Hey, gang! Kind of an experiment here, and we’ll hafta see if it turns into a regular feature. What we’re gonna do is watch this video together and see how it performs. See, the 1990’s were a magical time. The Alternative revolution had thrown wide the doors of musical variety, at the same time that mainstream rap and hip-hop were finding their way into regular ol’ Midwestern (i.e., white) households. One of the bands that had sort of middling success was Belly. Belly was fronted by the amazing Tanya Donelly, who had been in the indie college band Throwing Muses and then co-founded The Breeders with Kim Deal (Pixies.) Anyway, in 1993, Belly released their debut “Star.” It was great. The smash-hit “Feed the Tree” made it to #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. The follow-ups “Gepetto” and this one, “Slow Dog” failed to make much of a mark. But now we’re going to see if this video helped or hindered this mainly-forgotten band. Here’s the video. Sorry if must wait through an ad. That’s the way of things. It can’t be helped.
First impressions: We get it, 90’s. Jump-cuts are cool and interesting. Even better when you de-saturate the colors. Edgy Al-TER-na-tive! And, oh! Let’s put a blurry disc at the bottom of the screen. Yeah. It’ll sort of be like the Pixies video for “Here Comes Your Man” but in reverse! (Never mind that the whole Pixies video was basically the band saying “fuck you, 120 Minutes” right down to the very obvious lack of any sort of lip-synching and the “inflated” head on Black Francis/Frank Black.)
The blur-disc-lens thingy serves another important purpose in this misfire of a video. See, Tanya Donelly is a cutie. You might even say she’s downright gorgeous. However, during the mid-90’s Modern Rock revolution, you were supposed to act like you WEREN’T gorgeous. “Gorgeous” was for total posers, you guys. So you dressed the hot babes in ModCloth retro dresses and put them just out-of-focus so that it looked like they were, like, totally just like me and you only WITH MUCH MORE HIDDEN PAIN!! ON THE INSIDE!!
Also, remember when those granny boots were in? Often worn in conjunction with (ironically) babydoll dresses or, I shit you not, maternity dresses? (Seriously, 90’s…you were weird.)
Anyway…we’re like :45 seconds in and we already know just about all there is to know about this video. We’ve seen a guitar smashed by a blonde chick with a pixie haircut. We’ve observed a pensive surfer dude lean against the wall, trying to sort out life and all its ups and downs (why, pain? Why must you BE?!?!) Also, we’ve been treated to some rusty things, some spindles, and the contents of my grandfather’s old tool shed being spilled onto the floor. GODDAMMIT, YOU WILL PICK THAT SHIT UP OR I SWEAR TO GOD I’M GETTING THE BELT!
But most importantly, we know this: the video for this song doesn’t have one momentary, fleeting, thin, tenuous relation to the lyrics of the song itself. This was a HUGE problem in the 90’s. See, classic videos from the 80’s often told a story. Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” was a good example. Even so-called Alternative or Punk bands tried their best. The Ramone’s “I Wanna Be Sedated” didn’t tell a story so much as make the viewer feel exactly like the song suggested. The sped-up pace of the background characters and goings-on was a brilliant way of visually matching the song. Even into the early-90’s, we had a sort of symbolic story-telling…remember Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy?” Powerful stuff. Even Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” dealt with scary dreamlike images. Remember when the semi truck hits the bed right at the “BOOOOOMMMM!!” part of the song? Golly! Then, well…U2’s “Numb” happened.
“Numb” happened the same year that Michael Jackson joined Eddie Murphy for “Whatzupwitchu.” Holy shit, things were getting bad. We should’ve seen the signs…like in Ace Of Bass’s videos. Including, well…”The Sign.” At least in the U2 video, they’re trying to be artsy. See, the main vocals in “Numb” are handled not by the bombastic Bono, but the monotone drone of The Edge. (Rock stars used to have AWESOME names.) As a result, they tailored the video to Edge’s more sparse, mumbled, spoken-word type delivery and subjected him to a variety of distractions including, but not limited to, feet. On his face. Yep. But even with this sort of nonsense going on, the video STILL MADE SENSE. See, he’s numb! He ain’t CARE ‘bout yo feet up in his grill, ya heard?
But then, well…everyone started getting “artsy.” The old go-to “live concert video” was pretty much out, so they staged “concerts”in strange settings, before weird crowds of too-cool people, and the irony was that in an era where cheese and bullshit were eschewed and bands that participated in such chicanery were shunned, total bullshit dominated the airwaves at Mtv. And in some cases, the lure of cutting-edge CGI effects was just too much. (Kurt Cobain cashed out at just the right time, it would seem. Can you imagine a video for “Rape Me” done with Lawnmower Man graphics?) This begs a follow-up question: is it better to have an Mtv that shows virtually NO music videos, or one that only shows complete shit?
Okay, back to “Slow Dog.” I’ll give the director one tip o’ the cap: at least Ms. Donelly’s guitar seems to be actually plugged into something. Since they were faking the whole thing, it would’ve been simpler just to have her hold the goddam thing and strum. Kudos. Now, onward…
Up to the 1:00 mark we go. Wherein a bald maintenance guy (or Chef from South Park) passes out after nailing some cups to a sidewise table, the cameraman forgets how to frame a shot, and surfer-boy has trouble with his vice or something. OH, AND HERE’S YOUR FUCKING CIGARS, PAL!!!
Quickly now. To the 1:34 point in our journey. FIX THAT GODDAM GUITAR ALREADY!!
To 1:45. What, exactly, is so fucking funny, Tanya? You think this video is some sort of fucking joke?! AND HEY: PAINT MIXERS ARE NOT FOR GUITARS, YOU FUCKING IMBECILE!! WE’RE WORKING ON A BUDGET, PAL!!
2:00. And now, Consuela has another lovely item for us. It’s a pewter replica of a 2nd-century BC terracotta warrior statue. We’ll start the bidding at $400…
2:00-2:30. Croutons, pewter chicken, burial. Dear God…
2:30-3:00. Almost there. Surfer-boy has sewn you a nice drum. Consuela thinks this is “art.” Chef/Iron Sheik/Maintenance Guy does shots. Buttons, etc. Please, let this be over…
3:00-4:00. Suddenly: carnival rides. Also, is that your cat’s corpse? Consuela can’t stack cans for shit. Chains. Chef is ashamed. Why, Lord? Why?
Okay. A couple of things in review. Jesus H Christ, that Tanya Donelly is a stone fox. Actually, the whole band looks better than the cast of Dawson’s Creek. They should’ve done an entire video of all of them standing around in linen shifts, backlit. Or perhaps just closeups of Tanya’s sensual, willing, hungry mouth…
For comparison (and to bring this cumbersome ship back around to the original point) I went back and watched the video for “Feed the Tree.” Know what one of the first shots in the video is? A goddam tree. And before we’re :27 in, we see a shot of an old man. Right when, you know, the lyrics mention an “old man.” How weird is THAT?!?! The video almost perfectly mirrored the meaning of the song lyrics! One can’t help but wonder if perhaps that’s the main reason why “Feed the Tree” is the only Belly song most people remember. Also, one can’t help but wonder what Tanya Donelly would look like rolling around in a waterbed with myself and some Crisco in the summer of 1993. Now THAT would be a great video, folks.