I need to give a slight preface: Given this unit of sex, it seems we didn’t get pass the mental time line of the late 1990s, the most recent article is from 2000 by Kalifa. All references are more than a decade earlier than our current head space. I realize we alternatively have and have not progressed past the contentions of queer sex (and sex in general) brought up in this specific-date unit, but I want to focus on art generated from this particular period still in relation to its contemporaries. What I mean is, I want to archive Neutral Milk Hotel’s “King of Carrot Flowers Part 1” as if we were all still operating under 1990 assumptions, otherwise its significance fades. This band has been around since 1991 and one of the few from this time period of popular culture (to my knowledge) that acknowledges gay sexuality. Listening to it now in 2015 and it is still difficult to catch the address of ‘he’ instead of the traditional ‘she’ of the love song until the fifth hearing. A testament to even our assumptions now, so I’m curious to analyze it from its own perspective.
I am so focused to archive it in its own stratum because in class we discussed how homosexuality and violence were intrinsically linked in that time period. During the days spent on Cruising and Interior. Leather Bar, the issue of homo/erotic/physical/violence very much dominated the discourse. Homosexuality depicted as steeped in deviance was normative then, as compared to now where it is known that homosexuality is not its own deviant behavior. So when I look at the lyrics “And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy’s shoulder/ And dad would throw garbage all across the floor/ As we would lay and learn what each other’s bodies were for” I cannot get the image of gay love surrounded by pain and degradation out of my head. But that is the mind set the artists were working in. Yes, on the cusp of the millennial social revolution, but still mired within the political and societal constructions of the day. The speaker remembers his lover surrounded by violence and secrets, but he is not making a stand with this, he is solely commenting on the life lived that was comparative to so many other lives of that generation. The only stanza that describes the tenderness and yet still the ‘illicitness’ of the romance, “And this is the room one afternoon I knew I could love you/ and from above you how I sank into your soul/ into that secret place where no one dares to go” is followed right after, and ends the song with “And your mom would drink until she was no longer speaking/ and dad would dream of all the different ways to die/ each one a little more than he could dare to try.”
It is not addressed whether the “king of carrot flowers” parents are fighting and drinking over their sons gayness, or over personal disputes. But the two seem linked through the construction of the song.
The slight biblical reference in the first stanza “in holy rattlesnakes that fell around your feet” makes the listener consider the bible and its verse “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Abomination means ‘a thing that causes disgust or hatred,’ like a crime against mankind, such as a violent act, and once again homosexuality is bonded to violence.
The key reason this song should be tabled within its era is that reading this in 2015, it seems I am imbuing this song with meaning, I am making it mean this terrible thing. But back then, as shown through our very own class consensus, homosexuality was violence, it was deviance; and in mainstream media (a reflection of the majority opinion) it was a dark and unsettling thing.
This song reads more bitter than sweet, and its main significance lies in its unquestioning commentary about the idea of homosexuality. How then it was one being inherently surrounded, grown from, described by, abuse.