Released on: The Holy Bible (Album #3) Epic Records, 29 August 1994
In 1968, American radical feminist Valerie Solanas confronted famed pop artist Andy Warhol at his New York studio, shooting both him and art critic Mario Amaya. Warhol barely survived; Solanas spent years going in and out of various institutions. The shooting can be seen as one of the events, along with the disastrous Altamont Free Concert in 1969, that brought about the beginning of the end of “the Sixties” as a concept and secured Solanas’ place in history. However, the previous year, Solanas published her SCUM Manifesto, an extreme feminist tract that has been variously interpreted as a call to arms for women to violently eliminate the entire male sex, a more subtle message of reducing patriarchal control, or an elaborate satire. Solanas wrote
The male is a biological accident: the Y (male) gene is an incomplete X (female) gene, that is, it has an incomplete set of chromosomes. In other words, the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples.
While ‘Of Walking Abortion’ takes its name from this passage and lifts one or two additional ideas from Solanas’ work, the song is really much more broad in its focus. The core argument of the song is that all people (rather than just men) are collectively responsible or guilty for all the atrocities and injustices that happen in the world (“who’s responsible / you fucking are”). There is surely a large element of exaggeration or satire to this, conflicting as it does with the somewhat more positive outlook expressed in many more Manics songs, but in Wire’s words it was designed to highlight the “worm in human nature that makes us want to be dominated” and which, historically, has allowed populations to accede to the murderous machinations of the dictators the song mentions in its second verse – Mussolini, Hitler, Horthy, and Tiso.
Taking into account the likely dose of satire in these lyrics, it doesn’t take much to realise that it is difficult to live a life that does not come with a degree of responsibility for injustice around the world. How many people buy cheap clothes or other products made by shockingly underpaid workers in developing countries? How many waste energy, contributing to the deterioration of the environment in which our descendants will live? What makes ‘Of Walking Abortion’ so effective is its ability to tap into these ideas, as well as to provoke thought not just on the litany of history’s atrocities and crimes but also on the work of people like Solanas. “Wash your car in your X baseball shoes” is a particularly esoteric line, but it has been suggested – quite convincingly – that it is a reference to the explosion in merchandising around the release of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X biopic in 1992.*
Of course, all this would certainly not be as effective were it not for the care with which the track was constructed. The intro, in which a fantastically thought-provoking quote from author Hubert Selby Jr. is played and then re-played over Bradfield’s spiralling guitar and Moore’s pounding drums, is superb at creating a profound sense of menace. It’s a testament to the gripping playing throughout that the same feeling endures until the song blurs into the next. The unusual sound effects that punctuate the ends of lines during the verses are particularly sinister-sounding.
‘Of Walking Abortion’ is like much of the best of The Holy Bible in that it resembles witnessing a car crash; horrifying, and yet impossible to tear your attention away from. Stunning work.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“the massacred innocent blood stains us all”
Crucified – crucifixion is an ancient execution method in which a person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to die.
Acedia – from the Greek, by way of Latin, for “negligence”. A state of listlessness or carelessness in which a person ceases to care for their position or status in the world.
Shalom – Hebrew word for “peace” which can be used to say both hello and goodbye.
Mussolini – Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, after which he ruled the Italian Socialist Republic (the parts of Italy the Allies did not control).
Hitler – Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) Fascist dictator of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945.
Horthy – Miklós Horthy (1868 – 1957), regent of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1920 to 1944, at which point the Nazis took over Hungary and exiled him. Responsibly for increasingly repressive laws against Jews.
Tiso – Jozef Tiso (1887 – 1947), Slovak Catholic priest and head of Slovakia while it acted as a Nazi satellite state. Hanged for war crimes at the end of WWII.
“I knew that some day I was going to die, and that when I died two things would happen to me. Number one, I would regret my entire life, and number two, I would want to live my life over again” – from an interview with American novelist Hubert Selby Jr. (1928 – 2004)
* Thanks to roi from the Forever Delayed forums for pointing out this connection.