I've been trying to practice more with the hoops as late, and I've become rather fond of this song: Placebo's "Purify", off of Loud Like Love.

I find myself in the interesting position of being unsure whether I need to mark this NSFW. The official video almost certainly is, being sprinkled liberally with nuns in lingerie, but the song itself involves no profanity, and doesn't even mention any anatomy you couldn't bring up at holiday dinners with Grandma. Structurally, it's a pretty standard "omg you are incredibly hot, hooking up with you is awesome" pop song, but it's couched in the jargon of Evangelical Christianity. It is nevertheless unrepentantly filthy. This ensures that anyone who would be inclined to pop a sprocket over it will hate it without even bothering to listen to it, which sounds like a great way to filter out anyone who shouldn't be buying Placebo albums to begin with.

You wouldn't think of the back of someone's head as an especially alluring body part, but this is because you aren't Brian Molko. Molko could sing about trimming nose hair and make it sound like the centerpiece of a sex scandal that brought down a major European government, and furthermore he would make the collapse of civilization seem totally worth it. This takes a special kind of conviction. And a charmingly, creatively, persistently, insistently dirty mind.

If you go through clips on YouTube, you will notice that almost none of them are from American shows. The US still has a long and rather Puritanical list of rules about things you're not allowed to put on TV, most of which Molko breaks merely by existing. The rest of them fall victim to his mouth. If anyone has ever suggested that Placebo be invited onto VH1 Storytellers, they were immediately tased and escorted out of the meeting. If you hand Molko a microphone, he will say something profoundly and cheerily sexual, usually within about the first two minutes.

[The dresses and makeup would have been fine -- we do keep letting Eddie Izzard into the country, and Noel Fielding was just here in Boston -- but the American media pearl-clutches a lot over sex and drugs, and for some reason thinks profanity will rot your brain. Placebo's got a perfectly good fanbase in the US, but if you look at their singles history, a lot of things that hit Top Ten in the UK or Europe didn't even get without shouting distance of the charts here. It's because we don't really do physical CD/vinyl releases for singles, and the Billboard stats are based on how often a song goes out on the radio. Many corporate radio stations refused to play their stuff, because they talk about drugs a lot and we all know that if you ever mention drugs within earshot of a child, that child is doomed to a life of squalid addiction and whoring themselves out for crack. It's not even the glorification they object to. They censored "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind, and that song is all about how meth is bad.]

The broadcast guidelines for British television in the post-watershed time slots are something like, "no death threats, and if you get your cock out please make some token attempt to pretend it's relevant to the plot", so they are at least allowed to let Molko within thirty feet of a camera there. I know there are still some specific bans in place, but the relevant authority is also inclined to ignore creative loophole abuse, on the grounds that if you're still up watching TV at three in the morning you probably knew what you were getting into. Channel Four once told Frankie Boyle that he wasn't allowed to say 'motherfucker' on the air, so when he did Tramadol Nights he peppered his opening monologues with the word 'fatherfucker' instead. Amazingly, he was neither fired nor burnt at the stake.

Brian Molko is still impressively dirty by UK standards, and I say this as someone who is familiar with the kinds of shenanigans you get out of Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton. I have nothing but admiration for his ability to be polite, professional, and unremittingly filthy, all at the same time. It's magical. It's like watching someone achieve witty, smutty Nirvana.

[Hashtag: #newlifegoals]

Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that I have yet to see him aim it at anyone who blushed themselves to death. It is not a weapon. Comments like that often are; demonstrating a willingness to break unspoken social rules that your target is not willing to break themselves is something people do as a power play. Molko is certainly saying these things in hopes of getting a reaction, but the reaction he's looking for seems to be amusement and participation, not uncomfortable squirming. He has absolutely no shame in delivering these lines, and his manner suggests that he also thinks there is no shame on the listener's part for having heard that, and thinking the things one normally thinks after having that kind of sexual imagery lodged in one's brain. Interviews and panel shows are heavily edited, so I don't know if he's insanely good at intuiting who wants to play Sexy Banter Ping-Pong with him, or if he's just smart enough to move on immediately if his first target looks discomfitted, but he is definitely happiest when he's interacting with someone who's volunteered, and fires right back.

It's refreshingly cheerful. Also interestingly fluid. A lot of people consider sex and sexuality to be some terrifyingly independent thing that exists in its own separate space and does not -- or should not be allowed to -- intersect with any other sphere of life. It's a philosophy that gives anything that even touches on the topic of sex the potential to kerplode into a giant emotionally-fraught mushroom cloud of awkwardness and guilt. This does not seem to be the case for Molko. It threads through everything I've seen him get up to in much the same way as his intellect does, and I'm not sure he could cover for it any more successfully than he could pretend to be stupid.

