I know it’s hard to remember–because these days, new outrages emerge practically by the minute–but early this month, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act: a brazen effort to reduce both millionaires’ tax burdens and the federal government’s social welfare responsibilities by killing poor people, which might have been a brilliant work of Swiftian satire if anyone involved had a sense of humor. And look, we know, the bill probably won’t make it through the Senate (where, one hopes, a few Republicans might even have the decency to read the fucking thing), and even if it does pass, it will surely end up with the Supreme Court. But it’s hard to take comfort from these Civics 101 platitudes when American democracy is falling apart around our ears and our elected officials are throwing keggers celebrating the imminent demise of our grandparents.
Basically, it’s time to prepare ourselves for the possibility of death; in our rapid descent to Third-World autocracy status, our only refuges are righteous anger and gallows humor. So here are 17 songs about illness and disease: a condition with which most of us will probably get a lot more familiar if the AHCA continues unabated. At least we’ll have something to listen to while we waste away on our death beds!
1. Dr. Octagon: “I Got to Tell You”
(from Dr. Octagonecologyst, 1996)
Dr. Octagon is perhaps the most infamous of mad genius Kool Keith’s many alter egos, described by Wikipedia as an “extraterrestrial time traveling gynecologist and surgeon from the planet Jupiter” (you know, basic rap stuff). And with quality affordable healthcare quickly becoming a thing of the past, I can’t help but think of this 1996 faux-commercial as a sign of things to come: a nightmarish future where we have to get our moosebumps and chimpanzee acne treated by calling a homicidal alien at 1-800-PP-5-1-DOODOO, rather than through more conventional means. Thanks a lot, Paul Ryan.
2. Humble Pie: “I Don’t Need No Doctor”
(1973 recording, available on Live ’73)
“I Don’t Need No Doctor,” written by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Jo Armstead–and performed here in typically overblown form by cock-rockers par excellence Humble Pie–is a cute little blues number about an ailment no medicine can treat: being away from your ol’ lady. But it’s also taken on a whole new meaning in 2017; nowadays, whether you “need” a doctor or not is a moot point, because you probably can’t afford one anyway. Here’s hoping the only preexisting conditions we come down with in the near future are conditions of the heart.
3. James Brown: “Cold Sweat”
(from Cold Sweat, 1967)
As in the previous song, the affliction described here by James Brown is more psychic than somatic: his lover’s affections cause him to break out in a (presumably pleasurable) cold sweat. But it also doesn’t take too much imagination to hear Brown’s trademark grunts, screams, and wails as the suffering of a sick person denied treatment for a pre-existing condition–possibly an inability to “stop singin’,” as he puts it at the end of the track. Now that’s chilling.
4. Dr. John the Night Tripper: “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya”
(from Gris-Gris, 1968)
If the AHCA passes, it seems likely that there will be an accompanying surge in nontraditional medicine, as many Americans will no longer be able to seek treatment from more conventional sources. So at this point, we’re just going to go ahead and start listing Dr. John the Night Tripper as our general practitioner. At least he won’t charge outrageously inflated out-of-network rates; besides, I’m pretty sure our current insurance plan doesn’t cover black cat oil for if our woman’s got another man.
5. Mudhoney: “Touch Me I’m Sick”
(1988 single, available on Superfuzz Bigmuff)
The debut single by Seattle grunge godfathers Mudhoney was, according to frontman Mark Arm, a work of preemptive self-parody: written on commission from Sub Pop label co-founder Bruce Pavitt, who gave the group a handful of suggested chords and a suitably punk-rock theme (wallowing in disease) and told them to go nuts. But as self-parody goes, it’s pretty damn relatable; lyrics like “I won’t live long, and I’m full of rot / Gonna give you, girl, everything I got” are the perfect sentiment for sex in our budding dystopia.
6. The Whispers: “Contagious”
(from So Good, 1984)
As we’ve already seen, love as a metaphor for illness is a prominent recurring theme in popular music, so it makes sense on paper that Los Angeles vocal group the Whispers would record a song like “Contagious.” But there’s also a difference between singing about your woman making you “break out in a cold sweat” and saying her love is “contagious” and “spreadin’ like fire”: mainly because the latter makes it sound like she gave you a venereal disease. Points for effort, guys, but the execution could use some work.
7. Parliament: “Dr. Funkenstein”
(from The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, 1976)
Another of our favorite fake M.D.’s, George Clinton’s “Dr. Funkenstein” is less of a general practitioner than a specialist: “preoccupied and dedicated to the preservation of the motion of hips.” And if you think that’s going to be covered under the American Health Care Act, you clearly didn’t take a close enough look at the honkies in the photo above. Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk’s got nothing on them.
