SFF Song of the Week: Archie Tait

Here’s a choice from Archie Tait, TV and film producer, film distributor, cineaste, and general good guy. Archie wrote an amazing guest blog about SF movies on this site a while back – which has proved to be one of our most popular guest items, despite the fact it’s LONG.

Archie Tait writes:

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is the title track of The Flaming Lips’ tenth album, released in 2002. Split into two parts, it is the third (and fourth) of the three linked songs that open the album.

The first song, Fight Test, sets the tone – this is Psychedelic Power-Pop by grown-ups, very beaty, very Sunshine. It’s a melancholic reflection on Cat Stevens’ 1970 song Father and Son: its heritage indicates a clear point-of-entry for those old enough to recall the original, and it’s a throat-tugger.

I’d have chosen Fight Test itself for this slot, except it’s only recognisable as a Science Fiction song in retrospect (though once that connection is made, it becomes even more powerful). It’s a reflection on violence – is it ever right to fight? Though Fight Test is a song about love lost for the lack of commitment, it is also a reflection on violent resistance – that sometimes it’s not only right, it’s necessary to fight.

The next two songs reveal that Fight Test is also an introduction to the idea of violent resistance against the Pink Robots, resistance for humanity.

The second song, One More Robot / Sympathy 3000-21, introduces the robots – ‘One more robot learns to be something / More than a machine…’ This song is sympathetic to the robot’s desire to love, and compares to human uncertainty about the condition of love, the robot’s uncertainty whether what it feels is love, or just an artificial simulacrum.

Now we come to Yoshimi. The narrator (the boy who revised his opinion about non-violence, also the man uncertain whether his definition of love and humanity is any different from a robot’s) now relies on the girl Yoshimi to protect him from the robots, and to destroy them.

The Flaming Lips have been around for a long time, in pop terms – since 1984. Like Roxy Music, they have become a pop group for grown-ups.  Roxy always had Bryan Ferry’s reflective melancholia and diverse culturals referents, anchored by Paul Thompson’s resolute yet inventive drum-beat.  The Lips pull similarly diverse influences together without revealing the joins, anchored by drummer Steven Drozd’s utter dedication to the beat, producing music that simultaneously excites and intrigues. Wayne Coyne’s lyrics are allusive, often based in science metaphors.  The Flaming Lips incorporate California Sunshine Pop and psychedelia (they are from Oklahoma).  They can transform from driving rhythm to anthemic operatics and back again, mid-song. They have a one-handed drummer. Their 1997 album Zaireeka is a four-disc set, all four discs to be played simultaneously.

Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a nostalgic reminder of 8os anime, those big-eyed, glistening, primary-coloured teenagers who saved the world from monsters, aliens and robots, before the genre ‘grew up’ with Akira and Urotsukidoji – Legend of the Overfiend. It asks whether a mature man, who has lost the compass of his own humanity, can be saved by an innocent cartoon. The ‘story’ ends after just three songs. It is barely more than a narrative premise; it has no development, no climax and no resolution. By refusing to elaborate, to pin itself down, a ludicrous conjecture is rendered haunting, and touching.  Allusive, repetitive, precise, it echoes in our memory like other such ‘mystery’ songs with unfinished narratives - The Jaynetts’ Sally Go Round the Roses, Jerry Jeff Walker’s Mr Bojangles, Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billy Joe.

The Flaming Lips have Science Fiction form: their previous albums feature songs like What is the Light? (An Untested Hypothesis Suggesting That the Chemical (In Our Brains) by Which We Are Able to Experience the Sensation of Being in Love Is the Same Chemical That Caused the ‘Big Bang’ That Was the Birth of the Accelerating Universe (Soft Bulletin 1999); and Riding to Work in the Year 2025 (You’re Invisible Now) (Zaireeka 1997).  Their most recent album is a re-make of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. According to Wikipedia, Aaron Sorkin is working on a Broadway musical version of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.


Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The name is Yoshimi

She’s a black belt in karate

Working for the city

She has to discipline her body

‘Cause she knows that it’s demanding

To defeat those evil machines

I know she can beat them

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me

But you won’t let those robots eat me

Yoshimi, they don’t believe me

But you won’t let those robots defeat me

Those evil-natured robots

They’re programmed to destroy us

She’s gotta be strong to fight them

So she’s taking lots of vitamins

‘Cause she knows that it’d be tragic

If those evil robots win

I know she can beat them.

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me

But you won’t let those robots defeat me

Yoshimi, they don’t believe me

But you won’t let those robots eat me.

Fight Test

The test begins NOW

I thought I was smart,

I thought I was right

I thought it was better not to fight

I thought there was a virtue

In always being cool.

So when it came time to fight

I thought: I’ll just step aside

And that time would prove you wrong

And that you would be the fool.

I don’t know where the sunbeams end

And the starlight begins

It’s all a mystery

Oh to fight is to defend

If it’s not now, then tell me when

Would be the time that you would stand up

And be a man

For to lose, I could accept

But to surrender?  I just wept

And regretted this moment -

Oh, that I, I was the fool.

I don’t know where the sun-beams end

And the starlight begins

It’s all a mystery

And I don’t know how a man decides what’s right

For his own life - It’s just a mystery.

‘Cause I’m a man, not a boy

And there are things you can’t avoid

You face them when you’re not prepared

To face them

If I could, I would

But you’re with him now

It’d do no good

I should have fought him

But instead I let him

I let him take it.

I don’t know where the sunbeams end

And the star light begins

It’s all a mystery.

And I don’t know how a man decides

What’s right for his own life -

It’s a mystery.

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