Snakes Unwrapped

by admin  18th Apr 2018 Comments [0]

By Hunter Bennett


The article below is an online-only sidebar to “SNAKE WRAP: The Definitive (and, Thus Far, Only) Account of Washington, DC’s Funniest HarDCore Band,” which appears in Ugly Things #47. The introduction to “SNAKE WRAP” reads:

Like John Cheever’s idea of a punk band, the Snakes were a pair of whip-smart, clean cut, well-heeled teenagers who amused themselves by writing snarky songs about summering in the Greek Isles, lusting after Russian royalty, and, most of all, the quirks and foibles of those around them. But they were also the quintessential Washington, D.C. punk insiders. Championed by Henry Rollins, produced by Ian MacKaye, and closely affiliated with Rites of Spring, the Snakes released a charmingly ragged Lp of silly, melodic punk tunes on the venerable Dischord Records — smack dab in the midst of that label’s remarkable 1980s run of harDCore punk classics, including Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Fugazi. The Snakes’ story spans nearly 50 years and is inextricably entwined with the histories of both harDCore and Dischord. It also offers a glimpse into the world of Washington WASPs.

If you think the sidebar is entertaining, you should buy the magazine and read the article.


We asked the Snakes (i.e., Michael Hampton and Simon Jacobsen) to tell us what their songs were about. They did the best they could:



She’s Got It Now – An uncharacteristically earnest rocker with an infectious four-note riff.

MICHAEL: Not sure. It’s a pretty early song. Definitely a Simon riff. I think that’s a Simon song.

SIMON: I wrote that when I was a sophomore in high school. I had a very bad prom date that stood me up. The thing that makes that song is that little riff. Ian [MacKaye] picked up on it, too. He said “This song is nothing without that thing.” And so he just kept having me play it [throughout the song].


I Won’t Love You ‘Til You’re More Like Me – A narcissist’s kiss-off to his significant other featuring the immortal line “You say, ‘I love you.’ I say, ‘I do, too.’”

MICHAEL: That’s self-explanatory. [Laughs].

SIMON: That [line] cracked us up. We didn’t drink. We didn’t smoke. We didn’t do anything cool. We just sat on the edge of the bed and in a chair and played these very loud, amplified instruments and we would just laugh and laugh and laugh.

For Colored Girls – A hook-laden punk rock song marred by excessive roto-tomfoolery.

SIMON: [The title is] from the play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. We said, “That’s an incredible story.”

MICHAEL: Simon’s older brother was into the theater and he had that poster up on his bedroom wall. We were singing the song and Simon made up the words based around that poster.

SIMON: You can really hear some of the punk rock influence in this. It’s really a sophomoric composition of music. There’s really nothing there.


Six O’Clock – If you ignore the opening couplet (i.e., “What you gonna do for now? You look like a cow.”) this could pass for a beautiful, heartfelt ballad about a failing marriage . . . until the fade-out when someone says, “Oh, I miss you so. I long to hold you in my arms . . . and lick the wax out of your ears.”

MICHAEL: That’d be Simon.

SIMON: I remember saying that. That was kind of on the spot. I looked inside the booth at Inner Ear [Recording Studio after saying the line] and [Dischord Records co-owner] Jeff [Nelson] is laughing and there’s Ian [MacKaye] with his head in his hands.


Serv-Pro Joe – A heavy, riff-driven punk song sung from the perspective of a disgruntled heating oil technician who’s tired of being mistreated by his customers.

MICHAEL: Simon came up with that. Serv-Pro is the company that, if you have a flood, they clean out your basement. So Serv-Pro came to Simon’s house to clean out the basement after a flood and a guy named “Joe” left his jacket. And it said “Joe” and “Serv-Pro” and Simon wrote this song. But I think Simon got confused and he thought Serv-Pro was the company that pumped heating oil.

SIMON: We wrote this song about a guy who comes to deliver oil and the person he’s delivering it to tells him to go away and he becomes like Henry Rollins at that point.


