Wednesday, June 14, 2006

'Hadji Girl' deconstructed

Having planned to become a rock star before Lynn talked me into trying a journalism career (she told me journalists made big bucks LOL), let me provide some analysis of the song "Hadji Girl," which has caused such grief for Cpl. Josh Belle, USMC.


THE HOOK
Let me explain what Belle is doing here. A pop song must begin with a "hook." You must have some basic idea to build the song around.
The hook can be musical or lyrical. It can be a title phrase, a guitar riff, whatever -- there must be something in the song to "hook" the listener into wanting to hear the song again and again.

Think about the three-chord progression in "Sweet Home Alabama," the thumping drum riff in the Gap Band's "Early in the Morning," or the "bomp-bomp-bomp" bass part that made a hit of Chic's "Good Times," Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" and Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

A song can have multiple hooks, and "Hadji Girl" has at least three:
  • The "Hadji Girl" romance -- a taboo for U.S. troops in Iraq, who are strictly forbidden to fraternize with the local females. So like the Beach Boy classic "Surfer Girl," Belle focuses his song on the image of a beautiful girl -- the beautiful girl being a poetic theme which Edgar Allen Poe said was timeless and universal. And because she's off-limits, there's also a "Romeo-and-Juliet" element to the song.
  • The "Durka Durka" chorus -- As explained earlier, the chorus incorporates a laugh-line from the puppet comedy movie, "Team America." Basically, in the movie, all the terrorist characters keep repeating the same dialogue, "Durka durka, Muhammed jihad." This is Matt Stone and Trey Parker's backhanded tribute to "Bridge on the River Kwai," where whenever Japanese extras (most of whom were played by actors who were not actually Japanese) have dialogue, they are actually saying, "You tie my tie, I tie your shoe." (Cinema trivia!) The constant repetition of this "durka durka" line in "Team America" becomes a running gag in the movie, and this is why you hear the Marine audience howl with laughter at the chorus: They love the movie, and they get the joke.
  • The O. Henry narrative -- Belle's songwriting is influenced by the folk-country ballad tradition of storytelling, with a surprise ending, like an O. Henry short story. The best analogy to "Hadji Girl" might be Ray Stevens' "The Streak," where the protagonist goes through the first two verses trying to shield his wife, Ethel, from seeing the streaker, who then in the denouement goes streaking herself. Or, perhaps, you might talk about the surprise ending of Randy Travis' "Three Wooden Crosses," in which we learn in the final verse that the survivor of the crash is not the preacher, but the hooker.
These, then, are the basic elements of songcraft that Belle brings to bear in "Hadji Girl." So, we begin with the idea that, just as Poe did in "The Raven," Belle is crafting a poetic work. Having been told that the song began as an inside joke among Belle and his Marine buddies, we can therefore work backward through the lyrics and attempt to reach the meaning of the "text," as the MLA might describe it.

THE CONTEXT
Two of my wife's younger brothers have been to Iraq, as have some of my friends. I am familiar with their complex and conflicted views toward Iraqi civilians and the difficulties facing U.S. personnel in the violent, hostile and culturally remote environment of post-Saddam Iraq. But apparently the folks whom BlackFive calls "humorless asshat sycophants," who don't get "Team America," also have no understanding of the feelings of ordinary American servicemen whose chief war aim in Iraq is: Get home alive.

But ... I see that our class time is almost over for today. Remember your reading assignments, class. And I'll see you here at noon tomorrow, at which point I'll explain why this Marine was singing about doing something that he would never, ever do in real life.

Final note for today: Josh is 23. Think about it.

* UPDATES TO COME *

6/13: Cpl. American Idol, USMC


OK, one more note: I've asked the Right-Wing Film Geek to examine Cpl. Belle's lyrics to see if there is more "Team America" in there than previously suspected.
* * * * *
8 p.m.: My goodness, I am already more than an hour late for my appointment to meet libertarians in Dupont Circle (no jokes, Jonah), but keep running into more news. LGF explains that "Hadji Girl" is not just another "gotcha" story, but that the CAIR/MSM/Al-Jazeera Big Lie Machine is turning it into a PR nightmare for Uncle Sam:
This is what happens when no one in authority stands up for the troops. Disgusting.
Now, you'll excuse me, but the guys in Dupont Circle will be miffed if I don't show up pretty soon!

-- McCAIN