Wednesday, September 8, 2010
It is sometimes the case that what you used to make cruel fun of when you were young emerges, years later, as a classic of the form. This is the case with "96 Tears", a strange mash up of rhythm and blues and Tex-Mex crossover. The lyrics are simple and straight forward, no ponderous analogies, no naive pronouncements about subtler states of consciousness, but they are mysterious, a little threatening. Why precisely 96 tears, and doesn't the middle section, with the beat and organ momentarily locked on meditative drone, seem a chilly dishevelment as vocalist Question Mark, nee Rudy Martinez, veers from acknowledging the source of his heartbreak and plunges into a revenge fantasy? ?'s vocals are archetypically nasal, juvenile, utterly teenage in it's flattened iteration of the world as being composed solely of black and white extremes. It's an especially young male cosmology, not unlike the quintessential revenge fantasy "Hey Joe", or, for that matter, John Lennon's alarmingly bilious "Run for Your Life". 96 Tears is a masterpiece of the sub genre and the mindset, an example where the most intense young desire becomes, quickly, a hunger for revenge.
We should also take note with the version done by fellow Michigander Aretha Franklin, who's hot, soul-motivated version of the song is something of a proto-feminist anthem; her protagonist acknowledges what wasn't working out, cuts her loses, and moves on, on her own terms.