He keeps telling reporters that he's 'comfortable in [his] skin' these days. I suspect that the intention is to ask him about the long hair and makeup, but that Molko is actually answering about this. Even if he had not come to the realization that he liked eyeliner and other boys, having everything in your head intertwined like that is atypical enough that he would still have been a complete space alien, especially in adolescence. When everyone else was navigating the standard social dance, he'd have had to pretty much sit down in a corner by himself and sort all this shit out without any outside help.

I would be very interested to know what he was like as a child. If I had to bet, my money would be on 'oddly shy'. There are a limited number of ways to deal with being an extraterrestrial when you are too young to figure out what's going amiss and how to fix it, or to realize that nothing needs to be fixed in the first place. One of them is to become a merciless little hellspawn and destroy everything around you; Molko does not strike me as someone who has in him the kind of violence required to externalize it like that. He's been plenty destructive over the years, I gather, but it's the kind of self-destructiveness that lead him to collect recreational drug experiences like Pokémon and make a spectacle of himself on stage just to see if anyone would put a stop to it.

The other one is to wander around looking vaguely strange and trying to convince yourself nothing is worth caring about, because the alternative -- admitting that you do care, very deeply, about a lot of things that the world has determined you are not allowed to have -- might kill you.

This is a state of mind often not helped by the people outside of your head. Getting back to the song I linked up top, that is not the first time religious imagery has popped up in Molko's lyrics. He nicked a couple lines of "Special K" from Revelation, although that was almost entirely ignored by the press in favor of 'omgomgomg he's talking about ketamine'. It happens in other places as well. "Purify" is that the entire way through, and it's all used in a fashion that suggests he knows whereof he speaks. He's had run-ins with these people, and when you are a very smart, very opinionated bisexual boy in a cocktail dress and really smashing eye makeup, these encounters will inevitably go very badly. I don't think there is any such thing as a situation that could be improved upon with a lot of people shouting that you're going to Hell for being you.

Moreover, I suspect it was family. Molko doesn't talk about his family much; this means nothing by itself, as many celebrities avoid the topic as a way to keep their personal and performing lives separate, or just because they don't want paparazzi bugging their relatives. But he has mentioned spending a fair amount of time with bandmate Stefan Olsdal's family, and he refers to the band itself as a "surrogate family" -- he is adamant enough about using those words for it that it annoys him there is not a set phrase for it in French as there is in English and he keeps having to bring it across as a calque. I gather his father is some sort of international financier -- like being an International Man of Mystery, except indescribably boring -- and his family is well off, but he's also mentioned scraping by on unemployment benefits for a few years after he'd moved to London. It's possible that they offered help that his ego led him to refuse, but he did go on the dole, so his pride couldn't have got that much in the way. I would guess it more likely that they didn't like his major (acting), didn't like his choice of career (anything but an office job), or just flat did not like who he had grown up to be, and that if they did offer help it had so many strings attached it wasn't worth taking.

Trying to figure out how people get to be the way they are is like trying to reconstruct a story from scraps of manuscript. You can infer prior plot points from current dialogue, if you pay attention. It is by no means perfectly accurate, but if you can kludge together something that's internally consistent, it's probably right enough for most purposes. Have no idea how many of my guesses are correct, but all that squares with the kind of guy who refers to his music as "by outsiders, for outsiders" and is proud of the fact that the audiences at his arena shows are full of weirdos but no rioting. He clearly likes the idea that those shows give the outcasts someplace to be.

A lot of Placebo's early stuff flip-flops between fuck you and oh god I keep weirding, how do I stop? It's restless and rootless and full of this pervasive fear that everything you touch will fall apart strictly because you touched it. It sounds very much like it comes from someone who has the persistent feeling that he's not humaning right and does not know how to fix it. Loud Like Love is not without teeth, but for the most part it comes from the person who was once that lonely kid, who has realized that there is nothing to really fix. He is humaning fine, for the correct value of 'human', which he has since found.

Molko seems fairly uncomfortable with the idea of being an example or a role model, but I do hope he realizes the extent to which he is a catalyst. There are a lot of kids out there who are much like him in some respect or another, but are unable to name what is wrong with things as they stand, or figure out how to make their social presentation stop conflicting with their internal self-image, until they see someone else do it first. They'd feel how they feel no matter what, but sometimes what that feeling is just doesn't click until something external tips you off. If none of what you need is present in your environment, the helpless flopping can go on for a very long and miserable time.

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