Metric’s “Combat Baby”: Anthem for a Dominance-Seeking Dopamine Addict

I have been all over the Canadian band Metric for the past couple of weeks, and their frenetic track “Combat Baby” hit home for me in a few ways.

I recall clearly the first time I heard this song years ago. I was driving back to MadTown from Iowa City where I had visited some friends at the U of I. I tuned into the campus radio station and heard this fireball of energy. I called up the station and being a college station my call went direct right to the DJ, who told me who it was.

I later rang up a Canadian friend who told me “oh yeah, I know all aboot them. Metric is great. They’re huge up here in Toronto.” Eh.

If you want a, ahem, better look at Metric frontwoman Emily Haines, check this live video out (whatever you do, don’t skip to 3:02):

It’s a rather sophisticated song, highlighting lyrical syncopation, liberal slant rhyme (“combat” and “come back,” “baby”/”lethargy”/”easy”), blending of figurative and literal language (“they try to kick it, their feet fall asleep”) and the use of blue notes.

METRIC LESSONS

The song itself rather clearly describes a woman who digs the excitement of arguing and of lively personalities, and wants and to be dominated. (I take the term “fighting” as figurative).

We used to leave the blue lights on and there was a beat
Ever since you have been gone it’s all caffeine-free
Faux punk fatigues
Said it all before
They try to kick it, their feet fall asleep
Get no harm done no
None of them want to fight me

[chorus]
Combat baby come back baby
Fight off the lethargy
Don’t go quietly
Combat baby
Said you would never give up easy
Combat baby come back
[/chorus]

Get back in town, I wanna paint it black
Wanna get around
Easy living crowd so flat
Said it all before
They try to kick it, their feet fall asleep
I want to be wrong but
No one here wants to fight me like you do

[chorus]

I try to be so nice
Compromise
Who gets it good?
Every mighty mild seventies child
Every mighty mild seventies child
Beats me

Do doo doo doo

Combat baby come back baby
Combat baby come back
Bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye baby
Combat baby come back

How I miss your ranting
Do you miss my all time lows

One-offs on this topic: Susan Walsh has more than once referenced “starting a fight just to get the makeup sex.” Athol Kay has translated a woman’s complaint of “I’m bored” as “I need some dopamine, can you give me some?” Brendan spoke to “mediocrity” in relationships in terms of lack of emotional intensity.

Back in my days as a musician, I was exposed to a few teenage punk-rocker-girl types. They were fascinating, and I was totally unable to handle them at the time, but there was also something really shallow about them. All flash and no bacon, able to cop an attitude and push against authority but lacking any alternate ethos in its place. The typical frame was that of Rayanne Graf from “My So-Called Life” – a world without walls, with lots of heat and light, but no constructive movement.

There’s a reason there are so few long-term-successful punks. It’s both rare to have that level of artistic talent to being with, and hard to balance the requisite angst with the discipline you need to write, record and tour (the downfall of countless garage bands). It’s a fundamentally self-limiting genre, as evidenced by the number of para-punk musicians that shifted to the nascent New Wave sound in the early 1980’s (John Lydon and the Police come to mind).

STRANGE TIMES

For a song that wasn’t written until most of it was over, “Combat Baby” clicked with more than one piece of my life (it’s such a great quirk of art and music that people we’ve never met can create things that speak to us so well).

As I’ve moved several times over my life, I resonated with the theme of missing a friend who really lit your fire, and as an out-of-the-closet Type A personality, I suffer when I don’t have equally intense people around me. (Revving down my engine has been a point of improvement for me for years, to much success, I’m proud to say.)

My first year of graduate school was very tough, so much so that I refer to it as “the lost year,” and I’ve come to understand that a large part of the angst was sheer boredom. I moved to graduate school straight out of undergrad, going from a tight-knit city college atmosphere to a hollow and mutually fearful enterprise of students who didn’t really know where they were going. The median level of social skills took a huge hit, shrinking my pool of possible friends, and we were spread all over town without the ability to centrally socialize. A lot of my classmates didn’t speak passable English and socialized in their own ethnic groups including professors. I went from a full academic schedule, plus labs and organized activities, to having less than eight hours of class a week, and there was certainly not enough homework to keep my mind occupied.

How desperate I was for someone to make it interesting, to care about what I had to say and to say something worth caring about. (I found her eventually, and then let her break my heart twice, but that’s another story.) “Combat Baby” speaks to my longing for someone to, for lack of a better term, fight me.

As it was, I gradually crept into a pool of friendships based on mutual but unacknowledged misery, which crescendoed with us all hitting bottom simultaneously that spring. In short, two girls both got dumped within a few weeks of each other, a guy broke up with his long-distance girlfriend to date one of the aforementioned women, I fell in love with an unavailable emotional basketcase and botched my chance to get her, one of the gals started smoking again to her deep disappointment, somebody got divorced, two of the alpha-type leaders of our social group graduated, and one guy got fired from his job due to a clerical issue just days before he started .

I self-styled myself as our cohort’s company medic, treating their emotional wounds but allowing them to infect me in the process, but that was a bunch of mental bravado – I was suffering just like they were and didn’t want to admit it, and talked myself into a story that made me both hero and victim. It was all a surreal experience. Most of us made it out OK eventually, but it was a very long year.

EMOTIONAL SPONGES

The ending couplet:

How I miss your ranting
Do you miss my all time lows

reminds me strongly of my first relationship – a literate but arrogant man (rants) and a spirited but depressive woman (lows). We were great complements and heartfelt outlets for each other’s emotional energy, and our relationship worked in part because we were the only ones the other felt comfortable enough around to share those sides of ourselves. So the intimacy was very deep but by the same token very unstable.

It eventually did us in, as soon as the relationship tipped in the downward direction it quickly lost steam and burned out. Neither of us even mildly entertained the idea of getting back together, but we stayed in touch and continued to grate on each other’s nerves. Neither of us dated for a while. She had a few first-base hookups, and I flirted with oneitis for a couple of women I now know would have been horrible choices for the Badgerette, and also had a hilariously disastrous three-week fling with a fan of a rival college team.

It wasn’t until she started dating the man she eventually married, a guy who was able to sublimate her animus without bearing the brunt of it, that we became real friends again. So much so that she served as a personal advisor during the Lost Year, and I helped her through a brief breakup with her future husband. Even though it didn’t work out, I certainly am thankful for the experience, and she was too, eventually.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Metric’s “Combat Baby”: Anthem for a Dominance-Seeking Dopamine Addict

  1. Maggie

    I like this post. :)

  2. Hmmmmm. Heard OF them, but never actually heard them. I’ll have to look into this.

  3. susanawalsh

    I really enjoyed that relationship story. When I first read the ending couplet, I immediately assumed that the female rants, the man has all time lows. (I hadn’t watched the video at that point.) Either way, that kind of dysfunction can be pretty addictive. I think a lot of “bad boy” relationships reflect this, but I hadn’t realized the “bad girl” (or maybe “crazy girl?”) was appealing to men. Perhaps we’re all susceptible to wanting to “fix” someone.

  4. Mike C

    but I hadn’t realized the “bad girl” (or maybe “crazy girl?”) was appealing to men. Perhaps we’re all susceptible to wanting to “fix” someone.

    Nahhh…I don’t think it is the “fixing someone” that is appealing to guys. I think many guys associate bad/crazy girls with crazy, freaky, wild sex and that is the attraction to “crazy” girls. I’m not sure what the correlation there is but I’m pretty sure it is positive.

  5. Athor Pel

    If you want to understand what is attractive about crazy women, read on.

    You don’t have to entertain crazy chicks. They are very rarely bored or boring. They don’t expect other people to actively entertain them. They can be very proactive, this can lead to active manipulation and it can lead to good surprises that nobody expects. If they can be led you can keep them safe and keep them making happiness for many years.

    They tend to always have something going on. They have lots of energy. Surfing the waves of their emotions can be pretty fun. The energy can translate into lots of things, a lot of it really good, some of it can be really bad. The good can include the sex. The bad can feel like an anchor dragging you into their private hell.

    It all depends on whether they have an overall positive personality or a mostly negative personality. The positive personality crazy chicks are a blast to be around, unpredictable in a good way. They are in many ways what men crave in that they usually have a smile on their face and see the world in a good light rather than dark. They are easy to love.

    The negative personality crazy chicks are the stuff of nightmares. Run away. That is all.

    In case you couldn’t tell, I’m describing women in general because from a male perspective they are all crazy, crazy in that they are irrational, disconnected from objective reality and hostages to their emotions.

    I see it this way. The more overtly crazy women, the happy ones, can come across as more genuine and less hypocritical. It is this authentic attitude that can be attractive.

    I think I have to describe what I mean by overtly crazy but happy. This type of woman doesn’t mentally beat herself up, she is happy in her own skin, she works at enjoying how she interacts with the world and the people in it even if those other people see her as a little or a lot crazy. If she does or says something that doesn’t make any rational sense but she is happy while she is doing it then she doesn’t care that it doesn’t make any sense. She listens to her muses and doesn’t worry about making the different inspirations produce the same song.

    Holy crap I did not expect to write this much.

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  7. +1 to Mike C and Athor Pel (welcome). I’ve never sought out crazy chicks. I’m not sure what in the post communicated that. As I tried to describe in the post, my grad school experience was incredibly boring, someone who was vibrant and interesting was hard to come by. The gal I fell for was very smart and intellectually alive, and interested in more than studying and getting a degree. That’s why I liked her.

    She was also a narcissist with big daddy issues. I didn’t recognize this until it was too late, it was a big turnoff when I came to see it. She was a big red-pill lesson for me.

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