Snake Rap – More of a funk number with very little rapping save for the refrain “S-N-A-K-E, Snake Rap.”

MICHAEL: It’s, you know, a snake rap. I don’t even know where to begin with that. It’s like a rap song.

SIMON: Oh, that’s a horrible song. God, I lost friends over this. I wish I could go back in time to fix that.


Greek Song – A minimalist number. Over exotic-sounding percussion, Hampton and Jacobsen chant what sounds like, ‘Pagos, me a coco pa lach-a-lo.”

UGLY THINGS: Are you guys speaking actual Greek?

MICHAEL: I doubt it. Simon’s family went to Greece every summer for like 4 or 5 years and he’s trying to say, “May I have a Coke please, with ice?” in Greek. And that’s his memory of how he said it when he was a kid. Whether it actually was . . . who knows?

SIMON: That is actually Greek. It’s “one Coke please, ice” which isn’t even grammatically correct. My family spent a lot of time in Greece in the islands and I came back with a lot of menu Greek. We didn’t have enough music for a record so Ian or Jeff woulda said, ‘We need three more’ so we’d have been like ‘What about that Greek thing?’”


Twelve Angry Men – Another punkish song with an insanely catchy “La, la, la, la” vocal hook sung by a choir that includes Ian MacKaye. Henry Rollins played the song on his radio show fairly recently and said that it’s about girls in D.C..

MICHAEL: Yes, that is a true fact and it is nothing I am proud of. It was basically punk girls ‑‑ [wearing] English bondage kilts.

SIMON: You know that band [redacted]? That’s about them. They just thought they were so cool.


Pushover – Moments before the music to this fine, melodic punk song starts, a voice that sounds eerily like Grover from Sesame Street asks, “Can we come over?”

MICHAEL: Another unfortunate teenage song about going to someone’s house and making a mess on purpose.

SIMON: [Sings the lyrics] “Saturday night, nothing to do-oo. I come to your house and eat all your foo-ood.” Who we were talking about again was the 12 angry men. Those girls that used to have us over because we were cute little boys who were completely harmless but we were mean as Snakes.


City Girls – A 55-second Damned-ish sounding tune lamenting that “city girls got no rhythm” and “can’t keep a beat.” At the very end, one of the Snakes affects a girlish voice and sobs, “I find it so hard. I wish I was a country girl.”

MICHAEL: I don’t know [what the song’s about]. They got no rhythm. That’s all I know about them.

SIMON: [Sings the lyrics] “I see them hands tappin’ on them cans.” That’s before we knew cans were also breasts. They really were just cans [in the song].


Exchange of Clowns – An exquisite pop song that shows off palm-muting years before it became a staple of punk rock guitar.

SIMON: That was a Michael song. I think that may have come from the Jason Robards movie A Thousand Clowns. It’s just about how one group of idiots moves out and another moves in, and I don’t remember the context.

MICHAEL: I think most of that is about how when you started going to punk shows, there were just more and more clowns. Exchange of clowns — like the more leave, the more come, you know.


Everything He Wants – A dirgey ode to a spoiled, rich friend.

MICHAEL: That’s sort of about a couple of different wealthy friends of ours that will remain nameless. And to put things into perspective, we weren’t hurting at all. It was nice but there’s always a richer kid.

SIMON: Oh, that’s about [REDACTED].


Fixing a Chair – A song that might actually be good if the Snakes didn’t keep stopping the music abruptly and chanting “fixing a chair” while making chair-fixing noises. Absurd, stupid, and funny.

MICHAEL: I don’t know. Sounds like Simon.

SIMON: It’s so clearly a song that could’ve had merit but we never finished it.


License to Fish – A cod reggae song about fishing licenses issued by the almighty Jah Rastafari.

MICHAEL: We liked making fun of DC Rastas. You know the Bad Brains got all Rasta? That’s pretty much what that is. We thought we were funny.

SIMON: We just couldn’t understand them going from these really cool brother punk rock guys into these Rastafarians. That’s Ian going “Yo, ho, ho, ho” in the background.




My Girl Gloria – A lovely, straightforward pop song with backing vocals that would fit right in on an Association record. One line (i.e., “[i]t was my ship that she sank”) seems to reference the Battleship board game commercials from the 1970s.

MICHAEL: No idea.

SIMON: All the super rockstars had some kind of song about Gloria. The Damned had one, the Doors had one, Paul Anka had one. So Michael insisted, “Why don’t we write a song called ‘My Girl Gloria’?” It had really clever, poppy chord changes that were kinda Tom Pettyish. We used 12-string guitars.


Don’t Tread On Me – The punkiest song on the record. It even features a drum and bass breakdown reminiscent of Minor Threat’s “Think Again.” The lyrics are, once again, not jokey.

SIMON: Here’s the joke: It’s about being mistreated by girls but we had absolutely no relationships with women. We were such dorks and we didn’t have girlfriends but we just figured, “Huh, I wonder what it’s like to be mistreated by a girl. Well let’s write a song about it.”

MICHAEL: That one is just total Damned.


Glass Eyes – Another Damned-ish cut with melodic vocals and lead guitar parts that are reminiscent of Hampton’s contemporaneous, “serious” band Embrace.

SIMON: That was Michael’s song. The harmonies on that aren’t very strong. We kinda made them up on the spot in the studio and it shows. “Glass Eyes,” I’ll bet you, is another book that he saw or something on the ground. Or he could be singing about a stuffed animal.

MICHAEL: That was the song I wrote with Brendan [Canty of Rites of Spring and Fugazi] and it was [originally] much slower and more like Soft Cell or something.


World Upside Down – A not-especially good dance number. That the highlight is when they start chanting “S-N-A-K-E rap” at the end tells you all you need to know.

MICHAEL: Another book title. It was a college history book of mine [at American University] about, I think, the 30 Years War or something.

SIMON: That was gonna be our big dance hit. It was inspired by a band that we didn’t really like but thought was amusing: Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I think Guy Picciotto [of Rites of Spring and Fugazi] sang with me on that and Brendan. Ian was in there.


Happy – The Snakes’ finest moment. An uptempo pop song built around a fantastic bass line. If you listen carefully, you can hear Hampton’s beautiful keyboard line that could be the soundtrack to a gold medal-winning Olympic ice skating routine. And all the while, Jacobsen is ranting almost psychotically about how happy he is. Truly memorable.

MICHAEL: Don’t remember that one.

SIMON: [The lyrics] are really just about feeling happy. We’re not making fun of anybody in this one.


Afraid of Love – A post-punk number with gloomy lyrics. It should have been a big hit with that kid in your class with the slanty haircut and overcoat that was two sizes too big but he or she was listening to Echo and the Bunnymen instead.

MICHAEL: Unclear. I think that’s a Simon one.

SIMON: Finally, we had grown up and been mistreated by women. And this was a song about my girlfriend at the time running off with a friend of ours. She lied about where she was because she said she slept in my car so the chorus goes [singing prettily] “I know you didn’t sleep in my car all that night. Because it was locked up tight.” Of course, the friend of ours who did this, we never punished him or wrote a song about him, the backstabbing bastard. His name is [REDACTED].

UGLY THINGS: Oh, I know him. He’s a big skateboarder these days.

SIMON: [Sarcastically] Good for him. I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.


Appraising Personalities – The trademark goofiness is back. Over music that sounds like Odessey and Oracle-era Zombies, the Snakes sing “complimentary” things about people that actually aren’t all that complimentary. Between verses, Jacobsen keeps offering juice to his neighbor in a slightly menacing way. At the song’s conclusion, he inexplicably shouts “Pepperidge Farm remembers” in a British accent, just like the guy in those 1980s television commercials.

SIMON: That was really a Michael song. The title is clearly [taken from] a psychology book from his mother’s library. Very Kinksish. There’s not a whole lot to it. It could’ve been more clever.