8. Joy Division: “Atrocity Exhibition”
(from Closer, 1980)
The (nominal) subject of J.G. Ballard’s short story/experimental novel “The Atrocity Exhibition” is an annual exhibit of paintings by patients in a mental hospital, many of which show a “marked preoccupation…with the theme of world cataclysm.” The appeal of this theme to Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, himself no stranger to mental illness and apocalyptic art, is clear; but the real reason why we’re including this song on the playlist is that there’s no fucking way art therapy will be covered under the AHCA, and the only “atrocity exhibition” we’ll be seeing is the one showing 24 hours a day on C-SPAN. BOOM
9. Beastie Boys: “Time to Get Ill”
(from Licensed to Ill, 1986)
It should go without saying at this point that it’s actually a really, really bad time to get ill. Drink some Emergen-C or something. And while you’re at it, pour one out for Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who–fun fact!–died of a disease that insurance companies will be able to treat as a pre-existing condition under the American Health Care Act.
10. Aerosmith: “Sick as a Dog”
(from Rocks, 1976)
I don’t know exactly what Aerosmith’s “Sick as a Dog” is about, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it probably has something to do with heroin. Guess what the AHCA will likely do for addiction treatment!
11. KISS: “Calling Dr. Love”
(from Rock and Roll Over, 1976)
Just in case there was any confusion on the subject, Gene Simmons of KISS is not a licensed physician. But we’re facing the terrifying prospect that, for millions of us, the most affordable and accessible form of medical treatment may soon be direct contact with the self-proclaimed “Dr. Love”’s wrinkly, liver-spotted penis. This obviously cannot stand–if for no other reason than the fact that multiple members of KISS have attested to Simmons’ frequent contraction of STDs. Please, call your Senator.
12. New York Dolls: “Pills”
(from New York Dolls, 1973)
Originally written and performed by Bo Diddley, “Pills” took on new significance in the hands of the New York Dolls: who managed to make it sound like a rollicking good time, despite the fact that original drummer Billy Murcia had died after consuming a lethal combination of alcohol and Quaaludes. And this low-camp tale of a “rock ‘n’ roll nurse” keeping her patients in thrall with pills for every ailment imaginable may soon be more relevant than ever, when a lack of access to affordable healthcare leads more and more people to self-medicate.
13. Young Thug featuring Quavo: “F Cancer (Boosie)”
(from I’m Up, 2016)
But enough doom and gloom (for now, anyway); here’s a story that’s actually kind of uplifting, as the long-incarcerated Boosie Badazz (formerly known as Lil Boosie) was diagnosed and then successfully treated for liver cancer within a few short weeks in late 2015. Then, early the following year, Young Thug and Quavo recorded “F Cancer (Boosie),” which the Fader described as “the cancer awareness banger Susan G. Komen never could” deliver. Is it too much doom and gloom to mention that, under the AHCA, such early detection will be a lot less likely for the average American? Yes? Sorry.
14. Lou Reed: “Kill Your Sons”
(from Sally Can’t Dance, 1974)
Speaking of doom and gloom, here’s Lou Reed with the heartwarming story of the electroshock therapy he experienced as a teenager, purportedly to “cure” his homosexual tendencies. Incidentally, gay “conversion therapy”–potentially including electroshock–is one of the few fringe treatments that will likely be covered under the AHCA, due to it being a bit of a hobby horse for Vice President Mike Pence. Yay?
15. Fugazi: “Give Me the Cure”
(from Fugazi, 1988)
“Give Me the Cure” is a typically bracing cut by Washington, D.C. post-punks Fugazi, and also what you’ll have to say to emergency room doctors every time you get sick without insurance. Might as well memorize it now–along with “Waiting Room,” since there will be a lot of us in the same boat and you’ll probably be in the E.R. for a while.
16. The Rolling Stones: “Sister Morphine”
(from Sticky Fingers, 1971)
I already mentioned that the AHCA is projected to wreak havoc on addiction treatment, but it bears repeating: experts have expressed legitimate concerns that the growing epidemic of opiod-related deaths is likely to get worse should the bill’s extensive rollbacks of substance abuse treatment become law. So basically, just imagine the Rolling Stones’ chilling overdose narrative “Sister Morphine,” except change the location from a “hospital bed,” because at this point dying under treatment is probably going to be a luxury. “Turn my nightmares into dreams,” indeed.
17. Quiet Riot: “Metal Health (Bang Your Head)”
(from Metal Health, 1983)
So with all this talk about what health services will and won’t be available under the American Health Care Act, you might be wondering what will be left for us if it does pass. Well, here’s the good news: as far as I know, we’ll still be able to bang our heads, the preferred treatment of L.A. glam metal act Quiet Riot. The bad news is, excessive headbanging has been linked to severe brain injuries. Basically, there is no silver lining here; and as much as we’re in support of access to “Metal Health,” we also don’t want anyone to be deprived of legitimate mental (or any other) health services. Let’s hope that the success of “Trumpcare” is as short-lived as its namesake’s presidency is shaping up to be–and will go down in history with equal ignominy.