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Karen O dumbs down and goes country for the 'Jackass 3D' soundtrack

October 15, 2010 |  2:56 pm

Jack pic 

Thanks to the song’s use in the opening credits of “Jackass,” the jangly four-note guitar intro to the Minutemen’s 1984 “Corona” has become inextricably linked in the public imagination
with joke stunts, toilet humor and dangerous tomfoolery.

But fans and completists of “Jackass” -- which marks its 10th anniversary with the release of the movie “Jackass 3D” on Friday -- know the song that truly encapsulates the franchise’s blithe, never-say-die je ne sais quoi is actually Roger Allan Wade’s “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb.”

Wade, who is chief donkey Johnny Knoxville’s cousin, wrote and performs the song that was first heard in connection with “Jackass” over the end credits of 2002’s “Jackass: The Movie.” Offering a homespun view of loserdom and a heartfelt philosophical acceptance of idiocy and failure, the country tune details how its singer “lit [his] brain on rot-gut whiskey” and “took advice no fool would take,” en route to learning “how to swallow pride.”

Wade’s worldview is laid particularly bare in the song’s chorus:

If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough
When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up
I ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but I know enough
-- to know
If you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough

In 2006, the Redondo Beach quartet the Smut Peddlers updated “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb” as a blistering punk cri de Coeur. And now, with the release of a third movie, producer Spike Jonze enlisted his ex-girlfriend, Karen O, the yowling frontwoman for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,  to reboot the song again.

“I wanted it to be in the end credits because I love the feeling of it,” Jonze said last week. “We were thinking, ‘Who would do it who could bring different emotion and sentiment to it?’ And then instantly, we though Karen would be amazing.”

After all, O had provided original songs to the soundtrack for the last film Jonze directed, “Where the Wild Things Are” and was in Los Angeles in August just as production on "Jackass 3D" was finishing.

Friendly with both Wade and Knoxville, she agreed to record “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb” in a session that took place one night at the home of Jonze’s brother, Sam Spiegel, a.k.a. Squeak E. Clean -- a composer-producer-DJ who just happens to have produced the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ second album, “Show Your Bones.”

“She’s able to channel what she’s feeling into what she makes so deeply,” Jonze said. “She channeled all the affection she feels for Roger into the song.”

Absent any of the shriek-tacular screams and aggro alt-rock posturing for which she is best known, O’s stripped-down acoustic rendition of “If You’re Gonna Be Dumb” is almost lullaby-like. She tamps down some of the songs' inherent silliness, making Wade’s ruminations on self-harm sound almost wistful.

On a chorus toward the end of the tune, she is joined by the rest of the “Jackass” crew: Knoxville, Stephen “Steve-O” Glover, Chris Pontius, Jason “Wee-Man” Acuna, Preston Lacy, Bam Margera, Ehren McGhehey, Ryan Dunn and the movie’s director, Jeff Tremaine.

To hear Jonze tell it, the resulting bro-down turned unexpectedly emotional.

“We got kind of choked up,” he recalled. “It’s a song we’ve used for 10 years, making this thing together. And we’re in there with Karen doing Roger’s song. She’s bringing so much feeling to it. Even Jeff -- who was really hung over but we dragged him over -- was glad he was there and didn’t bail.”

-- Chris Lee

Photo: "Jackass" cast. Credit: Sean Cliver/Paramount Pictures

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