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