“All your children are poor unfortunate victims of lies you believe/ A plague upon your ignorance that keeps the young from the truth they deserve.”
When Frank Zappa sang these lyrics on 1968’s “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?”—off his masterpiece record, We’re Only In It For The Money—he was doing perhaps the best job of any of his contemporaries so far as clearly communicating the 1960s tension goes. At the time, he was warning listeners about how the worldview of post-World War II culture was having a detrimental effect on the lives of younger generations. Pairing frank drops of truth (like the above lines) with more abstract musings (like the rest of “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?”) Zappa spoke to the urgent sense of disgust felt by many of his fellow Baby Boomers towards their elders.
Now, in July 2021, Justin Payne & Co. is picking up the torch, delivering a similar message, but updated for the crises of modern times. Embracing more of a Neil Young, Bottle Rockets-type sound—as opposed to Zappa’s signature quasi-psych-doo-wop—Payne’s observations on his new tune, “Sorry to Say,” are just as biting and resonant as Zappa’s were all those years ago.
“’Sorry to Say’ is about intergenerational trauma, which I think is rooted in toxic masculinity and the lies we have told each succeeding generation about American culture and history,” Payne tells American Songwriter. “I sing that we’ve totally lost the plot, searching for illusions and diversions, while our very way of life is predicated upon lies, violence, and corruption. It’s no small wonder that we live in a fascist-leaning, racist, imperialist, society where mass shootings, state-sponsored executions, and criminalizing of the ‘other’ have become normalized.”
Pointedly, Payne’s observations don’t exist in a vacuum either—he does a good job of tying his personal experience in with the universal phenomenon. “The song was really born of my anger with the current erosion of American society coupled with my sadness and grief regarding the estrangement from my family following decades of manipulation and abuse,” he explained. “You have a perfect recipe for a song about how my father—nearly all of our fathers—lied to us and deceived us about the way things are in the United States. Each one a cog in the cycle of generational lies to the next.”
To that end, Payne is doing his part in trying to end that cycle, just as Zappa did—but perhaps there’s an important difference in rhetoric. Open about his art and its function, Payne is a realist about the limits of music to change the world, but at least is using his platform beyond the song to talk about the important work that needs to be undertaken to reverse some of the prognoses.
“‘Sorry to Say’ is a friendly warning that our society is coming apart,” Payne said, concluding. “It’s a ‘hat in hand’ apology for how messed up and overwhelming everything has become. Like, how are we going to fix all of this without more of us getting caught up in the literal cross-fire over American culture and values? Tough break, to my generation and the next ones.”
Justin Payne & Co.’s new tune, “Sorry to Say” is off their new record—Season of Loss, which dropped July 23. Listen to the song and check out the full album below: