Immoral sonority

London?s Tiger Lillies sing ?songs of filth? with only the best intentions. Just for Laughs Festival July 2003

Immoral Sonority


are plenty of lyrics in the Tiger Lillies songbook that give one an

unvarnished glimpse into the psychological machinery of this London

trio. To wit: ?I could?ve been a killer/Who ate his victims? flesh/I

could?ve eat them rotten/I could?ve eat them fresh? (from ?Killer?).

Then there?s this jaunty nautical gem, from ?Sailors?: ?And the wind it

blows inland/And the death you can smell/Smashed on rocks and smashed

on boulders/Smashed in living hell.?

Or how ?bout some

dysfunctional family values: ?My mother was a prostitute/My father was

a thief/My auntie ran a brothel/It gave cheap relief? (from ?Crime?).

The rather appropriately titled ?Terrible,? however, neatly summarizes

the raison d??tre of the Tiger Lillies, with these lines: ?I?m

terrible, terrible, shouldn?t be allowed/To sing my songs of filth to a

decent crowd/ I?m terrible, terrible, shouldn?t be allowed/But when I

do offend someone, it makes me feel so proud.?

What?s so funny about ...

If giving offence is the main aim of singin?, songwritin?,

accordion-squeezin? Tiger Lillie Martyn Jacques, his lyrical

loop-dee-loops about rape, infanticide, blasphemy, disease, freaks,

feces, doom and the devil?just to name a few jolly topics?are right on

target. But the fact is, Jacques?s primary goal is to plaster a smile

on your face.
?Sometimes, when you read things, they may not read

very funny,? the friendly, soft-spoken Jacques says over the line from

London, ?but when you listen to those lines being performed, because of

the way they?re performed, they can take on a different life. That?s

certainly the case with what I do. Some of the lyrics I sing may not

seem funny, but when you actually see me perform them, they become


The Tiger Lillies? formula for funny sees Jacques

delivering his nutty notions in a ridiculous castrati falsetto over

music that at once suggests vintage German cabaret, garlic-flavoured

Parisian chanson and minimalist yet energetic ska?all care of three

yobs dolled up like Dickensian droogs. What?s perhaps funniest is that

as offensive as they are, as they have to be, it?s with nothing less

than the most noble intentions.

?I think it?s quite

interesting that, for example, you get a lot of radical clothes

designers who are very interested in the swastika and the use of it in

their clothes designs. Something like the swastika has a huge taboo

about it. By actually using symbols like that is the only way of

deflating the taboo. I mean, people these days will make jokes about

Attila the Hun and nobody would care. But if you make jokes about Adolf

Hitler?it?s still relatively close, historically.
?I?m also very

interested in gay culture, in the way gay men take something like the

skinhead look. It?s the same thing?deflating the taboo. There was a

time when, if you saw a skinhead walking down the street, everybody was

really frightened. Then a group of gay men started dressing up as

skinheads. Nowadays, in London, if you see a skinhead walking down the

street, you actually think, oh, he?s probably gay. You can imagine how

humiliating and deflating it is for an extremely nasty, macho skinhead

to walk down the street and have all these people looking at him,

thinking he?s gay.?

The real enemy

Not everyone sees things the way Jacques does. The Tiger Lillies have

incurred the wrath of not only the church (a blasphemous, cancelled

Good Friday concert saw to that) but of its self-righteous,

authoritarian equivalent on the left.

?These politically

correct people who object to my lyrics are the real enemy, the really

dangerous ones. They?re fascists! Fascists! They keep all the taboos in

place, making no attempt to deflate the taboos and in fact, they oppose

people like myself who do. They are, actually, the most dangerous group

of people in society. Maybe they?re not fascists in the literal sense,

but they are the curators of fascism, the curators of all the

reactionary, nasty, right-wing people that exist in our society because

they keep their power in place.
?That?s why artists through the

centuries have been persecuted. They try to deflate and take the piss

out of the church, for example, which has obviously been an extremely

dodgy and fascistic institution through the centuries. Artists have

come along and mocked the hypocrisy of the church. Then you get all the

nice people saying, ?You really musn?t do that! You really can?t

criticize people?s faith!? But what they?re really doing is keeping

that hypocrisy alive and strong. 

At Cabaret (2111 St-Laurent) from Monday, July 15 to Sunday, July 21, 9pm nightly, $23.95