Friday, August 23, 2013

2 Skinnee J's, "Pluto"

2 Skinnee J's were not a great band, or even a particularly good one. At best, they were a third-rate Beastie Boys and a relic of a time when Sony Records would drop a few grand on some Beastie-lites. In faint praise, they were better than most of the millionaire rap-rock mooks that Sony was counting on capitalizing on in 1998, with a spunky new wave influence creeping into their music. They were also probably pioneers of today's nerdcore, if you think that's a good thing. But at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles this week, I was reminded of the J's and their charm.

An exhibit at Griffith displaying awesome dioramas of the planets has been updated, logically, to throw Pluto into the "...and more" section, reflecting the 2006 vote that took away its planethood for, more or less, being too small. "Dwarf planet" was the ignominious new classification. Factually, the scientists were probably on to something, but emotionally they were all off base, as the J's argued in "Pluto."

Of course it would be 2 Skinnee J's sticking up for the underdog planet, and certainly no one as popular as Jay-Z or Green Day. The J's knew what it was like to be left out. On the Capricorn three-song sampler where I first heard them, they were relegated to last band status, after 311 and Jimmie's Chicken Shack. The only time I saw the J's perform, they were playing in a college pub, with about five people listening while other students chattered, ate and bustled out. Even the fan who uploaded the lyric video I'm using here didn't have the decency to properly track the audio, or to at least get the lyrics right ("Judas of a Chariot" instead of "Judas of Iscariot?" Gevalt.)

As with Pluto, most experts would probably say that 2 Skinnee J's didn't deserve the respect that they didn't get. The beat is catchy if unremarkable, and the J's can't even rhyme that well, but damnit, they're going to give it their best shot. They'll enlist E.T., 2001: A Space Odyssey, Snoopy fighting the Red Baron, Interplanet Janet (from Schoolhouse Rock!) and even the tired old Uranus pun to make their case. The best chorus that they can come up with is "Pluto is a planet!" It sounds better than anything I've heard from the International Astronomical Union.

Pluto was a perfect ally for the J's, who also wrote a song honoring the Brooklyn 718 area code over Manhattan's 212. I'm inclined to believe that the J's are Mets fans, if they follow baseball. Standing back and looking at "Pluto," it's easy to think of the J's as underloved misfits sticking up for another underloved misfit. But on this song, they were more than that.

In his New York Times essay in defense of "our picked-on ninth planet," Tim Kreider expressed the empathy that it would take to justify not kicking Pluto out of of our Solar System's Exclusive Planet Club. "It would be like that moment when the doorman is about to escort you out of a private party where you don’t, arguably, belong, but then someone who knows you taps him on the shoulder and says, 'Wait a minute, I know this guy. He’s O.K..'"

On "Pluto," that friend was 2 Skinnee J's. It was a noble stance, Uranus jokes and all, even if it only sold a fraction as much as 311's terrible song about Jupiter.

No comments: