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Nuclear War

Nuclear War[1]

Lester Bangs, The Delinquents, and Jeff Whittington

Well, Johnny Malone kidnapped his own daughter.
Took her home, and he beat her black and blue.
He programmed her good, had her do just what she oughtta.
Chalk up some propaganda for the Reverend Moon.[2]
Hey now, hey now, it's nuclear war.
Why don't you tell us just what you're here for.
That's right, that's right—you don't know
We're on an heaving deck and the engine's 'bout to blow.
My friend Shirley[3] went down to the Anvil[4]
Thought it might be modern just to cop some sleaze
Ended up OD-ed; under the table she groveled.
The boys just laughed and she cried out, "Help me, please."
Hey now, hey now, it's nuclear war.
Why don't you tell us just what you're here for.
That's right, that's right—you don't know
We're on an heaving deck and the engine's 'bout to blow.
Yeah, fathers fighting sons, it's the balance of nature.
Been brother against brother since the world began.
Talked to my body and it said, "I'll dig you later."
Just make sure that he don't understand.
Franny[5] flew back to visit the family,
to tell 'em what they did but [that] she loved them anyway.
All hell broke loose, and later word came to me:
they said she was psychotic and had her put away.
Hey now, hey now, it's nuclear war.
Why don't you tell us just what you're here for.
That's right, that's right—you don't know
We're on an heaving deck and the engine's 'bout to blow.


Jook Savages On the Brazos, LP, CD
Track §6
LP: Live Wire Records, LW-3 (1981); CD: Moll Tonträger [GER], Moll 6 (1995); CD: re-issue: Live Wire Records, LW-20 (2009)

Jook Savages on the Brazos CD reissue lyrics insert, 2009.

Last Updated: 08/29/2016

[1] Lester Bangs leaves us virtually no words on the subject of nuclear war, including the lyrics of this song, which, other than their reference to it in the title, make no commentary on it. It seems prudent, therefore, to treat the topic of it here more figuratively than literally. According to biographer Jim DeRogatis, the lyrics of “Nuclear War” "chronicled the travails of members of the JoAnn Uhelszki crowd over a rollicking Farfisa-driven groove." JoAnn was Jaan Uhelszki's younger sister, and Lester felt an affinity for her and her friends as young people who had avoided perishing in high school car crashes, outwitted their debauchery of alcoholism and drug overdoses, and survived their suicide attempts—but discouraged them from using all these as excuses.

[2] "Johnny Malone kidnapped his own daughter...Reverend Moon": The Unification Church, founded by the Korean-born Reverend Sung Yung Moon in 1954, increased its membership exponentially in the U.S. during the 1970s and was targeted as a cult, a word now common in every home because of Charles Manson's cult murder of Sharon Tate. Anti-cult activists charged that members of Moon's church—pejoratively called "Moonies"—were being brainwashed, and several high-profile lawsuits at the time showcased UC members who were kidnapped by their families and subjected to "deprogramming" against their will. These cases challenged the constitutional protection of religious freedom and the tax-exempt status of groups like the charismatic Moon's Unification Church. The issue would resurface in the next decade with the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.

[3] "My friend, Shirley": One possible, albeit oblique, candidate for this reference may be found in Lester's posthumously published review/memoir of Syd Vicious, "Bye-Bye, Sydney," where Bangs discusses a woman prone to repeated suicide attempts, called "Shirley" to protect her real identity. She's described as "always smiling, but her eyes, which are always glazed anyway, don't ever seem to be quite looking at you."

[4] The Anvil: Opening in 1974 on the former site of 10th Avenue's Strand Hotel, this New York City disco bar/underground sex club was a notorious hangout for celebrity clientele the likes of author Truman Capote, director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The Anvil was also popular for its leather daddies, drag queens and go-go faunlets, one of whom was recruited by Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo to become a founding member of The Village People. Like many other clubs in its ilk, The Anvil closed its doors in 1986 when the A.I.D.S. outbreak was at its worst.

[5] Franny: probably intended as a reference to Franny Glass, the main character of J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zoey, who suffers a nervous breakdown. Salinger's novella was on Lester Bangs's high school reading list, and its parallels to him and high school girlfriend Annie deGugliema would have resonated with Lester long afterward: Franny's interest in theater, for example, and Zoey's pursuit of a life in writing and literature; the book's themes of religion, belief, and non-conformity; etc. Another possible allusion, however, is to Fran Pelzman Liscio, the rock photographer who designed the "Woman In Anguish" cover for The Delinquents' Jook Savages On the Brazos LP, which features the song, "Nuclear War." Pelzman also produced musical groups such as the Lounge Lizards. However, other than her acknowledgment in some published works discussing bipolar disease and chronic fatigue syndrome, there's nothing connecting her to mental illness, much less psychotic episodes. In the end, it's probably circumspect to consider the co-writing credits and accept that some of these references potentially lie outside Lester's experiences altogether, or are simply fictional components to the narrative of the lyrics.

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