought for Selection Test,” goes one couplet — the bishop could be paired with the queen, either in the Church of England or on a chessboard (and “ivory” and “ebony” appear at the beginning of the song’s first verse and near the end of its bridge), but “newed bicycles” suggests the naked bicycle race staged in London in 1978 by the band Queen — whose name makes basically the same joke-or-is-it as the Homosexuals’ name.
And so on. On its surface, “Soft South Africans” isn’t too far from some of the spots U.K. punk was sidling toward at the time. There’s a Buzzcocksian sneer to its lead vocal, some yobbish harmonizing and call-responding, a guitar break with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and Thin Lizzy in its family tree, a beat that doesn’t quite aspire to disco but wouldn’t glower if you called it that. But everything about it is weird. The song’s main rhythm guitar part is a syncopated, stop-time riff that’s deceptively reconfigured every time it re-emerges; the bass dodges around it like a debtor. Then there’s a bridge where the band suddenly falls into punk rock lockstep while everyone croons and whines about fumes and steam and “wet odours,” until they hit a word that’s spelled, and pronounced, “ORGASMMMMmmmmm!” Whereupon they pull their initial riff back on, this time sideways, and spend a few more minutes sidestepping nervously around each other’s instruments, chanting “limbo limbo limbo” on their way out.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): Series introduction by Josh Glenn | Mimi Lipson on Flipper’s “Sex Bomb” | James Parker on The Jam’s “Going Underground” | Dan Fox on The Cramps’ “Human Fly” | Adrienne Crew on Bad Brains’ “I and I Survive” | Devin McKinney on Romeo Void’s “Never Say Never” | Deb Chachra on The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen in Love” | Mark Kingwell on The Demics’ “New York City” | Jessamyn West on Dead Kennedys’ “Kill the Poor” | Douglas Wolk on The Homosexuals’ “Soft South Africans” | Josh Glenn on The Freeze’s “This is Boston, Not L.A.” | Stephanie Burt on Sorry’s “Imaginary Friend” | Luc Sante on Public Image Ltd.’s “Public Image” | Miranda Mellis on X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” | Adam McGovern on The Clash’s “Washington Bullets” | Mandy Keifetz on Germs’ “Forming” | Gordon Dahlquist on The Sex Pistols’ “Problems” | Anthony Miller on The Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You” | Deborah Wassertzug on The Mekons’ “Where Were You?” | Tor Aarestad on Gang of Four’s “Return the Gift” | Marc Weidenbaum on The Pop Rivets’ “Dream of ’63” | David Smay on The Rezillos’ “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures” | Vanessa Berry on The Cure’s “So What” | Chelsey Johnson on The Slits’ “Typical Girls” | Lynn Peril on Crass’s “Smother Love” | Mike Watt on The Dils’ “You’re Not Blank”.
CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.