Cap’n Jazz is the most important emo band of the 90s Midwest scene. They are also the most confounding. When I discovered them on a ska forum for a city I didn’t live in (yes, really), I asked the elder rudies and emos about the lyrics, and the only story I got was “Tim Kinsella was tripping and those lyrics just came out of his mouth.” For whatever reason, I accepted this and moved on for 15 years. It took me until now to realize that maybe it’s okay for me to look further than the shroom tales of the old ska men of Connecticut. So today, let’s sit down and try to figure out what these songs are really about if anything at all.
From what I can tell, this is a live recording, which makes it one of the hardest to understand of the whole bunch. Sadly, this led to me missing out on the fact that at the end of this song, he is apparently screaming “I inherited hard-boiled eyes,” which is a great introduction to what you can expect from this band and their lyrics going forward. It’s gonna get weird; don’t say I didn’t warn you!
14. “Flashpoint: Catheter”
Luckily, this one isn’t actually about catheters, thank God. It also apparently doesn’t start with the line “Lego sky” as I had always thought. The real line is “That Van Gogh sky shrinks the city that shrinks me” which I suppose is the more poetic choice of the two. Having said that, I’m very much in support of more emo bands singing about Lego in the future, so hopefully some of you are taking note.
13. “Puddle Splashers”
“We’re busy touching till we’re dizzy stupid” I wouldn’t fully relate to this one until I was like 22, if you catch my drift.
12. “Oh Messy Life”
A song about the repetition of work and the boredom of an average life. I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone can relate to this one; sadly, almost 30 years later, this is just as relevant as ever. They really need to get moving on those robots that were supposed to take over all of our jobs; I’m tired.
11. “Scary Kids Scaring Kids”
It’s hard to listen to this one without thinking of my friend, who constantly reminded me that a weird synthy post-hardcore band had used the title as their band name. This song features lyrics about imitation and copying something that loses its value and becomes something superficial to profit from. The irony here speaks for itself.
10. “Basil’s Kite”
From the title alone, you really hope this is simply a song about flying kites with your homie Basil. Tim sounds pretty angry here, though, and I have my suspicions that Basil could be partly responsible. A glance at the lyrics makes me feel like I’m not far off. “Dumb loser user boy so used to the abuse. Can’t see how he’s been used.” Lesson of the day, folks: never lend your friend your kite, no matter how much he promises he won’t get it stuck in that big ass tree he is standing right next to. Exemplified no better than in the closing line, “I can’t fly till he can fly” poor Timmy has to wait in line to use his own kite. I’d start an emo band too if I had friends like Basil who mistreated kite privileges like that.
9. “Take On Me”
I may be dumb, but I’m not that dumb. They didn’t even write this one! I’m pretty sure it was that sick dude with the pompadour harassing that nice lady inside that issue of Archie, or whatever, who penned this jam. It somehow works, though, and results in one of the best songs on the album.
8. “Little league”
This is actually one of the first songs I heard from Cap’n Jazz, and it is also one of the only ones where I could easily pick out some of the lyrics. “Hey coffee eyes, you got me coughing up my cookie heart” is certainly a strange opener; I’m not sure that would work on Hinge, but it works here to create a perfect emo love song. Honorable mention to the overlapping part at the end about kitty cats and putting a hex on thin kids skinny necks.
7. “Ooh Do I Love You”
You would expect this to also be a love song based on the title, but if there is anything I’ve learned from Cap’n Jazz, it is that the title isn’t always reliable to figure out what you’re going to get from the song. This song features everything from smiling at the sight of reptiles to stepping on “that little fucker’s jaw” and snapping them in half. True romance right there.
6. “Ooh Do I Love You”
This isn’t a mistake. I’m dead serious. This song is on the album twice, except this is an acoustic version that gives us a rare stripped-down look at the lyrics of the song, which is always helpful, but the song cuts off in the middle of the final lyric, which is almost funny in a way, like even when they make it easier to hear the lyrics, they still make it tricky in some way.
5. “Hey Ma, Do I Hafta Choke On These”
It’s a rare case of the title of the song being one of the lyrics of the song. It works to great effect here, as that’s a pretty great enigmatic line and a great long weird emo song title, as is tradition. There are only 5 lines in this entire song, but coming in at a little over 2 minutes, it works and never feels sparse. I’ve always said, 2 minutes is all you need, though my girlfriend seems to disagree.
A nice break in the middle of the album for some spoken-word poetry. I assumed it would be about their favorite anime and how badly they want to go to Japan so they can truly fit in or something. Tokyo, however, serves mostly as a symbol for big cities in general and how they can make you feel alone and small. I’m kind of bummed it’s not actually about anime, because that sounds pretty cool to me. Remember when Goku would fly around on that cloud? Not to get all Anthony Fantano on you guys, but that’s kind of what this song sounds like to me.
3. “In The Clear”
This song rules because I never noticed before that the chorus is “Canine ate seven sick five-year-olds” which is a fun little twist on “98765” and later on you get another line that is just a big chunk of the alphabet. A song about growing up and becoming a big kid, so Cap’n Jazz has more in common with Pull-Ups commercials than I initially thought.
“Boys kissing boys” once again has a great opening line and a short song featuring only 6 lines, the last of which is just Kinsella screaming “Virginia!” which is apparently his grandmother’s name. I don’t see the connection here personally, but I’ll always get behind the general idea of boys kissing other boys, whether in the presence of a grandma or not.
1. “The Sands’ve Turned Purple”
The first Cap’n Jazz song I ever heard and still my favorite. I’m not sure if it’s an intentional connection, but I have always related this band to jazz music itself, mostly because the difficult-to-understand lyrics are kind of not as important as the emotion conveyed by his voice. Similar to a horn player, you don’t have to know what they are saying to understand what they mean. Does “put the flame hat on” make any sense to me? Not really, but I feel a wave of angsty emotions every time I listen to this one, so they did something right.
Photo by Lester-bangbangs