Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Husker Du's "Divide and Conquer"

A bit of agitprop from one of the fastest bands who never lost their minds to speed (in both senses of the term). "Divide and Conquer" looks a bit like Rush's "Subdivisions," but it's hard to imagine Neal Peart coming up with the line: "and longitude, longing to find out/just what they're missing." In its politics of division, it may be firmly located in the mid-1980s anxieties over how globalization appeared to spell the death-knell of dissenting movements.

Yet it also hearkens back to the old idea of how modern societies, in their increasing stratification, cause people to lose sight of their connectedness. Emerson put it this way in "The American Scholar":
It is one of those fables, which, out of an unknown antiquity, convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man, — present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state, these functions are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies, that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney, a statute-book; the mechanic, a machine; the sailor, a rope of a ship.

"Divide and Conquer" by Husker Du

Well they divided up all the land
And we've got states and cities
Cities have their neighborhoods
And more subdivisions

There's countries divided by walls
Oceans and latitudes
And longitude, longing to find out
Just what they're missing

They're lots of area codes
And nine digit zip codes
Secret decoder ring codes
Arteries, shopping nodes

We'll invent some new computers
Link up the global village
And get AP, UPI, and Reuters
To tell everybody the news

We'll be one happy neighborhood
Spread out across the world
But who's going to stop that burglar
From breaking in my house
If he lives that far away

We'll be just like old friends
No means to your ends
The police state is to busy
And the neighborhood's getting out of hand

It's not about my politics
Something happened way too quick
A bunch of men who played it sick
They divide, conquer

It's all here before your eyes
Safety is a big disguise
That hides among the other lies
They divide, conquer

Well I expect I won't be heard
Because my silence is assured
Never a discouraging word
They divide and conquer

They divide and conquer


Chaerephon said...

"...shopping nodes / We'll invent some new computers / Link up the global village..." Bob Mould invented the Internet!

I also always think that "But who's going to stop that burglar / From breaking in my house / If he lives that far away" is probably the most complex manifestation of Mould's Middle American mistrust. (alliterative Husker criticism, can't beat it) Also, although there's more extreme punk rock out there, this song always makes me want to throw a guitar through a plate-glass window. Conform or be cast out! Oh, wait, no, wrong one.

Mould's new album is streaming on his MySpace page. It's pretty good. Pick to click = "Stupid Now," featuring yet another one of those patented falling-off-a-cliff choruses.

Meanwhile, congrats on To See the Earth. My copy should be arriving soon!

Anonymous said...

I miss them!

RazRocks said...

They're lots of area codes
And nine digit zip codes
Secret decoder ring codes
Arteries, shopping nodes

I feel that Mould knew about president Bush's NSA wire tapping scheme. Husker Du is one of my favorite bands. I hear that their live shows were amazing. Someone described it as a "barrage of songs". If you want their last live album ever, let me know. It is entitled "The Living End". Great post!


Philip Metres said...

Well, well well, fellow Husker fans. Turns out that whenever I post about punk rock, you people reveal yourselves in droves. Down with poetry, up with punk rock, then. In light of these responses, we can now say that Bob Mould: 1) read Emerson, 2) invented the internet, and 3) anticipated Bush's illegal wiretapping. I always knew he was awesome.

Chaerephon said...

As a friend once observed to my undying amusement, Mould must also have read Beowulf. A few times during "D & C" he yells "HWAET!" which is unmistakably the first word of the ancient epic poem. Hart once remarked (post-breakup) that Mould was "monster on guitar;" maybe this is what he meant.

While it's a nice document, I find The Living End a bit lacking. Hart had clearly lost a step by 1987, plodding where he was once nimble. Also the mix sounds very arena-rock to my ears -- all echo. I'd say I'll stick to their studio albums, except they're all in dire need of remastering too. What's a fan to Dü?

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I like the comments, but no one talks about my favorite line of all (and the one that has kept me wondering for 25 years):

Something happened way too quick
A bunch of men who played it sick
They divide, conquer!"

It's really the first line that makes me wonder what he's saying. If it's not about his politics,what is it about?

Philip Metres said...


"it's not about my politics..." may be a way of saying that it's not about being dem (dim) or rep (rip), but that there's something bigger happening, forces beyond political parties that are at work...

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm late to the party. Anyway, I also wondered about the "It's not about my politics" line, and like Mr. Mitres says, decided Mould must mean that it is about something much larger than politics. Divide and conquer is, after all, an age old tactic for gaining greater control over people, and is a dark aspect of the nature of those who gain the power to control. It happens in all kinds of human relationships.

Anonymous said...

I'm here in 2020 after the party is long over, picking up the crushed beer cans and emptying the ashtrays. Divide and Conquer is even more prophetic now than it was 10 years ago. "Safety is a big disguise, that hides among the other lies, they divide and conquer"