Album: Let It Be
. . .
Mirror image / see no damage / see no evil at all
“Androgynous” just might be the greatest song Paul Westerberg has ever written.
Let it Be was the album where I started thinking in terms of Replacements albums having “major” songs and “minor” songs. In general, the “major” songs were usually — but not always — grand statements where he somehow universalized the personal. The minor songs were the jokey ones, the pisstakes, the ones delivered with a wink. Or, the major songs could be the ones I loved more.
That said, by any stretch of the imagination, “Androgynous” is a major, major song on just about every level, stopping Let it Be in its tracks, and announcing once and for all that there was more on Westerberg’s mind than bad relationships, bad concerts and bad surgery.
Here comes Dick, he’s wearing a skirt
Here comes Jane, y’know she’s sporting a chain
Same hair, revolution
Same build, evolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?
According to Trouble Boys Westerberg had to look the word up after a girl used the term to describe his own experimentation (along with Pete Buck, before he disappeared forever after playing on “I Will Dare“) with androgyny. And so he wrote his most beautiful, most tender song to date, performing it on piano in the studio.
And they love each other so
Closer than you know, love each other so
Unlike most of Paul’s songs, “Androgynous” was written in the third person, which gave it extra power: here was the tough-presenting indie rocker boy singing a sensitive ballad standing up for the type of outcasts that might not even like his music or go to his shows because of possible harm from tough-presenting indie rocker boys who ostensibly hated ballads.
Don’t get him wrong and don’t get him mad
He might be a father, but he sure ain’t a dad
And she don’t need advice that’ll center her
She’s happy with the way she looks
She’s happy with her gender
While it’s just Paul on piano (with sandblocks for percussion), the recording of “Androgynous” seems deeper than that, starting with a backwards piano note and containing ghostly voices, both sung and spoken, and of course the sand blocks that give it a late night, woozy feel, not so far off from what future homie Tom Waits was doing.
I mean, I gotta say, in 1984 at 21 going on 22, having grown up in the equivalent of a red state, surrounded by all of the concomitant attitudes towards anybody who didn’t fit the perfect cis stereotype, “Androgynous” was definitely a song that contributed to the evolution of my thinking about those who were on different wavelengths in terms of gender and sexuality. I was beginning to realize that the world was far weirder and more complex than I’d even imagined, and I could either reject it or embrace it. So I embraced it.
That was, of course, some time after I’d embraced the gorgeous bridge of “Androgynous”, which laid it all out there from Paul’s perspective.
Mirror image, see no damage
See no evil at all
Kewpie dolls and urinal stalls
Will be laughed at
The way you’re laughed at now
And then, voice raising, intensity intensified, he sings the final verse, a hopeful look into the future, in which anything is possible. Be who you want, love who you want. Which, given the harassment I’m witnessing pretty much everyday aimed at the LGBTQIA community — including this very fucking moment on Twitter — that’s all it remains, a hopeful look at the future.
Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl
They both look the same
They’re overjoyed in this world
Same hair, revolution
Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss
And tomorrow Dick is wearing pants
And tomorrow Janie’s wearing a dress
Future outcasts and they don’t last
And today, the people dress the way that they please
The way they tried to do in the last centuries
In any event, “Androgynous” was a true experiment and a game-changer, and yet, sandwiched between the jokey “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and the goddamn KISS cover, it was also somehow what you would expect from the Replacements after the genre-switching of Hootenanny: anything.
Like “I Will Dare” and the three major songs coming up on side two, “Androgynous” was a key reason that people were utterly floored by Let it Be, and probably did as much as any song they ever wrote in terms of expanding their fanbase beyond dumb indie rock guys like me.
“Androgynous” live at Riot Fest, Denver, 2013
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