Listening to the first verse of Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “The Body Electric,” it’s easy to mistake the song for a cover of any number of old blues songs; the chords are simple enough and it features a refrain about shooting someone. Digging a little deeper, and you’ll discover that there’s nothing simple about the song or its subject matter– it actually might as well be a new kind of blues song.
Sure, the song might sound like any standard blues or country song of yore but if you listen carefully, the singer is not talking about killing someone for being bad or just for watching them die. In fact, the main character talks about someone shooting her and putting her body in the river. It’s a powerful set of words and some that are very topical nowadays when you think about it.
The structure of the song is effortless and stripped down with enough personality and catchiness to draw you near, but it’s the lyrics and sentiment behind them that make it extraordinary. They take the image of the body and reimagines it as a weapon, a menace, and a worthy cause for murder. We’re living in times where we strive for a type of body that is not our own, and sometimes the struggle ends in tragedy, more so if others see us and our body as the enemy. Like the Sex Pistols once sang (in a completely different context) “bodies, I’m not an animal,” “The Body Electric” speaks out against all who have been hurt or killed because of the way they look and have been thought of not as humans.
The band behind the song is formed by Alynda Lee Segarra, a Puerto Rican woman raised in the Bronx. Adopting the city of New Orleans as her home, she formed HFTRR, which she describes as a “political feminist queer folk roots band.” They chose their name because they identify with the riff raff, the outcasts of society, while taking inspiration from artists who have stood their ground in the face of great adversity.
And how do you take a song like this and take it to the next level? You film an equally powerful video. Director Joshua Shoemaker explained that he wanted to make a “meditation on the acceptance of violence and discrimination against people of color, women and the LGBT community.” Instead of pandering or lecturing through images, he decided to use classic paintings and give it a new spin; for example, they remake Botticelli’s Venus with the “transgender mother of sissy bounce,” Katey Red, in the titular role. Elsewhere, you can find flowers falling to the ground and bullet shells rising into the loving arms of a mother. The video was crowdfunded through Indiegogo and the remaining funds were donated to the Third Wave Fund and the Trayvon Martin Foundation. The band has also started the Body Electric Foundation.
One thing is for certain: you won’t find a more topical song anywhere else. Watch the video below.