WORDS // ANDREW MCCLAIN
When I received the promotional material for a song called “Penis Tsunami” in my inbox, I was intrigued. I knew I couldn’t listen at work, so I waited a few days. When I was finally able to give it a listen on Saturday morning, the experience was an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve never been one to shy away from racy humor, but I’ll admit that I found it slightly off-putting at times, and debated whether or not I actually wanted to write about this raunchy track.
While I was feeling prudish, the song’s singalong hook wedged itself into my brain, so I listened again, reading along with the lyrics that were sent. While still I’m not sure if I’d say I “like” or “enjoy” this song, here I am trying to process my thoughts and feelings about it.
In the 2007 comedy classic “Superbad,” Jonah Hill’s character confides in his best friend: “When I was a little kid, I kinda had this problem… for some reason, I don’t know why, I’d just kinda sit around all day and draw pictures of dicks.” He explains that he kept a Ghostbusters lunchbox full of drawings of anthropomorphic phalluses of various shapes, sizes and characteristics, which he compulsively drew in class. The illustrations shown on screen during this flashback perfectly match the spirit of Aaron Sarlo’s “Penis Tsunami.”
The song is the solo debut of Sarlo, a comedian and member of Little Rock bands Techno Squid Eats Parliament and Kid City, who says “I have been playing it in clubs throughout the south. And, literally every time I’ve ever played it, as soon as I get off stage, people ask me where they can get it,” and it’s easy to imagine the song bringing down the house in a drunken singalong.
The juxtaposition between the song’s bawdy lyrical content and the fact that it’s an immaculately produced, heartfelt-sounding country ballad, complete with soulful pedal steel (by Alex Piazza) and backup vocals by Jamie Lou Connolly and Amy Garland Angel (of Jamie Lou and the Hullabaloo and The Wildflower Revue, respectively) might just make it more than a pure novelty song, but something that I have to reckon with.
Maybe we all need to reckon with the fact that most popular love songs have always been blatantly horny overtures for lovemaking, and the only thing that makes “Penis Tsunami” different is its preference for explicit simile over tasteful euphemism.
Nor should we make the mistake of forgetting Arkansas’s rich tradition of dirty songs; Ozark folklorist Vance Randolph compiled an extensive volume of “unprintable” Ozark folksongs from the 19th century called “Roll Me in Your Arms” (University of Arkansas Press) that includes sheet music for titles such as “Shaggin’ Away,” “Roll Me Over in the Clover,” “Kiss That Man’s Ass” and “She Keeps Her Boody Clean,” among hundreds of others. When the Vance Randolph of the 21st century compiles another volume of unprintable folksongs, it would be a crime to overlook “Penis Tsunami.”
Stream “Penis Tsunami” and find out more about Aaron Sarlo and Techno Squid Eats Parliament at penistsunami.com