By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
What's Left In Orange County
Carpet Cat Records
It ought to be well-known that the source of some of the world's red dye is a bug, Dactylopius coccus, a South and Central American beetle that, when dried and powdered by the tens of thousands, yields cochineal (also called carmine and carminic acid), a tincture that adds zipstick to your lipstick and pumps up to unnatural, blinding scarlet hues such foodstuffs as strawberry yogurt—hence Mal DuRoque's song "Beetles In Your Yogurt."
But DuRoque leverages this entomological factoid to indict capitalism. Seriously. He is outraged to discover the carminic acid in his breakfast is derived, ultimately, from a beetle and sees it as evidence of the perfidy of American industry. DuRoque isn't funny or clever about this discovery; he (or maybe it's they—maybe the band is called Mal DuRoque) is dead sober, which means he's something of a nut, like a guy who sees in the fly in his soup a portent of the decline of Western Civilization.
Revealing the cochineal conspiracy is just part of DuRoque's attempt to produce (with other local artists) political songs for his maudlin album What's Left in Orange County. We'll get to the problem of political music in a moment, but meantime, let's note that "Beetles In Your Yogurt" exposes one of those features of orthodox leftism that shames us all. Really (I want to ask DuRoque), what the fuck is wrong, after all, with eating insects? I'm not a big advocate myself, but what is the left for if not to honor everything from the Third World—dreadlocks, purses on men, music made with oil drums? The left is supposed to excoriate precisely this kind of ethnocentrism, the narrowness of the bourgeois palate, the culinary myopia where the eating of bugs is concerned. Leftists are supposed to observe that much of the world—or at least much of the world that lives in mud and wattle huts and wears the pelts of small animals—eats grubs and does pretty well on them; I expect my leftist friends to revere this sort of thing the way they revere everything pre-capitalist. Progressives (except vegans) should adopt bug-eating as they have hemp wallets. Then, too, there is the survival of our species. Bugs are everywhere, often edible and high in protein, and if we don't eat them first, well, please—we all know what the little fuckers have in mind for us.
Then, too, DuRoque's song opens him up to the charge that he's a racist—it was the Aztecs, after all, who, when they conquered the feckless Mayans, ordered said Mayans to pay tribute in sacks of scarce Dactylopius coccus. To hate cochineal, then, is to hate indigenous people, and you can see where I'm headed on this point: I'm saying DuRoque's "Beetles In Your Yogurt," intended as a critique of capitalism, is really, at bottom, the kind of suburban provincialism that has Orange County Register readers calling the Olive Garden Orange County's best Italian restaurant. The song is self-parodic—a suburban yahoo making fun of suburban yahoos.
And that's just the stupid lyrics. Throughout this album—which DuRoque, in a missive to the Weekly staff, begged us to review lest we prove ourselves hostile to progressives—the music is hackneyed, sentimental. We haven't just heard all this before; we've heard it before and barfed. There are bright spots. A sampled cello on "Condi's in Love" might remind you of the Beatles' (not the beetles') "All You Need is Love"; Ron Kobayashi's keyboard is invariably sharp; Dave Murdy's bluesy vocals are a delight—or would be if they weren't deployed on behalf of such vapidities. Don't get me wrong: this is the kind of album everyone at the Weekly (except for the music staff, whose unyielding standards are bigger than their small souls)wants to like because we're sure the entire gang behind What's Left in Orange County is big-hearted—indeed, the liner notes inform us that Orange County's progressive community is "potent and dedicated."
But this album blows. When it's not stepping on its own historical dick (e.g., the aforementioned "Beetles"), it's sounding like the smug suburban progressive's view of the rest of the world's people: they're all victims who, with their very small hands, manufacture shoelaces in Nicaraguan sweatshops or peasants who (we learn against the lugubrious thrumming of an acoustic guitar) find a little morning solace in coffee strained through an old sock, and the best we can do for them is to listen to sappy songs about how much their lives suck. The Orange County left would better emulate music that doesn't so much mention politics and political people as it does evoke great artistry; great art is by definition revolutionary—or have you not seen the Pollockian horrors hanging in department stores and corporate headquarters lately?
This album is like drinking a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's. It's like a poetry reading among men in berets and revealing footwear. It is, in short, terrible, and we don't feel better for having told you so. Except that someone had to.
OC and Long Beach bands and musicians! Mail your CDs and tapes (along with your vital contact info, plus any impending performance dates) for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 1666 N. Main St., Ste. 500, Santa Ana, CA 92701-7417.