MICHAEL: We’d record in the dining room of my parents’ townhouse in Georgetown. There was a bookshelf and one of the books was Appraising Personality. And so Simon and I, we were making up this dumb song and we looked up and it says, “Appraising Personality.” We wrote a song about it just off the cuff.


I’m a Holiday – A sprightly pop tune that might have been a big hit in the late 1960s. Features the inscrutable lyric, “I know a man named Zeus. He sent me on a holiday.”

MICHAEL: I don’t know. [Laughs]. I AM a holiday.

SIMON: This one was mine. Again, malignant narcissists — we find them funny. We were just kind of humming [while] walking somewhere and we were thinking about a guy who, anything he does is a holiday, you know? Every day is a Sunday. What’s it like to be a guy who thinks that way?


Man of the Monocle and Bottle – An exceedingly pleasant Village Green-period Kinks song with harpsichord. During a spoken word section between the second and third verses, Jacobsen affects a child’s voice and asks the titular character to come out and play on the beach. “Can’t. Happy hour,” the Man of the Monocle and Bottle replies before passing out “face down in the sand.”

MICHAEL: That seemed to be some kind of old-timey, sixties-influenced pastiche of Mr. Peanut and Simon’s dad or something. I’m not sure what that’s about.

SIMON: That’s a parody of my father who was an alcoholic.


Oh No, Olga – Sixties-influenced New Wave that plenty of Americans would have loved if it had been on Flying Nun Records. The multiple intricate guitar parts and catchy chorus make the song.

MICHAEL: That is about the Romanovs — Tsar Nicholas’ family. There was a coffee table book at Simon’s house about the Romanovs so we wrote this song about Olga — one of the sisters.

SIMON: That’s one of my favorites. It was probably one of the [Snakes’] more serious stabs at actually making music. [Sings the lyrics] “Your people you shun. Your dad the tsar, well he’s not much fun.” It had a really carefully planned guitar solo in it that I wish was produced a little bit better. It was very Mark Knopfler [of Dire Straits], who was kind of a guitar god to me. I was playing it the way he would — plucking the strings and not using a pick. I wish I had spoken up to Ian about that in the mixing.


Jane of Apes – Power pop with psychedelic overtones. Could be a long, lost Three O’Clock song.

MICHAEL: Really not sure. [Pause.] Yup, don’t know.

SIMON: That’s Michael’s song. Michael had gotten his hands on a book of Victorian English sayings — not slang. Saying “she’s a Jane of apes” means that “she’s a whore.” We thought that was very funny. We’d be like, “Why don’t you just say she’s a whore?” If you listen to the organ on that, that is definitely Captain Sensible [of the Damned] coming out of Michael.


Hat on the Bed – A song about an abandoned lover that features a bopping verse and beautiful chorus. It sounds slightly unfinished.

MICHAEL: Again, that’s a book title. That’s a John O’Hara novel that was in my parents’ bedroom. Bearing no resemblance to that. But that song, I was trying to do “Our House” by Madness.

SIMON: Michael wrote the words. I think I was singing. [Sings the lyrics] “All that’s left is a hat on the bed. And it’s filled with hair.” That was an image that just grossed us out.


Dance Mr. Fish – A pedestrian dance tune with a somber chorus that deserves to be wedded to a far stronger verse.

MICHAEL: I think that was supposed to be like Dead or Alive, you know, “You spin me round, round like a record.” We had a little Casio keyboard. That’s where the sounds came from — like a toy keyboard.

SIMON: That was our big dance movement that was gonna sweep the women off their feet and [get them to] come dance with us.

UGLY THINGS: Did you guys get girls from being in the Snakes?

SIMON: [emphatically] No, no, no. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get divorced just talking about it.


Hunter Bennett’s book The Prodigal Rogerson — a biography of the late Circle Jerks bassist Roger Rogerson — was published by Microcosm in 2017. You should totally buy it.