The fall of 2000 brought Minneapolis one of the best party-punk albums ever made. I was still quite young and still unenlightened: I had an aversion to alcohol, a love of middle-aged music (e.g. constant Indigo Girls), and a strangely non-denominational refusal to go beyond second base, even with my boyfriend of two years. He was a music director at the local college radio station and had access to loads of free CDs. He was also one of those sweet fumbling boys who politely refrained from pushing things.
When my birthday came along that year, like on all other obligatory gift-giving occasions, a five-inch gift-wrapped square waited for me at the end of dinner. The present that night, Tossed by Tulip Sweet and Her Trail of Tears, normally would have quickly found its way to the stack of albums by Minnesota college-radio darlings that I never listened to, but in giving this CD, my boyfriend had more in mind than simply getting away with an expense-free birthday celebration. Later that night, on my dorm-room bed engaged in barely PG-13 activities, he tore himself away and walked over to the stereo with a scheming gleam in his eye.
Seconds later, Sweet’s sultry voice filled the air, whispering dirty, suggestive things—“I can make it very hard and deep” and “Suck the tit and increase your luck.” It dawned on me that perhaps a larger deflowering conspiracy was at play. “What the hell are you doing?” I shouted at my boyfriend, who was busy attempting some sort of screwy handwork on my breasts. I went honor-patrol ballistic. “Out! Out!” I screamed, both at him and the trashy girl crooning through my speakers. Both were unceremoniously ejected.
Fast forward to 2005: I no longer have a steady stream of free CDs, but fortunately, I have discovered booze, horniness and rock ‘n’ roll. Though my prudishness made me ignore the deliciously sexy musical stylings of Tulip Sweet back in 2000, the rest of the country had no excuse. While Touched made a few Minneapolis top-ten lists and Sweet was hailed for the “over-the-top chutzpah” of her live shows, the fervor didn’t translate well across state lines and corporate radio conglomerates weren’t too eager to give air time to a gal singing about sexual exploits and sneaking out of her parents’ house to go binge drinking.
I might have never rediscovered Sweet if not for my current state of poverty. Instead of hitting up the Virgin Megastore, I have no choice but to retreat back to the dusty stacks of albums I never really gave a chance. So one fateful, lazy day this past summer I picked up the Sweet CD, and with the faint memory of having a histrionic tantrum five years ago over some penis-related lyric, I nonchalantly popped it in for a second go. When Sweet’s track ” ‘Scuze Me for Livin’ ” came on, Sweet seemed like the long-lost drunk daughter of Johnny Cash, pairing a mellow country twang with girly fire and grit-soaked vocals. Her raunchy, brazen lyrics, often bellowed out over acoustic guitar riffs, were a perfect fit for the woman I had become. Listening to her belligerent, clearly shitfaced vocals, I pitied her for embarrassing herself but secretly admired her ballsy I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Yes, she sings about how she drank too much and fell over the record player, but it’s hard not to admire Sweet as she screams, “But you’re a mean little critic so pick up a stone and whip it / And I’m a girl with a mission pull my finger and you can watch me flip it / Scuze me for livin’ and boozin’ and losin’ my ass/ Scuze me for livin’ and pukin’ up beans on the grass.”
“B.A.D.B.O.Y.S,” the sixth track on the album, adds a tongue-in-cheek piano rhythm reminiscent of smoky, dimly lit cocktail lounges complete with sparkling red-dress-clad singers. Yet the song is not seductive in any traditional sense. Sweet slurs her words and shouts like a whiny child, but it works in the context of her lyrics—her shameless pleading for dirty, raucous sex is infantile. Sweet is like a child who isn’t satisfied until she gets what she wants. As she cries, “Don’t want a nice boy / I don’t want to have to be nice to that nice boy / I want a bad boy baby / I treat him like a baby / I act like a baby and he understands me,” her voice squeaks as if she might start crying if her desire is left unsated. The electric guitar mirrors her emotion with playground bravado.
If my description so far leads you to think the entire album is Sweet singing about partying and sex, well, you would basically be right. But Sweet is a master of finding a variety of musical means to sing about the same thing. “Goodnight Parents” sounds like a lullaby: Sweet crisply annunciates her words and sings them slowly and soothingly over a sweet keyboard melody. Yet syrupy bedtime music aside, Sweet is putting her parents to bed because she’s “meeting my friends on the railroad tracks / So you won’t have to see me drink a full 12-pack.” Though we hear much about Sweet’s exploits, the album is never boring because the musical flavor keeps changing, from sultry burlesque to country ballad to a Sweet-sounding dirtiness.
Soon after I belatedly became enamored with Tulip Sweet I discovered that the band had broken up after recording its second album, Cry. My heart was broken. I had already lost my new favorite bad girl only days after unearthing her album. Why Tulip Sweet and her Trail of Tears didn’t blaze across the fields of America igniting delight in horny, pubescent punk boys and girls remains a mystery. But as any adoring fan would, I went out that night Tulip Sweet-style and drank myself silly. When I arrived home I put on the fourth track, “Tattoo Yer Name on My Ass” to play for my equally inebriated company and we all started dancing like crazy to Sweet’s demanding immortality on her man’s ass. It was then I realized, in honor of Sweet’s wonderful and sardonically clichéd album that I would declare her immortality not on my ass but through the shaking of said ass at least once a week. I’d like to think she would be proud.
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// Marginal Utility
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