Electric Six's Dick Valentine: I don't think sports have any place in music

Photo by Frank Nash

In Gimme Songs, musician Mark Mallman talks songwriting with his peers and heroes. This week, Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine ahead of Thursday's First Avenue show.

On the Lou Reed/John Cale song about Andy Warhol called, "Images," Lou sings: "I'm no sphinx no mystery enigma, what I paint is very ordinary."

He sees Warhol as a walking contradiction, an ever-unfolding mystery. The deeper you go into the catalog of Electric Six, the harder it is to see your way out of trickster Dick Valentine's weird labyrinth as well. Luckily, I caught him on a good day for songwriting talk, and made it out alive.

See Also: Electric Six release First Avenue live album -- look who's on the cover!

Mark Mallman: Your songs take rock cliches and turn them on their heads. It's not parody, yet it is genre critical. That's a fine line. Does a lyric have a better chance of making it into an Electric Six song if it has a strong cultural context?

Dick Valentine: Take a lyric like, "It's about to blow." Now think about how many times you've walked down the street past something explosive like a fertilizer plant. Have you ever seen anything actually blow up? Nothing blows up in your life. But you can write five songs about things blowing up, and that's valid. It's an idea you're trying to convey. The whole idea of rock 'n' roll is trying to make everything more exciting than it actually is. The same is true with every tour I do. People think I'm a mobile Studio 54, but I just want to get back to the hotel and watch SportsCenter.

So, would you ever sit down and say, "I'm going to write a song about SportsCenter?"

No. I don't think sports have any place in music. It bums me out. I always hate seeing musicians sitting courtside. Adam Levine does that a lot. I'm not a big Smashing Pumpkins fan, but once I saw Billy Corgan going to Bulls' games and it kind of devalued him to me.

What about the infamous Electric Six/Franz Ferdinand basketball game?

That's fine. Playing sports is part of a healthy lifestyle. I'm talking about professional sports, if you are in the public eye. I've been guilty of it a couple of times myself in interviews, rooting for this team or that team. But I make mistakes. I'm a human being. I know that that's wrong.

There are some amazing songs written about sports, though.

Yeah? Well I don't want to hear about them. To me it's the glamorizing and endorsement of professional sports. I enjoy watching those things, but I want them separated. A song like "Pressure," by Billy Joel, where he sings "There you are two men out" or whatever, that's a metaphor. That's fine. But I don't want to hear Kid Rock rapping about Steve Yzerman. There's no call for that. The Detroit Red Wings bring in so much money on their own they don't need songs written about them. Let's write songs about fertilizer plants blowing up. To me, that's where the focus should be.

What about exploding fertilizer plants?

It could be a song with Bruce Springsteen angle about how it's the only plant in the town. It could talk about the actual explosion, or the searing flesh. It could have the government involved. It could have aliens involved. There's five different approaches right there. What I'm saying is that I don't think there should be a marriage or relationship between rock 'n' roll music and professional sports, and I do think there should be one between rock 'n' roll and fertilizer plants exploding.

In looking back at your catalog, what songs do you think are the most unique in that way?

A song like "Trans Atlantic Flight" is one of my few songs that tells a story. It's about a guy who is hitting on a woman while on a plane that's doomed. Then they crash into the ocean and die. So he's going to be hitting on her for all of eternity now. It's like a Tales From the Crypt episode where even though the flesh peels off, the skeleton still lives to do all the thing it once did as a human.

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