“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
—Alfred (Michael Caine), The Dark Knight
“And it’s okay to laugh about it.”
—Faith No More, “Ricochet” (King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime)
In a feat worthy of the Clown Prince of Crime, Faith No More somehow managed to encapsulate the fractured, subversive purpose of Heath Ledger’s Joker 16 years before Ledger’s Joker came into being. Consider this excerpt from “Midlife Crisis”, a single from 1992’s Angel Dust:
I’m a perfectionist
And perfect is a skinned knee
This notion struck me while I was listening to Faith No More on my iPod while doing the evening dishes. (I initially titled this column “Compiling Joker’s iTunes Playlist”, but a mixtape is more do-it-yourself and somehow anarchic; surely an iPod is too tidy for Joker.) I was also struck by the song’s chorus:
You’re perfect, yes, it’s true
But without me, you’re only you
Huh. Sounds like something Joker might say to Batman. Come to think of it, so does this lyric from “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”, from Faith No More’s King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime: “Your day has finally come / So wear the hat and do the dance, and let the suit keep wearing you.”
Indeed, the more I thought about the Mike Patton era of Faith No More, the more it seemed that one could almost make the case that their four studio albums were written for the Joker. Here I speak not just of Heath Ledger’s portrayal, but indeed every incarnation of the Joker character since his first comic book appearance in 1940.
Surely Faith No More’s more abrasive tracks (“Caffeine”, for example, or “Smaller and Smaller”) would appeal to the character who described himself as “an agent of chaos” in 2008’s The Dark Knight. It seems equally certain that the Joker of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel, who raised unsettling but credible implications about Batman’s relationship with the young, tights-clad Robin, would endorse vocalist Mike Patton’s justification for the shockingly loyal direction the band took with their cover of Lionel Richie’s “Easy”; asked why the band opted to play it straight rather than add thrashed-out guitar work or what-have-you, Patton insisted (correctly), “It’s more Satanic this way.”
“It’s always funny until someone gets hurt
And then it’s just hilarious!”
—Faith No More, “Ricochet” (King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime)
In Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, the Joker offers what might be his definitive statement from seven decades of appearances in print and on the small and large screens:
It’s all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for—it’s all a monstrous, demented gag!
The Joker who delivered that line would love the smash-cut from verse to chorus in Faith No More’s “Collision,” from 1997’s Album of the Year:
When the dawn breaks
With a handshake
Relaxed and feeling great
Head-on! Head-on! Head-on!
A head-on! Head-on! Head-on!
Arkham Asylum ends with Batman escaping from a truly lunatics-run asylum, only to have Joker bid him farewell by saying, “Enjoy yourself out there… in the asylum.” This corresponds to lyrics from Faith No More’s “Pristina”, the final song from 1997’s Album of the Year:
These walls won’t keep them out
They’ll keep you in
What a Joker thing to say; let’s not forget his choice of words in The Dark Knight when he repeatedly mocked Batman’s impotent efforts to intimidate him: “You have all these rules, and you think they’ll save you!”
“Rhymes and giggles muffle the dialogue”
—Faith No More, “Kindergarten” (Angel Dust)
Then there is 1989’s The Real Thing, which is tame and mild compared to Faith No More’s later efforts, though it boasts more than a few hints of depravity and sedition sure to appeal to Joker. “From Out of Nowhere” sounds almost like a traditional love song, but it also happens to be the perfect From Joker To Batman ballad:
Obsession rules me
I’m yours from the start…
You come from out of nowhere
My glance turns to a stare
Don’t know if I’ll laugh or cry…
All becomes you
Skeptical? Recall Joker’s plea to Batman in The Dark Knight: “You complete me.” Ledger’s delivery of this line was arresting not because it was sarcastic, but because it was utterly earnest; I wouldn’t hesitate to deem his delivery more charged than Tom Cruise’s offering of the same line to Renée Zellweger in Jerry Maguire.
Joker’s sincerity simultaneously subverts and validates the corny Hallmark power of the original line, much in the same way that an errant hand on a steamy car window in a crass and miserable sex scene between Shep (David Harbour) and April (Kate Winslet) in Revolutionary Road made a subtle mockery of the more famous and audience-pleasing love scene between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic.
“You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!”
—Joker (Heath Ledger), The Dark Knight
Or perhaps the unfortunately titled “Zombie Eaters” better summarizes Joker’s feelings for Batman. It seems on the surface to have been written from the perspective of a baby singing the praises of its mother, but Faith No More songs are seldom that straightforward. I’ve long believed that the narrator of “Zombie Eaters” and the pedophile character who narrates “Edge of the World” (both from The Real Thing) might be one and the same; perhaps the baby’s perspective is only utilized to reflect that the pedophile character is stunted.
Whatever the case, “Zombie Eaters” contains lyrics that could definitely apply to Joker’s relationship with Batman:
You’re everything, that’s why I cling to you…
I like to make a mess
I laugh at your distress
Mike Patton behaving rather Joker-esque
“Zombie Eaters” also features a cry of, “Nobody understands except the toys in my hands,” followed soon after with a demand of, “Give me! I need my toys!” These lines would never have struck me as relating to Joker a week ago, but once you start combing through Faith No More’s lyrics with Joker on the brain, everything seems to take on a new significance. (In “Digging the Grave”, Patton sings, “Let something in, throw something out / You left the door open wide,” while in The Dark Knight, Ledger tells Christian Bale’s Batman, “You changed things. Forever.”)
In the case of Patton singing “I need my toys,” I couldn’t help but be reminded of Jack Nicholson marveling aloud in 1989’s Batman, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”
Also from “Zombie Eaters”:
If I smile, then you’ll smile
Then I’ll get mad for a while