Back in the day, U2 recorded the song Jesus Christ for the Folkways album. I bought the album, listened to Jesus Christ and the rest, and developed an interest in Woody Guthrie. While reading his bio I found out about Jack Kerouac (as any good college kid reading this stuff should), but I never extended my interest much past Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg and his cohort. I don’t know why I didn’t, but this all comes back around again because of the existence of this song.
Drunk Chicken is supposedly a piece of music that U2 recorded back during the Joshua Tree sessions, but it never made it to an album. Listening to the music itself, it’s kind of sparse, pretty much featuring just drums and guitar (I’ll be honest here and say I’m not sure if it’s guitar or keyboard, it’s just this weird sounding noise). Edge suggests that it’s all Brian Eno, that it was an early session and the music never went anywhere. Interesting how much influence that Eno has had on the band, how much of it was him and how much them over the years?
So it’s short, only 1:34 long, and has Allen Ginsberg reading the words of his poem America over the top. Now you see where the name for the piece comes from. I don’t know about you, but for me this “song” is pretty much a waste of time. Perhaps a piece of performance art? Maybe so. I’m not casting any aspersions, but the fact that this ends up being the last song on the B sides of the remastered Joshua Tree might tell you something. It probably went something like this: “hey, we have an extra minute and a half of space on the CD, anyone got anything they want to shove in there? Oh, this instrumental piece that isn’t very good? How about some words for it? Hmm, Bono already left for the day, who’s got some audio about that long? Oh, I know what we can use…”
Weird thing is that it’s not the entire poem by Ginsberg, it’s only the first quarter or so. Why cut it off there? To fit the amount of space? The advantage of using a poem like America is that it’s full of nonsense, there’s no flow to it, it’s just a bunch of loosely related sentences, so you can cut it off anywhere and it won’t make a difference. By loosely related, I mean that many of the lines start with America, and many of them are about politics. But it’s as much a stream of consciousness as anything. I know there are people out there who will violently disagree with me about this, they’ll say it’s fantastic and well done and blah blah blah. But in the end it’s like most poetry, just a load of hooey. If I’m totally honest, it’s like most lyrics to songs as well, especially if you take the lyrics by themselves and remove the musical context. A lot of Bono’s stuff would wind up sounding odd if it were just words on a page and you didn’t have the music with it. Although a lot of it would also sound fantastically powerful as just a poem with no music (this is Billy Corgan’s specialty). Try Sunday Bloody Sunday for one.
So, a bunch of random, not even half done music, and a bunch of random, not even well done words, stuck together to make a track. Not good. Not good at all. U2, don’t do this again. Not even to fill up some space on a CD.
My rating for Drunk Chicken/America: 1 / 10