Al Perry's recent EP and YouTube vid for his "Jukebox Jihad" prove the vet composer is, as ever, loaded on seriously twisted satire. Dig the opening line: "Incendiary device down my pants/I'm gonna blow up all the teens at the rock 'n' roll dance!"
Against a Carl Perkins-meets-Hasil Adkins bed of convulsive, spare rockabilly rhythm, the song's ostensible Jihadi protagonist describes in sequential, excruciating (read: darkly hilarious) detail his murderous plot to "suicide bomb" some "infidel" teens while in mid-twist at the high-school sock hop. An oud (that's right, an Oud!) solo kicks off with a hearty shout of "Go, Mohammed, go!" Yes, rock 'n' roll by design was always supposed to hit a nerve—if it's "safe," it's likely not worth hearing.
"Jukebox Jihad" blew my mind on first listen. It's irreverent rock 'n' roll of the best kind, which Perry refers to it as "Islamic Rockabilly."
I played it endlessly on my smartphone. I expounded its virtues to anyone who'd listen. Weeks passed, and I couldn't get it out of my head, so I had to know more. To my surprise, Tucson's reclusive musical sultan of the sardonic not only consented to perform the song in couple of downtown Tucson clubs with my group backing him, but he also agreed to field questions on the occasion of the EP's almost insanely limited release. Here's my little chat with local superstar iconoclast Perry:
Why did you compose the song? Your mingling of suicide bombing with rockabilly is like rock 'n' roll synaesthesia.
I have no clue. I don't know why I write stuff, or do paintings or play oud, or anything. I don't think about things like that. It just popped into my head, it's really as simple as that. I just had the idea of two lines, and they were in my head for a couple weeks. Usually, with something as inane and jokey like that I can talk myself out of actually writing it. Then one day I sat down with pen and paper and wrote the rest of the lyrics. It took about five minutes.
Why did you decide to further develop the idea into a three-song EP?
Well, it's not really an EP, as in something that you could go buy somewhere. I was just thinking what a great single it would be, so I did that. But it was really just to give out to a few friends. I mean, if someone wrote to me and wanted one, sure—but I'm not going to distribute it. So we have the teen-pop version, then an LCR (left-center-right) instrumental mix, and of course the live version with your band Though you're well-known as a guitarist, "Jukebox Jihad" features you soloing on a fretless Middle Eastern string instrument. What attracted you to the oud?
I received an oud as a gift. I had no idea what to do with it for the longest time. Finally, I went and got it strung, and started trying it. I play it like a blues guy or a rock guy or a goddamn hillbilly. Not like an Arab, though just very recently I've started studying up on scales, you know major and minor and all that. And a little bit on the Arabic modes/maqams. It's a very interesting instrument. They use a lot of quarter tones, the notes in between the notes. Rhythms are interesting. I love playing it. It's difficult to play in a live situation, at least for me. Too much noise in a club. Plus you are supposed to pick the strings lightly.
It's a good thing most people don't know what a really good oud player sounds like! I'd be doomed.
I've always been interested in unusual music, but lately even more so. There is a lot of really weird stuff from the 78 rpm era from India, and Southeast Asia among other places. Plus I am obsessed with these square dance 78s on the Phoenix Old Timer label. They're much more interesting than other square dance records. And Sacred Harp singing.
"I got my bombs and I got my gun- killin' all the kids is fun, fun, fun!" This is some pretty brutal imagery. Were you ever afraid that the song might create a negative backlash, endangering your musical career or personal safety?
Not really. The song is so dumb and over the top. It's unfortunate that the world is populated with many grim, humorless, literal-minded people who just can't understand something like that. There is zero political intent in the song. Zero. I have no agenda whatsoever. I don't have anything against Muslims. I would be bummed if I hurt someone's feelings, sure—but, it's a joke. And, it's a pretty dumb one at that. Remember the scheiss-storm that started when Steve Earle used the term "Jap guitar" in his hit song? That is how far we have sunk. We've lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. This country's very soul is a distant memory. Wah. Everyone has something to cry about. So, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke."
Al Perry's "Jukebox Jihad EP" is a free Soundcloud download—and the video is on YouTube. But order the physical copy. It's music you can hold. Contact Perry at firstname.lastname@example.org..