My friend Ben, who I like and admire, recently attempted to sever our friendship by admitting to having fond memories of The Gin Blossoms. This is hard for me to accept because the band was borne from a tainted era of generic American “alternative” bands. If you lived through so-called modern rock radio in the 90s, you know the crop of crap I’m talking about — it was an endless potpourri of upbeat innocuousness sung by that annoying prick in your high school math class. The bands were generally interchangeable: you could slip a Dada disc into your friend’s Better Than Ezra case and the subterfuge would likely never be discovered; if someone went to see a Marcy’s Playground show and Blind Melon took the stage instead, would they be disappointed? Would they even notice? Ditto for The Gin Blossoms. Even the band’s own mothers sometimes mistook them for Dishwalla.
Don’t get me wrong, I will grant that “Hey Jealousy” is undeniably, even unmercifully catchy. (See the video here.) But if we measure quality by the ability to create an earworm that burrows into the listener’s skull and leave them so crippled that they frantically seek out mattress-store jingles as a means of relief, then roll over Beethoven, because Katy Perry has some news to deliver. Ben’s mention of the band reanimated that insidious melodic virus in my head, and after de-friending him on social media (including LinkedIn, because I could never work with someone who might say, “Hey, know what will make this workday go faster? New Miserable Experience!”) I could feel old questions rising up within me, questions that confront me every time I listen to “Hey Jealousy”:
- Is Jealousy a person? The syntax of the lyrics makes it seem so, but perhaps he’s speaking of an emotional abstract, sort of in a Chuck Palahniuk-esque “I am Jack’s wanking nostalgia” sort of way. Though neither way makes much sense, so this is more of a rhetorical question.
- Have these guys ever had the cops chase them around? Let’s be honest, this band seems a bit wussy, what with the well-washed shoulder-length hair that makes them all look like the actors listed as “Rock Band Members 1-5” in a Disney movie. And frankly, while the video features a vintage 60s Ford or some other retro-approved gas-guzzler, this band is pure Toyota Corolla, and cops don’t chase Corollas — cops catch Corollas. Ten-to-one says that if The Gin Blossoms were pulled over by the police, at least one of them would say, “Shit, my dad’s gonna freak. I’m still on his insurance!”
- Considering the vacuousness of the lyrics, couldn’t you have written a third verse rather than repeating the first? Before you assert that many songs repeat verses, here’s how the repeated-verse device usually works: The first verse seems to mean one thing; the second verse adds a twist; the first verse is then repeated, but has a different meaning because of the new information. For example:
Verse 1: I hate going to Jenny’s house.
Verse 2: I have always ached for Jenny, but she likes girls. Like, like-likes.
Verse 3: I hate going to Jenny’s house.
See what happened there? Verse 3 is a repeat, but it’s more poignant because of what you learned elsewhere in the song. That doesn’t happen in Hey Jealousy. Instead, a drunkard tells you he’s in no shape for driving, and then drunkenly says it again 90 seconds later because he apparently doesn’t remember saying it.
- What the hell is a Gin Blossom, anyway? Is that some Southwest cactus thing, or is it like Concrete Blonde, a juxtaposition of hard and soft words? Watching the video, I doubt these guys drink a whole lot of gin. Though Wine Cooler Blossoms is admittedly long.
- Does the singer really think he’s making a plausible case for regaining Jealousy’s affections?A quick examination of a few particular lines reveals some serious chinks in the singer’s Ring-Ding wrapper armor:
- “If I hadn’t blown the whole thing years ago, I might not be alone” — ahhh, so sweet. Rather than emphasizing your previous inability to recognize someone’s value, just tell them you don’t want to be alone. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to be a convenient port in the storm?
- “All I really want is to be with you, feeling like I matter too” — Listen pal, time to brush up on Wooing 101: Make the other person feel special; telling them YOU want to feel special makes you seem like a high-maintenance douche.
- “You can trust me not to think, and not to sleep around” — Wow, you are setting the bar so high. How could a person ever live up to such a chivalric declaration?
- “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down” — This lazy pronouncement of slackerdom would be awful even without the caveat, but note that he says “you MIGHT not be let down.” So even if you DON’T expect too much (and let’s be honest, Romeo, no one is by this point in the song) this jackass STILL might not live up to those low expectations. Gosh, what a prize!
I know The Gin Blossoms aren’t the only chumps who parleyed a catchy riff into a few years of steady blasting from frat house windows; I know that the canon of banal pop lyrics is vast enough that it’s hard to single out one band as special; I know that many of America’s youth have succumbed to the notion that growing one’s hair out is a sure-fire remedy for blue balls. The Gin Blossoms didn’t invent any of that — but they are the essence of that, the overlapping center of the Venn diagram of laughable rock clichés, and I’d wash my hands of them forever if I could just get that goddam song out of my head.