Michael Penn’s “Brave New World” is one of those songs I can’t believe didn’t get the big budget promotional video treatment. Because if ever a song deserved one, this is it. The song is chock full of imagery of an escapist road trip through a near-future America that’s in steep decline. A young David Fincher really could have done this one justice, but apparently none of the producers or management at RCA thought it was worth the expense. It would have been epic though.
(Speaking of producers, Michael has a hilarious cameo as a record producer in PT Anderson’s 1997 porn-industry epic, Boogie Nights. Penn’s wife, singer-songwriter and former Til Tuesday frontwoman Aimee Mann, wrote the songs that provided the inspiration and soundtrack to Anderson’s followup feature, Magnolia. FWIW.)
Wait a sec — did I say the song was set in the near-future? BNW was the future when Penn (Sean’s older brother) released it in 1989, but today in 2013 that steep decline is right in the here-and-now.
The first verse:
Baby’s busy hiding in the bassinet
wonderin’ if the third world war started yet
I told her I was pulling up and heading west
she said she would have come but she was overdressed
so I sent a picture postcard of a midwest bank
she wrote me that she showed it to her new friend Frank
who noticed in a window on the 19th floor
a guy my age about to prove that man can’t soar
and he would also like to know
if I could just check around before I left this town
for slow-mo footage of the tumble down
War dread? Check. Aimless mobility? Check. Morbid curiosity? Check. Replace “picture postcard” with “YouTube” or “Instagram” and you’d never know this wasn’t a brand new song about our very crappy new world.
The song is from Penn’s debut album, March, which most people will remember for its big radio hit, “No Myth.” It’s a near-epic collection of folk-infused alt-rock, with the accent on “rock” and each track has enough twitching neurosis to fill an entire Talking Heads album.
With all that going on, March might not be for everybody. But it was certainly for me when I was first dealing with the grown-up pressures of my first real job, first own apartment, and first live-in girlfriend. But that was then. The trouble is that “Brave New World” is even more true than it was 24 years ago, which is yet another sign that things have gone seriously wrong.