Thursday, 29 July 2010

Butterflies | Music | Crazy Town's Butterfly: A Critical Re-reading

So points out Bart Simpson in one his more inspired moments. ‘I didn’t burn down the school: it was the butterfly I tell you, the butterfly.’ ‘He’s crazy boys, get the tazer.’ And so on. And a rather similar reception awaits, I suspect, the Seymour Skinner who attempts to reinterpret the significance of early-noughties rapcore-rapscallions Crazy Town’s greatest hit (singular – there was only one), Butterfly.

You think Kid A is the most significant, important, influential musical work of the last ten years? Radiohead and Wilco and Panda Bear? You’re wrong: it was the butterfly I tell you, the butterfly!

But such a sentiment is righter than you think (an ugly sentence). Alas, most jaded tumblr-generation folk (what the fuck is tumblr anyway?) now regard Crazy Town’s Butterfly in terms perfectly encapsulated by that recent Intel advert with the two men and the computers and the quite funny bit where the fat man goes kinda ‘eeeeeeeeeee – what?’ As, in short, a time-capsule fragment with a connotative charge that can be summarised via one word – datedness – to the extent that its musical components are forgotten. Just as, for example, the shiny comfortableness of a pair of Adidas Poppers, or the rage catalysed by a twisted yoyo string are forgot in a shimmer of unspecific nostalgia.

Just look at Phil Brown’s (Poetry Editor, not ex-Hull Manager. I assume) ‘comment’ on James’ introduction this week. He posted the lyrics to Crazy Town’s Butterfly. No context. No link. The final line ‘Come dance with me’ repeated, laughingly, the number of times it’s repeated in the song – alongside a snide attempt to undermine Shifty’s flow with made-up letter-combinations, ‘uhhhhhh ha uhhhhhh ha.’

As though to say hahahahah, remember this silly song about Butterflies, lolololololol, them were the dayz, when you could get away with shit like this, hahahahaha oh Nu Metal, how did people fall for you – now where’re my Limp Bizkit records?

Prick. Crazy Town’s Butterfly is, like Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, one of the great historically under-appreciated conceptual masterpieces. And (as Shifty himself would probably say) here the fuck’s why…

Crazy Town (or at least Crazy Town’s Yorke-Greenwood core, Epic and Shifty Shellshock) formed in 1995. The Gift of the Game wasn’t released until 1999 – during which time, an unbelievable array of pseudonyms were assembled: Rust Epique, JBJ, Faydoedeelay, DJ AM, and Trouble Valli. Connecting via a lust for borderline-ironic rapping and riffs that sounded like samples before they’d even been sampled, they inevitably hung out listening to late-80s Chillis albums – and one special October night, they managed to stick out Mother’s Milk long enough for Pretty Little Ditty to come on (the first group of humans ever to do so – back in the 90s, men knew how to listen):

Oh my God bro, that cut where the riff just changes completely, you know like seemingly completely arbitrarily – that’s the moment, bro, holy shit, that’s the moment…

The moment?

Yeah, dude, the moment – where the Chilli Peppers changed bro, where they realised that melody was where they had to go next, y’know, when they realised that they’d done everything they could with the punkfunk y’all, and John was going through all that shit, y’know…

Heroin shit?

Yeah bro – hence, y’know, Blood Sugar Sex Magik y’all. That’s one of those moments bro – we gotta take it for ourselves man, we got to hold onto it for our very own paradigm shift aight. Although fuck Flea’s trumpet guy, we don’t need that shit.

By paradigm shift – you mean popularising Nu Metal right bro? Insofar as we’re going to put out our record a whole goddam year before Chocolate Starfish and Hot Dog Flavored Water and Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and the Papa Roach record? You mean to all intents and purposes inventing the contemporary manifestation of what will become one of the most successful guitar-music genres in the history of music, bringing joy to more 11- and 12-year-olds than fuck’n Santa dude?

Exactly brah. And we’re going to do it via the exact point where the Chillis changed dude – we’re musical historians man, we’re going to sample that shit and create a fragment of music history guy. We’re goddam populist intellectuals – mapping music via other music, this is going to be the most self-conscious Nu Metal track of all time bro. This is The New Nu Metal.

You’re so right guy. Now whatsay we go fuck the shit out of some bitches?

They even supported the Chilli Peppers on a 1999/2000 tour – a final statement of music-literate intent. But the people did not listen. The Gift of the Game failed to chart. Shifty threw a chair through a window and got arrested, he was so pissed (TORTURED GENIUS TORTURED GENIUS TORTURED GENIUS). And then Butterfly got released. And then the people listened. And the reading below is what they should have heard, but didn’t hear. (Instead, Crazy Town spent Ozzfest 2001 being mocked as the one-hit-wonder ‘Butterfly Boys’ – as though that were some kind of bad thing…)
Such a sexy, sexy pretty little thing:
fierce nipple pierce you got me sprung with your tongue ring 
Astonishingly sophisticated compression in the second line, delightful internal rhymes. The genuineness – struggling for description – of the first line is, when you consider the macho rapcore stereotype, bloody brave. And then there’s the internal joke of these two lines coming in such quick succession – two lines which couldn’t possibly describe the same person. I mean, pretty and a tongue ring?! I ask you. This is an acknowledgement of what critics initially accused Nu Metal of doing – i.e. juxtaposing the two most brain-dead components of contemporary music as though there mutual braindeadness would create something beautiful. Crazy Town proved that it both could and couldn’t; that’s why they’re so important.

and I ain't gonna lie, cause your loving gets me high
so to keep you by my side – there's nothing that I won't try.
Butterflies in her eyes and looks to kill,
time is passing I'm asking could this be real
cause I can't sleep, I can't hold still;
the only thing I really know is she got sex appeal.
The macho bathos of this last line is obviously ironic. It is an inversion of accusations about Nu Metal’s one-dimensionality – both an acknowledgement and a rebuke.

