Tag Archives: tricksters

Tuesday Musics: “Drone Operator,” by Jon Langford

by Carl Wilson

Above: Earlier art about unmanned flying things by Jon Langford.

I wanted to share this song with people from the moment I first heard it at Jon Langford’s concert in Toronto on Saturday night, and thankfully Joe from Mechanical Forest Sound – with his characteristic reliability – recorded it and has posted it.

Listen here.

Langford’s show at the Horseshoe was a three-part affair, opening with a Welsh miners’ choir and closing with Langford’s long-standing collaboration with Toronto’s own The Sadies (they started with one of my favourite songs by Langford’s landmark band, The Mekons – “Memphis, Egypt” from 1989’s Mekons Rock N Roll – “Destroy your safe and happy lives before it is too late …”). But this tune came from the middle set by a mini-version of Langford’s Skull Orchard band, with Jean Cook on violin and Jim Elkington’s fluid acoustic guitar leads.

It’s a protest song on an extremely timely subject, the ever-expanding American use of drone planes for targeted assassinations – at least, sort of targeted, as the song’s eponymous protagonist, the “Drone Operator,” tries to explain away at one point: “It didn’t look like a wedding/ It really wasn’t my call.” (The way the Obama administration minimizes civilian casualties in drone strikes, by the way, is essentially to redefine anyone within range of the hits as a non-civilian.)

What I find most compelling about the song is its ever-shifting perspective – a highly unreliable narrator who shrugs off several skins and prevents the song from ever taking a comfortably stable point of view on its subject. It opens with what sounds like the voice of the balladric everyman, the sort of humble farmer or working stiff you might find in a country song or in “Witchita Lineman” or in Billy Bragg’s “Between the Wars” –  but rather than being merely the victim or object of larger forces, this one is their tool, their willing and perhaps even thrilling vector. His humility is gradually replaced by classic hubris – “I’m like a god with a thunderbolt” – which then itself falls apart into what seems like a kind of drunken defensive shame, and then takes a final sleazy left turn into interpersonal threat.

The last move not only “brings the issue home” and the song full-circle, it suggests the other dark side of the drone technology, the possibility of its use for domestic surveillance – and not only by police and intelligence forces, but out of mail-order catalogs by possessive husbands and jilted stalkers.

Langford’s willingness and ability to play this creepy part to the hilt is a blessing of his punk roots, and makes the song far more devastating and sharp than the standard folkie-pacifist, didactic denunciation. And the way the music swerves out from its standard Celtic-western form between verses into the slightest hint of a Middle Eastern melodic oscillation, like an oud or an ululation, reinforces the theme of the invisible threads between “there” and “here” – that what is happening to those targeted in “the tribal lands” is happening, in insidious reverse effect, to the people sitting behind the consoles, the people who give the orders, and the people who pay their salaries (but were never given a vote on this) – a pervasive grid of alienation and intimidation, a multidirectional field of remote control.


I’m not really a soldier. I’m more likely to die

By car wreck or cancer than the eye in the sky

That follows them home, right into their window –

And they never know. They never know.


When I was a young boy I played all the games.

Straight out of grad school, someone gave them my name.

So I stumbled into a job with good pay.

Through traffic and construction, I drive in every day.


So don’t call me a coward, I know what is allowed –

I’m like a god with a thunderbolt sitting on a big white cloud.

I’m a drone operator, with targets to scan.

I sit drinking coffee, with one eye on the ground in the tribal lands.


Yeah, I’m a drone operator – I am part of the team,

While I study my monitor, wipe some dust from the screen.

It didn’t look like a wedding, it really wasn’t my call –

When it all was over, I went to a bar, drank beer and watched basketball.


Can I get you a drink? Yeah, I’d do it all again,

To stem the flow of body bags the politicians find so hard to explain.

But please don’t complain. There’s no pain, no pain.

When this bar is closed, I’ll follow you home, I’ll follow you home …

In through your window. You’ll never know.

You’ll never know. I’ll follow you home.

 Follow you home.

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Filed under carl wilson, music, Tuesday Musics

Tea With Chris: Recklessly Perfect Things

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Margaux: I went to an event recently, an informal award ceremony at The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. The K.M. Hunter Artist Awards were recognizing my friend Jean Marshall’s work along with 7 other recipients. The people who received the grants were awarded out of the blue – nothing fancy, no applications, no parades, no advertisements. The night was structured around pretty great and simple short videos of each of the recipients talking about their work and somehow, as my mother would say, there was no B.S. – everyone seemed to know what they were doing. The video of my friend featured her first Skype conversation since she’s from way up north. All in all, a real classy way of going about an art award.

I love this art book by Richard William Hill, The World Upside Down, lent to me by the curator Michelle Jacques. As Hill explains inside: “The term ‘world upside down’ has its origins in Europe’s Middle Ages, and I have taken the liberty, as an enthusiastic amateur, of attempting an account of inversion in the visual arts of the Middle Ages and Early Modern periods.” There are many confident and recklessly perfect things inside, one of which is a discussion on tricksters that involves Chery L’Hirondelle. As L’Hirondell says there, “that spirit (the trickster) is there to remind us that many social parameters are just man-made, are not of the natural order.”

Ketchup is changing

This is a pretty interesting audio interview about hearing voices in the evangelical community – “‘When God Talks Back’ To The Evangelical Community”

Good art shows ended and in process in Toronto: I loved some of the new work from Derek Mainella at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. Jenn Murphy has an art show on now at Clint Roenisch gallery, Monkey’s Recovery, that I have no doubt will be pretty great to be in the middle of.

Chris: Here’s the pointillist form letter that rejected would-be contributors to Raw magazine received. “Impossible to reproduce / should not be allowed to reproduce.”

As someone who hates the word “foodie” even more than the bovine fetishism it denotes, I appreciate the fake menus a mystery comedian handed out at Brooklyn’s “Great GoogaMooga” festival (this orthography!) last weekend.

Carl: I have been distressed about our country this week. For just one example of why, listen to what a former government scientist has to say. On the other hand, I have been inspired by what our young, red-squared, francophone compatriots in Quebec have achieved, bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to protest their province’s drift away from its social-democratic traditions and, subsequently, its attempt to curtail their rights to protest. If you’ve gotten a less positive impression, here are 10 points you should know.

On a lighter (but raspier) note, I had an animated conversation at a dinner party last night about the apparent speech trend called “vocal fry,” aka “creaky voice,” especially among young women, about which there was much pop-science chatter early this year. Today I stumbled on a terrific blog about speech that has a more in-depth examination of the phenomenon’s precedents, prevalence and implications, from Britney to Gene Pitney. I did like the theory that we came up with last night, though – that, among people with parents and elder siblings likely afflicted with at least traces of Uptalk, it’s probably a typical generational reaction-for-distinction.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson, other, visual art

Little Boxes #89: Midsummer

(from The Sandman #19, script by Neil Gaiman/William Shakespeare and art by Charles Vess, 1990)

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Filed under chris randle, comics