A Steal and a Joke
I stole the title of this essay from “Zombie Eaters”, as well, and it might be the ultimate Joker-to-Batman statement:
I hope you never leave
‘Cause who would hear me scream?
Another track from The Real Thing, “Falling to Pieces” would seem at first glance to be an appropriate homage to Joker, but then again, Patton sings “somebody put me together”, and if the Joker were ever to offer a cry for help, it’d come more in the form of “Helpless”, from Album of the Year, which features a lyric that is probably Joker’s worst nightmare:
I even tried to get arrested today
But everyone looked the other way
Jack Nicholson as the Joker
To be ignored is possibly the only punishment that could undo the Joker. (That said, this bit from 1995’s “Ricochet” could also be Joker’s worst nightmare: “It is the hardest thing to do / To watch it grow on top of you / And see you’re just like everyone: No fun!”) Meanwhile, “Helpless” ends with a stubborn insistence of “Don’t want your help/Don’t need your help,” until another cry slowly drowns out the first voice and, eventually, the guitars and the drums. Finally, the new voice cries alone: “Help. Help. Help! Help! HELP! HELP!”
It’s probably the most unsettling bit of singing I’ve ever heard, and it, too, seems to fit Joker perfectly; he’d probably never overtly ask for help or admit that he could benefit from it, but inside he must be screaming for it.
“Do you often sing or whistle just for fun?”
—Faith No More, “Land of Sunshine” (Angel Dust)
In the animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, which features scenes so dark and menacing that I literally had a stomach ache after watching it for the first time, Joker abducts Robin, portrayed in this era of the animated Batman universe as Tim Drake, a preteen. Batman conducts frantic, fruitless searches for weeks, and by the time he locates his young ward, it is in a very real sense too late, though Joker has not killed the boy.
Instead, he has remade Tim Drake in his own image; after enduring several weeks of A Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing and torture, Robin boasts a leering rictus, green hair and purple schoolboy shorts. He is capable of no verbal communication save for a tense, haunted series of giggles. (My first, horrified thought during this scene: Joker must have undressed the boy at some point to get him into his miniature Joker suit. Brrr.)
Joker boasts to Batman, “I’ll begin with how I peeled back the layers of the boy’s mind,” then encourages Tim to shoot his former guardian: “Make Daddy proud. Deliver the punch-line.”
Perhaps Joker had Faith No More’s “Last Cup of Sorrow” in mind during this most perverse moment of triumph:
With a new face, you might surprise yourself
Of course, “With a new face, you might surprise yourself” could also work as a generic recruitment slogan for Joker. Like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, Joker isn’t simply about mayhem; he’s also an enthusiastic provider of social commentary. In The Dark Knight and A Killing Joke both, what’s most terrifying about the Joker character is that he is so persuasive.
From The Dark Knight:
You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan,” even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I told the press that, like, a gang-banger will get shot, or a truck load of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die… well, then everyone loses their minds!
Carrying on, from The Killing Joke:
All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once. Am I right? You had a bad day and everything changed.
One is reminded of Heath Ledger’s Joker politely insisting, “I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve” and, later, “Madness, as you know, is like gravity… all it takes is a little push.”
“What if there’s no more fun to have…?
Think about you crackin’ a smile…”
—Faith No More, “Ricochet” (King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime)
Of course, no matter how persuasive or seductive he becomes, Joker’s demented (if sometimes uncomfortably insightful and accurate) lessons will usually go unheeded by the comparably sane denizens of Gotham City; presumably, he would find much to relate to in the closing words of Faith No More’s “A Small Victory”:
If I speak at one constant volume
At one constant pitch
At one constant rhythm
Right into your ear
You still won’t hear
One of my favorite tracks from The Real Thing calls to mind a highlight from Tim Burton’s Batman, from 1989. Here I’m speaking of the moment when Jack Nicholson’s Joker turns to his lead goon, Bob, and says, “Bob: gun,” and then Bob hands Joker his gun, at which point Joker unceremoniously shoots Bob. The perfect soundtrack to this scene, so perfect indeed that it’s almost too easy to cite: “Surprise! You’re Dead!”
Perfect match though it seems, however, I might suggest that Joker’s take on a title like “Surprise! You’re Dead!” would be to argue, as would Tyler Durden, that it applies to all of us. In other words, we are all so numb and oblivious that we may as well be dead; how telling that the lyric that follows “Surprise! You’re dead!” is “Open your eyes!” Actually, something else appears between the two lyrics: a maniacal laugh. Ha ha ha.
“Sense of security
Holding blunt instrument”
-Faith No More, “Midlife Crisis” (Angel Dust)
What about “Everything’s Ruined,” a perplexing gem from Angel Dust which appears to concern a well-off family and their ambiguously disappointing son. Setting aside the fact that “Everything’s Ruined” sounds like something Joker might have engraved on a trophy, wouldn’t he be delighted by lyrics such as, “When he lost his appetite, he lost his weight in friends” or “He made us proud, he made us rich/How were we to know he’s counterfeit”?
—Faith No More, “Jizzlobber” (Angel Dust)
Finally, what would Joker make of the songs Faith No More has chosen to cover throughout their career? I’ve mentioned Lionel Richie’s “Easy”, but they’ve also recently taken to performing Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface” as part of their celebrated reunion tour setlist, and Patton used to make a point of covering everything from New Kids on the Block hits to Nestlé chocolate jingles during the band’s early live performances. Studio recordings include covers of songs from performers ranging from Dead Kennedys (“Let’s Lynch the Landlord”) to Black Sabbath (“War Pigs”), and even the theme from Midnight Cowboy.
Hell, they even covered a Bee Gees song. At this point, I assume its title won’t surprise you:
“I Started A Joke.”
Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin's Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More