Rat Trap

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Whenever I use the term “rat trap”, my first thought is RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens). The acronym for the Paris region transport authority: yes, it may as well be a rat trap. Long ago memories of all those days and evenings wandering Paris. “It’s a rat trap, and you’ve been caught.” Long ago, far away. These memories mark periods of life that were meant to be temporary and can’t be kept up.

On a similar, if roundabout, theme, I ended up in a conversation about the graphic images that appear on cigarette packaging – the dire consequences of smoking, such as erectile dysfunction. This led to a discussion on the phrase “keep it up”, which prompted me to mention a conversation from a few weeks ago about, of all things, the Boomtown Rats. Someone told me he only knew two BR songs, “I Don’t Like Mondays” and “Rat Trap”, and I think we’d be safe to say that that alone is rather extensive knowledge for most people to have on this subject. That said, I have, if not encyclopedic, almost exhaustive knowledge about the BR discography, having become completely obsessed with Bob Geldof while I was in junior high school. Thus, I knew, thanks to a .99 cent bargain bin vinyl copy of BR’s 1979 album The Fine Art of Surfacing, that they had a song called “Keep It Up”.

Let’s face it, the Rats were not particularly popular or well-known, existed in a particular place and era and sounded of that time. Not to add that the singular force of the Bob Geldof persona overshadowed anything the band could have done. I am not sure, despite Geldof’s notoriety and the stranger (Pink Floyd’s The Wall) bigger things he has done (Live Aid), that he would be an easily recognizable name to most Americans, for example.

That was another theme of the conversation – “Keep It Up” brings to mind Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, which came just a year before the Rats’ anthem to keeping it upright. When looked at side by side, at the pop culture longevity (and really, what within pop culture enjoys longevity?), the Rats are a blip on the radar and unmemorable, while Costello is still cranking out challenging and interesting music, even if it doesn’t always hit the mark. And “Keep It Up”, despite its energy, sounds like the dying notes of the 1970s and fits firmly in the museum of that decade, while “Pump It Up” still sounds cool and, like much of Costello’s work, timeless.

Time itself is a bit of a rat trap, especially if you’ve defined yourself, your look, your sound, by the fashions of your day.

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