The Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings and Food is about neither buildings nor food. And after repeated listens to the Shins’ 2001 album Oh, Inverted World, I’ve established that “Know Your Onion!” is, in fact, not about an onion. It’s about despair, angst, and lost love—all things that make you cry. Other indie-rock stalwarts have, however, given food, cooking, and eating a central role in their songs. Here are some favorites, in honor of this week’s South by Southwest conference.
1. “Double Chocolate Malted,” by Jonathan Richman. Just devoted to deliciousness, a recipe in song form. Two scoops of chocolate, lots of malted milk powder, and no nuts, no maraschino cherry, and no whipped cream.
2. “Big Pink Cake,” by Razorcuts. Razorcuts brings the baker’s angst while singing about the twee-est dessert ever conceived. When this “birthday present for the human race” receives a poor reception, the unappreciated baker grumps, “I should have pushed the whole thing in your face.”
3. “Satan Gave Me a Taco,” by Beck. If Beck made a deal with the devil, it seems to have worked out. On a very early album, Stereopathic Soulmanure, Beck eats Satan’s taco—complete with rancid rice and aphids on the lettuce. Various hallucinations, a hell-hound sheriff, and a death sentence somehow follow. And finally, he finds himself in a video and gains rock stardom. Perhaps this taco paved the path to Scientology.
4. “Fruits and Vegetables,” by Shonen Knife. Shonen Knife attacks the food genre with an alarming lack of subtlety. There is no metaphor here, only verse after verse touting the healthful, rejuvenating, and cleansing effects of the eponymous foods. First, they exhort the listener to eat fruits and vegetables. Then, for good measure, they proceed to list a bunch of fruits and vegetables, concluding with this aside: “By the way, I eat chicken, too.”
5. “Rice Pudding,” by Sufjan Stevens. A sweet song about feeding a lover rice pudding at a benefit concert.
6. “Blueberry Boat,” by the Fiery Furnaces. In this culinary twist on a pirate song, the proud captain is forced to choose between her life and her prized cargo: Michigan blueberries, “the best blueberries in the U.S. of A.” In the end (spoiler alert!), she says of her decision, “It’s sad and it’s cold at the bottom of the sea, but at least I’ve got my blueberries with me.”
7. “Know Your Chicken,” by Cibo Matto. If you were to buy a pair of chicks from a man on the street in Brooklyn, lose one, raise the other one for years, and then suddenly be served by your lover a bird of unknown provenance, it would be a good idea for you to know your chicken. Sage advice, brought to you by Cibo Matto.
8. “A Young Man Ate My Wife,” by Girlfrendo. Here is a song that is so sincere, so enthusiastic, and so catchy that you’ll feel a twinge of guilt about mocking it. But mock it you will, because it is sung from the point of view of an olive, telling the story of Olivia—from Bolivia!—and her tragic appearance at a cocktail party. Is it bad? Yes. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming the chorus into your next martini.
9. “Meat Is Murder,” by the Smiths. Hey, you at the table. Yes, you, with the thick, juicy steak. How does it feel, to “savour the flavor … of murder”? That’s right. You’d better cry. And while you’re curled up on the floor, weeping, be sure to consider that you’ll never be as sensitive as Morrissey. Did I say sensitive? I meant melodramatic.