I can feel. Too much is never enough,
you're always there to lift me up
when these times get rough. I was lost now I'm found,
ever since you've been around
you're the women that I want
so yo, I'm putting it down. 
The use of Anglican cliché about being ‘lost’ and ‘found’ etc. is a clever acceptance of the way songs about love fall back on stock phrases whether they are aware of it or not. It is this deliberate falling-back which gives the track the momentum to drive it into the kind of insanely brilliant phrasemaking I’ll highlight below:

Come my lady etc.

I don't deserve you unless it's some kind of hidden message
to show me life is precious.
Rhyme ‘message’ with ‘precious’? But that couldn’t possibly work, could it…

Then I guess it's true;
but to tell truth, I really never knew
till I met you... See I was lost and confused,
twisted and used up,
knew a better life existed but thought that I missed it.

My lifestyle's wild, I was living like a wild child:
trapped on a short leash paroled the police files.
‘Paroled the police files’ is just so clever – playing on patrolled/paroled wordplay amongst other things.

So yo, what' s happening now?
I see the sun breaking down into dark clouds;
and a vision of you standing out in a crowd.

Come come my lady etc.

Hey sugar momma, come and dance with me,
the smartest thing you ever did was take a chance with me:
whatever tickles your fancy,
girl me and you like Sid and Nancy.
This is mad-brilliant: it takes the boy-meets-girl narrative of the song and frames it in a musical-historical context – i.e. the relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen – that is all about the passing of musical eras and genres. Vicious’ death in 1979 is oftentimes seen – inevitably, it coming at the end of a decade – as a key moment of musical transition. As discussed above, Crazy Town are one of modern music-history’s great transition bands. And so as the song cascades to its end one realises that, truly, it is lyrically about music as well as love – just as its use of sampled RHCP is about the intoxicating combination.

So sexy almost evil, talkin' about butterflies in my head;
I used to think that happy endings were only in the books I read but
you made me feel alive when I was almost dead.

You filled that empty space with the love I used to chase
and as far as I can see it don't get better than this.
So butterfly, here is a song, and it's sealed with a kiss.
And a thank you miss.

Come come my lady etc.

You want to understand roughly 20 years of US musical and poetic history bro? You could do a lot goddam worse than suspect the Butterfly.

*To access a Spotify essay-soundtrack-playlist to accompany the above, click here*

Sam Kinchin-Smith
Music Editor


  1. I'd also like to point out that this album has a guest appearance from KRS ONE, proving once and for all its fierce lyrical credentials.

    "I'm a bad ass b-boy, 2 triple O, a space age hiphop superhero".

  2. Yeah...I like it when the girls stop by.. In the summer
    Do you remember, Do you remember?
    ...when we met..That summer??

    New Kids On The block,had a bunch of hits
    Chinese food makes me sick.
    And I think it's fly when girls stop by for the summer,for the summer
    I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch,
    I'd take her if I had one wish,
    But she's been gone since that summer..
    Since that summer

    Hip Hop Marmalade spic And span,
    Met you one summer and it all began
    You're the best girl that I ever did see,
    The great Larry Bird Jersey 33
    When you take a sip you buzz like a hornet
    Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets
    Call me Willy Whistle cause I can't speak baby
    Something in your eyes went and drove me crazy
    Now I can't forget you and it makes me mad,
    Left one day and never came back
    Stayed all summer then went back home,
    Macauly Culkin wasn't Home Alone
    Fell deep in love,but now we ain't speaking
    Michael J Fox was Alex P Keaton
    When I met you I said my name was Rich
    You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

    New Kids On The block,had a bunch of hits
    Chinese food makes me sick.
    And I think it's fly when girls stop by for the summer,for the summer
    I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch,
    I'd take her if I had one wish,
    But she's been gone since that summer..
    Since that summer

    Cherry Pez,cold crush,rock star boogie
    Used to hate school so I had to play hookie,
    Always been hip to the B-boY Style
    Known to act wild and make girls smile,
    Love New Edition and the Candy Girl
    Remind me of you because you rock my world
    You come from Georgia where the peaches grow
    They drink lemonade and speak real slow
    You love hip hop and rock n roll
    Dad took off when you were 4 years old
    There was a good man named Paul Revere
    I feel much better baby when you're near
    You love fun dip and cherry Coke,
    I like the way you laugh when I tell a joke
    When I met you I said my name was Rich
    You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

    In the summertime girls got it going on,
    Shake and wiggle to a hip hop song
    Summertime girls are the kind I like,
    I'll steal your honey like I stole your bike

    Bugaloo shrimp and pogo sticks
    My mind takes me back there oh so quick
    Let you off the hook like my man Mr. Limpet
    Think about that summer and I bug,cause I miss it
    Like the color purple,macaroni and cheese,
    Ruby red slippers and a bunch of trees
    Call you up but whats the use
    I like Kevin Bacon,but I hate Footloose
    Came in the door I said it before,I think I'm over you
    but I'm really not sure
    When I met you I said my name was Rich
    You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

    In the summer girls come and summer girls go
    Some are worth while and some are so so,
    Summer girls come and summer girls go
    Some are worth while and some are so so,
    Summertime girls got it going on
    Shake and wiggle to a hip hop song
    Summertime girls are the kind I like
    I'll steal your honey like I stole your bike

  3. Since it seems to be fashionable on this blog, I thought I'd reproduce the lyrics of Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells' below.