A case for ‘Dear Skorpio Magazine’ as the greatest song ever
It was a little more than a year ago that Neon Indian, the synthpop project of Alan Palomo, released its third studio album, VEGA INTL. Night School.
Palomo’s aim with the record was shining a dramatic and cinematic light on the kinds of concerns that chic urbanites get caught up in throughout their 20s. Namely, he was interested in what motivates people to go out on a Friday night.
“You have all these people that are fresh out of high school or fresh out of college who don’t really know how to carry themselves in public in a nocturnal situation,” he explained to me last year, shortly after the album’s release. “You see all this sort of cartoonish posturing of who they want to be seen as versus who they are and it is all fueled by what the typical motivations are for somebody to go out, which are to do drugs or get drunk or get laid. It becomes this bizarre soup. Even if I’m not actively participating in it, it is interesting to be there. It is like Ralph Bakshi’s ‘Cool World.’ All these cartoons trying to get noticed.
“You have those moments where it is last call and you are like, ‘Why are you really still here? Do you just really love the beer so much?'” he laughed. “You always have to second-guess yourself. If I’m not in a relationship, then I’m probably going out to get laid. If I am in a relationship, she probably would have told you it was time to call it hours ago. But that’s just a different animal.”
VEGA INTL. Night School is constructed as a series of sleek, sexy vignettes, all told through a variety of perspectives, characters and musical styles. They range from a man eager to follow up on a one night stand (the bouncy ‘Annie’), a portrait of apartment price gouging in New York (the atmospheric ‘Slumlord’) and a criticism of social climbing (the insatiable groove of ‘The Glitzy Hive’).
But no song on the album or, as I would argue, in general can quite match up to the unrepentant vigor and glory of ‘Dear Skorpio Magazine.’
Like a disco ball reflecting off a coke mirror, this chintzy leering number represents an unparalleled achievement in songcraft. The track is so jam packed with little details that I am still hearing new things after an admittedly disgusting 394 plays on iTunes. (This figure does not account for vinyl plays, YouTube plays and beyond. And for those playing at home, the minimum 394 plays means I’ve listened to the song more than one day of my whole life.)
Beginning with a soaring riff complimented nicely by a click track, a pulsating beat carries the listening along with Palomo’s sleazy and skeezy vision of locking eyes with a woman on the New York City streets.
The lyrics veer between the blatantly creepy (“Often from a distance/ Always so discreet/ Keeping prowler’s pace/ Through the dirty sneaker squeak”) and the oddly sweet (“Dear Skorpio Magazine/ We made eyes/ Dear Skorpio Magazine, let me paint you a scene/ We made eyes”).
Through these contradictions, Palomo taps into an odd story that seems to follow a man hopelessly lost in both time and the ways of socializing.
Palomo drew inspiration for the song after stumbling upon the now-defunct Italian thirst trap, Skorpio Magazine.
“I heard about it tumbling down the Internet rabbit hole and watching Vivian Vee videos. Vivian Vee was an Italo disco startlet,” he explained. “Reading up on the backstory of her, it mentioned she was a Skorpio cover girl. I was like, ‘What the fuck is Skorpio Magazine?’ So I started looking it up and there are all these weird collector sites where they have PDFs of just the cover, but I wanted to see what the actual content was. I thought it was just going to be a hardcore porno mag.”
Palomo detailed his experience at a porno emporium in New York where a “swarthy, reptilian clerk” helped him order a box of Skorpio Magazines directly from Italy.
“So I get one and I finally open it and there is only one scantily clad photo shoot with some girl in a bikini,” Palomo continued. “Then I turn the page and it is just pulp comics of astronauts and space shit and the Wild West. It was so funny that the rest of it was kind of slightly more… not wholesome, but it was more adolescent, which, to me, made perfect sense. It encapsulated so much of Neon Indian, as you kind of get a little T and A and then you just have a lot of goofy sci-fi, fantasy shit. I’m assuming it must have been the perfect pulp comic for some teenage Italian in 1986 or something. It did wind up being this thing I really romanticized and the idea that I would be contributing letters decades after it’s gone out of print.”
This is part of the joy of the song: is Palomo singing about himself or just taking on the role of a character? While he admitted to his love for cheesy, retro sex — specifically garters and fishnets — Palomo was quick to point out that he is not ‘Dear Skorpio Magazine.’
But this revelation merely adds another layer of brilliance to the song, as he so expertly takes on the role of an awkward, sentimental creep.
All of this is broadcast under a shimmery, sexy heap of synthesizers and samples that fuels the cheese. “There were a lot of sampled sounds and that was something that was kind of new in terms of like a saxophone, but if I was going to use something like that it was definitely going to be a mutant, cartoon version of it,” Palomo explained. Sure enough, ‘Dear Skorpio Magazine’ features a sublime and surreal saxophone interlude, as well as snippets of perverse laughter culled from Mary Poppins. All of it is meant to blur the lines between what’s real and what’s fiction, in many instances making it seem all the more real.
Perhaps when written out like this, ‘Dear Skorpio Magazine’ does seem to be something like a coke-induced fever dream. But in the twisted and wild world of Neon Indian’s VEGA INTL. Nigh School, anything goes. In fact, this warped version of reality might just be our best reflection of the reality that plays out in our cities every day.