April 13 — “Love $$$” by Helium

Helium

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Love $$$” by Helium (1994, from the EP Pirate Prude).
Helium was an indie rock/post-punk band from Boston who was active in the mid- to late-1990s. Between 1994 and 1997, they released two albums and three EPs for Matador Records. The band got started in 1992, and the original lineup featured indie folk singer Mary Lou Lord, and also Juliana Hatfield’s brother Jason. Hatfield quit, and when Mary Lou Lord didn’t want to play electric guitar, she was replaced by Mary Timony. Timony had previously been in the all-girl punk band Autoclave with Christina Billotte, who would later form Slant 6. Timony is now part of the punk super-group Wild Flag.

Although Helium had released a couple of singles on other labels, they didn’t really make a splash until the release of Pirate Prude in March of 1994. That was during my final semester of college. I was the programming director of my college radio station (WQFS – Greensboro) and I practically lived in the station. I spent a lot of time with that record. It kind of blew me away at the time. 18 years later, it still does.

The EP is themed around vampires and prostitutes. Today’s song is more of the latter.

“Love $$$” by Helium

One of the defining traits of Helium was the vocals of Mary Timony. Slightly off-key. High-pitched. While some people are put off by the pitch and the imperfection of her voice, I’ve always been a big fan.

For many years, I loved this EP, and I never gave it any thought as to what it might be about. Although there are no explicit mentions of prostitution, there’s a lot of reference to it. Like in the opening lines of the song “XXX”:

It’s not for free
But I’ll take your love
if your love will pay me

And there’s the bizarre line that goes

Go out on the street, I wanna make some money
That was just a joke about the money
You’re gonna pay me with your life

A murderous, vampiric prostitute? The rest of the EP is full of references to vampires and prostitutes.

Today’s song may or may not be about literal prostitutes. It may be more like the soul-selling phony like Holden Caufield’s brother, the Hollywood actor, in The Catcher in The Rye. It’s about becoming someone who you’re not, and knowing that it isn’t right.

It’s been a long time since you saw your body,
it looks like someone you know, like somebody.
It’s not beautiful, and it’s not ugly,
it’s just your body and it looks like somebody else.

You’re not a model.
You’re not an angel.
You’re just a person
a little out of it.

You’re not an axe murderer.
You’re not a monster.
You’re just a person
a little out of it.

Do you think it’s boring do you think that it’s dead?
Do you want a new, pretty face on your head?
You’re the star that fell out of space.
You’re a person that feels out of place.

What’s funny is that for so many years, I thought that the “axe murderer/monster” line was “astronaut/actor”.

One of the things that I like is that the song goes back and forth between (A)the long, hushed segments of mainly bass guitar and floor tom, and (B) the chaotic, boisterous sections of full band with the searing guitars and the full drum kit. When part B comes in, it’s pretty sudden each time. Not like a switch going on and off, but more like a swift hit with a sledgehammer. It first happens at the 1:00 mark, and goes through the end of that verse.

Blunt force, juxtaposed with delicate touch. That’s Helium for you.

Pirate Prude is out of print, and I don’t even see it available from the usual legal digital download sellers. There are a scant few physical copies available out there in the electronic world. While there are a few going for just a couple of dollars, most are selling for $30, and there’s even a copy in “used” condition going for more than $70. That’s nonsense. If you see a used copy somewhere at a bookstore or a yard sale, buy it. You won’t be sorry.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

2 responses to “April 13 — “Love $$$” by Helium

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