Features | Awards

The Michael Gira Award for Making the Sleaziest Material Sound Beautiful

By Joel Elliott | 21 December 2008

Bonnie “Prince” Billy :: “So Everyone”
from Lie Down in the Light
(Drag City; 2008)

I’m not really one to flaunt my sexuality. I’ve been known to suddenly grow self-conscious and double-check to see if the blinds are closed before consummation. I visibly rolled my eyes at my buddy’s girlfriend bragging about her back-door taking abilities. Fact is I’m not interested in feeding public sex fantasies, and I think more often than not the discussion in great detail of what goes on behind closed doors (which, for all the talk, is usually still where it happens) is an exercise in vanity, as opposed to some vague notion of breaking outdated conceptions of decency and puritanism.

But like everything he does, Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s “So Everyone”—essentially an ode to public fellatio—is an expression of the old man from birth’s stark vulnerability. The discomfort it provokes is precisely what makes it so beautiful, as if it comes from the perspective of a worn-out sad sack, so used to cowering flaccidly in the corner, finally finding someone who triggers the right responses. It’s as simultaneously un-stimulating and joyous as your grandparents having a second honeymoon. But perhaps what makes the song, like much of Lie Down in the Light, so appealing in its naïve glory is that Oldham had to struggle through his whole career to get there.

And while the idea, supported by lines like “Kneel down and please me / And do it so everyone sees me” sounds demeaning, it’s incredible how subtly and magnificiently Oldham subverts any notions of inequal fullfillment of desires. Echoed by Andrea Webber, who gives the song an intimacy that contrasts sharply with its sense of exposure, Oldham even sings both the “Oh lady” and “Oh boy” parts as if Oldham pleasuring himself, Oldham pleasuring the lady and the lady pleasuring Oldham had suddenly conflated into an identity-shifting ball of desire and sweaty limbs.

In tune with the rest of the album, the song is conspicuously carefree, I suppose, but it also carries the absurd pleasure of realizing that the burden you’ve carried your whole life was for nothing. It’s the sad irony and unbearable pleasure of realizing (and not realizing) what keeps you impotent is precisely the worry and concentration that goes into maintaining an erection.