‘Mr. Wright’

May 25, 2016 at 11:28 am
‘Mr. Wright’

A couple months ago, we started playing a song on WFPK called “Mr. Wright,” from the super-pairing of Les Claypool of Primus and Sean Ono Lennon. Since we regularly play both artists, the announcement of their new project was instantly exciting. Being experimental artists, we weren’t expecting any kind of typical radio single, which is fine, as we’re a type of station that can get away with playing just about whatever we want. It seems this would be a case of testing the just-about part of that last sentence, though.

“Mr. Wright” on the surface is a weird little psychedelic funk pop song that advances with its repetition, giving you a rare moment to sing along on what’s otherwise more of a jam. And, if that’s all you notice, then you’ll have a good time with it. As it happens, things get weird when you start paying attention to the lyrics. The song unfolds to seemingly tell the story of a peeping Tom who goes from watching a girl from the shadows to spying on her as she showers, and, eventually, peeing. So yeah, that’d be a warped song to put on the radio, which is why we decided that maybe we should do an edit of the song, because we’d probably get complaints, and it’s a debatable FCC violation. The FCC doesn’t care for anyone singing about bodily functions, which is a really dumb thing sometimes, especially when we start to argue everything that technically could be a bodily function. That argument usually ends with a use-your-best-judgment line. We left the shower line in, though, even though it felt gross when we played it.

Now, I should say that this isn’t a completely important song for us to play. In fact, it may be a cool project, but it’s not like anyone’s holding our feet to the fire to play it, so we could actually just not play it, and there would be no problem. But, it’s something that our audience would probably like to know about — our music-obsessed listeners who we’re lucky to have — so we’re trying to find a way to serve the moment. In a bigger picture, I’m also careful not to step over any lines of censoring art, but if your (or my) kid is in the car when Claypool says “he likes to watch her shower,” that’s potentially going to lead to an awkward moment, maybe even resulting in you changing the channel, which I don’t want either.

But, we let it play for a few weeks to see how it would land. Our audience, for the most part, is pretty liberal, and if many folks did take issue, we didn’t hear about it. Until we did. But just once, and right at the end of the song’s cycle. A complaint came in that said playing that song went so far as to prop up rape culture, which isn’t something I saw coming, but obviously took seriously. So conversations were had, and the song was pulled. We agreed that we doubt Claypool was headed in that direction — more than likely he was just writing a third-person song about one of his usual oddball characters. He has a long history of these seedy types in his songs, and “Mr. Wright” was another one in a long line. And, also, what if he’s not talking about spying? It’s possible (though admittedly not likely) that it’s a fetish song, and she’s a willing subject. Does that make a difference?

The conversation went on to other moments in rock history. If we were to not play this song, does that mean we can’t play Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash,” with its infamous bridge about a peeping Tom, a song that’s been played on radio and TV millions of times? Or, even further down the line to songs that are less blatant, but no less creepy, when you concentrate on the lyrics like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” I do see the difference between what Sting and Les Claypool are singing about and what Les Claypool is, though less so when it comes to what’s in the Dave Matthews lyric. It’s more of a question of: When does it become censorship in the worst way? And I don’t have the answer for it. People seem to be OK with “Crash,” maybe because it’s sung with a sweet melody, while “Mr. Wright” isn’t. So, for us, all we can do is send it out into the world and wait to see how it’s received. Art can be frustrating sometimes, but I’m glad that I’m in a space where it’s an open conversation. •

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Speed of Sound.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.