In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Though he originally joined the group as the drummer, Jon Langford has fronted U.K./Chicago punk act The Mekons since 1976. He’s also spent much of the last 30-odd years fronting a number of other bands, including alt-country bar band the Waco Brothers, drum-machine punks The Three Johns, and the kid-friendly Wee Hairy Beasties. His latest solo record, 2010’s Old Devils, was recorded with backing band Skull Orchard. Langford is also an accomplished artist, playwright, and all around funny guy. He’ll be performing this weekend in Chicago at A.V. Fest.
The hated: The Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly” (1993)
The A.V. Club: Why did you pick “She Don’t Use Jelly”?
Jon Langford: I don’t know. I rarely hear songs that I don’t like or that irritate me, because a song that really irritates me is like the opposite of one of those NPR driveway moments, you know? I never sit in a car because I have to hear the end of it. I sometimes sit in the car when college radio is on or something and I have to hear who it was singing the song because I like it so much. I just want to hear it and I really like it and they don’t announce it. But sometimes I just want to know who it is so I can put them on a list in my brain of people to avoid in the future.
It’s not hate so much, but that song “She Don’t Use Jelly”—I don’t know why I don’t like it. I was looking at the lyrics and was like, “Oh, that’s that sort of clever, trying to be witty American college rock.” Maybe I’m just jealous of the guy [Wayne Coyne] because he gets to float around in that balloon at all of these glamorous rock festivals that I don’t get invited to. But something in the sound of the record and in the way he sings it and in his voice, I’ll fly across the room, or if I’m in the car, I’ll poke randomly at the radio just so I can make it stop. There are other ones as well: Jack Johnson, Mumford & Sons, or Edward Sharpe. It’s just a sort of blanket artist that I can’t stand. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam will come on and I’ll switch that off.
AVC: Besides jealousy, what else don’t you like about “She Don’t Use Jelly”?
JL: It’s just too clever by far. It’s like I don’t know what it means and I just don’t understand why anyone would like it; I certainly don’t like it. It makes me kind of feel like I need a shower after hearing it.
AVC: There’s a lot of weird, gross imagery in it.
JL: Yeah, I don’t think it’s that. I can listen to Nick Cave singing about JFK’s spinal cord wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligee. I can listen to that without switching that off. My wife would kill me if I switched from Nick Cave, but anyway. Actually, speaking of Nick Cave, there was a really great Nick Cave quote on the other day that doesn’t quite apply to me, but he says anytime he listens to a song he really hates, he has to listen to the end of it then he finds out it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s so personalized. It’s just your personal prejudices—and I don’t know anything about The Flaming Lips really, but what’s it called, “She Don’t Use Jelly”?
AVC: “She Don’t Use Jelly” is what it’s called.
JL: That’s what it’s called, really? I didn’t even know that’s what it’s called. I thought it was called “Vaseline.”
My only criteria for saying that I don’t like it is that it’s when my hand moves the fastest, even compared to when “Angel Of Harlem” comes on by U2 or anything by Mumford & Sons or “Roxanne” by The Police.
AVC: Why don’t you like U2?
JL: Why don’t I like U2? I don’t like any of their songs. They’ve never made any good music, so, yeah. It’s not something that’s ever interested me in any way. It’s beyond me why people would like them. I mean, I can think about it and understand why people like them but, to me, there’s nothing of any interest there whatsoever.
I always had this thing about U2 and The Police being the only two [bands] to make any money out of the whole punk experience and then being two of the worst bands, but Sting’s really problematic. What’s that song about something at the bottom of a Scottish rock? It’s got that really cool guitar line. [Sings.] “Something at the bottom of a Scottish rain.” It’s by The Police. If that comes on, I’ll listen to it. But if “Roxanne” comes on and it’s, “you don’t have to put on the red light,” and he sings it in that high-pitched reggae voice, there’s just something about it that’s too much for me. It’s a physical reaction for me. It’s hard, though, to try to think of a song that I hate more than the one I’ve previously thought of. “Piano Man” sounds quite good, actually, after the terrible things you’ve made me think about.
AVC: Sometimes it’s the people associated with a song. “Piano Man” might be a good song, but the people who love “Piano Man” are the worst.
JL: I’m prejudiced against that song because one time I met Louis Prima’s wife, Keely Smith, at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and she got me to sing along to “When The Saints Go Marching In” when she does this little walk about through the crowd with a radio mic. I sang a verse of the song with her and she said to me, “Are you an entertainer?” I actually wrote a song about that moment. It was this moment where Keely Smith is looking at me and asking me if I’m an entertainer because she looked at me and saw something in me and we bonded somewhere on some plane. And then a drummer shouts, “It’s Billy Joel,” and everybody laughs and I’m totally humiliated. I go back to my hotel room and cry for five days because I don’t want to be Billy Joel.
I was thinking about it, and I mostly play songs that I like. I’ve got a record player back in my painting studio that I really like—it sounds great and it’s so available and my kids play vinyl and everyone’s into vinyl again. I never put a vinyl album on and go, “Oh, I hate this song,” so that’s mostly what I listen to. [On] the radio, I mostly listen to the classical station. I don’t like when they get bombastic, though. When classical music starts using cymbals, I switch that off.
Sometimes on college radio, certain songs make my hands move so fast that I’m not even thinking about switching it off. “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” by Cake is another one.
AVC: That’s a good choice.
JL: Yeah, that’s a shitty song. “She Don’t Use Jelly” does it, anything by U2 generally does it, but there are other things. I think the Nick Cave thing is quite interesting where you’re kind of horrified and it’s distasteful and unpleasant and it’s not really a guilty pleasure, it’s just a horrible feeling. There’s just something where you can’t understand why someone’s made this record and you haven’t really decided whether you hate it or not, but you realize it’s popular and you wonder why people listen to it. I have that quite a lot. But that’s neither love nor hate; it’s just morbid curiosity. I get that from Ray LaMontagne and INXS a lot.
I have to listen to that “saved by a woman” song by Ray LaMontagne all the way through when it comes on. I don’t enjoy it, but I listen to it all the way through just to think of where every piece of it has been stolen from, and it freaks me out. But he’s apparently a very charming man and a very nice guy, and I’d probably get on with him if I ever met him. I don’t switch his music off. I just sit there and feel like I’m physically sick.
AVC: That’s a good way to put it.
JL: I thought what would be really clever to do for this interview would be to pick one of my songs.
AVC: Robyn Hitchcock mentioned one of his songs.
JL: Really? Did he really hate it?
AVC: He said, “I just don’t like it.”
JL: He’s so clever. I thought I was inclined to do that because it was such a stupid, clever idea. Robyn is very clever.
I don’t really hate anything. You sort of bring these things into the world and it would be really cruel to hate them.