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Party on, Andrew

Andrew W.K. fights for his right to party

By Gina Arnold

HAVE YOU EVER tried to translate English slang into a foreign language--or vice versa? The result never fails to amuse. For example, the Wayne and Garth exclamation "Not!" sounds positively absurd when translated as "Nicht!" or "Ne pas!" Another great example of untranslatable English is the use of "party" as a verb. One could conceivably translate this idiomatic quirk into Spanish as "fiestar," but "Quiero fiestar contigo" sounds ridiculous. So do "fiesto" (I party), "fiestaste" (you partied) and, especially, "fiestaramos" (we will party)--far queerer than the word sounds in English now that it has made the leap out of noun-dom.

Somewhere on the Internet, there must be a treatise on this bit of linguistic evolution, but I blame rock & roll. First, there was the 1975 Kiss hit "Rock & Roll All Nite." Then there was the Beastie Boys' 1986 anthem, "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)." And now, there is Andrew W.K.'s party-hard album I Get Wet (Universal), which is currently all the rage in both hip and nonhip circles alike. Simply put, Andrew W.K. is The Simpsons of rock music, the lone bridge between high and low art, between the vulgar and the elite, despite a complete reliance on the lowbrow usage of "party" as a verb. "It's Time to Party," "Party Hard" and "Party Til You Puke" are three songs on I Get Wet. Other, more complex ideas are set out in songs with titles like "I Love NYC," "She Is Beautiful" and "Fun Night."

Sonically, W.K.'s oeuvre is as familiar as an old sock. The simple, anthemic power chords and riffs sound straight out of the Poison-Slade-Gary Glitter songbook. He uses simple chords, simple words and a musical idiom that have been used before; his message is ridiculously naive; and yet, weirdly, the combination is positively profound.

But language is a subtle thing, and it's important to note that "to party" does not mean "to celebrate." You don't party with your parents. Two-year-olds don't party. The only people who party are young people bent on getting high, because in reality "to party" is a euphemism for getting wasted--although not in W.K.'s book. Instead, he uses the word to express the kind of spiritual happiness that is more often seen in religious cults. On his website (www.andrewwk.com), the 22-year-old Detroit-reared headbanger writes, "In my life, I want to feel as good as possible and to help as many people as I can do the same.

"Human beings," he continues, "are one of the greatest achievements in the history of the world. We are our own achievement. So many people have dedicated their lives to working for our benefit. So many things that we have now have come from people before us. We owe it to them to make the most of our times now. ... This music is about freedom, and this music is much bigger than just me. I don't own it. I couldn't try to keep it all to myself even if I wanted to. It belongs to human beings. It belongs to you."

If this all sounds kind of dumb, rest assured, it is. But a couple of things set this party-hard stuff apart from the awful, mid-'80s glam-rock stuff it resembles. One is that W.K. is not backed up by some dumb big-haired band of idiots who hate and exploit women in their lyrics and in their lives. W.K.'s lyrics aren't misogynist, and they never mention drugs.

Somehow, despite being so frankly Bon Joviesque, his music doesn't sound like a corporate vehicle designed to get a zillion kids to give him money. He really seems to think that this kind of loud/fast/hard rock is the best way to make people feel as good as they can, and who is to say he's wrong?

It only takes about 30 seconds in his presence (either in person or on tape) to realize that--besides being the weirdest self-help guru of our era--Andrew W.K. is the latest entrant in the rock world's much-vaunted Return to Garage-Rock Roots movement. He makes bands like the Strokes, the White Stripes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club look like the hyperintellectualized art-school rejects they are. He may not be the brightest bulb in the marquee, but along with The Osbournes, Andrew W.K. is imbuing music with a newfound sense of big dumb fun. And if that means using party as a verb, then so be it.

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From the April 11-17, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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