The Lyrical Offenses of “Hey Jealousy”

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.

8 response to "The Lyrical Offenses of “Hey Jealousy”"

  1. By: Steph Posted: 06/27/2012

    And then there’s their other “hit” song – I don’t remember the name, but it goes:

    Anywhere you go I’ll follow you down
    Any place but those I know by heart*
    Anywhere you go, I’ll follow you down
    I’ll follow you down but not that far

    They’d have to bury that bar to get it any lower.

    Anyway, after reading your first paragraph, I realized what a small wonder it is that I fell so hard for U2 when the modern rock radio station that I listened to in high school accidentally played “One” one time.

    *And what the hell does that even mean?

  2. By: William Reagan Posted: 06/28/2012

    Wow, another example of half-assed commitment. A theme seems to be emerging. 🙂

    Confession: Bono might have gotten away with equal lame lyrics in “One”, but I will never know because the band so quickly mesmerizes me with all those textures and currents. I honestly have no recollection of what the song is about–and I love it.

  3. By: Rol Posted: 06/30/2012

    Several good LOLs in this one. And jeez, it’s amazing but I think you’re the first person to validate the vague disgust & suspicion I was feeling back then toward the music industry and its many generic churned-out clone bands. For whatever reason, I guess I was socially isolated enough and/or surrounded by enough douchebags that I wondered if I was crazy, but in fact maybe I was the only sane one.

  4. By: BNB Posted: 11/14/2013

    “You can trust me not to think, and not to sleep around” – there is actually a little more to this one. The original song writer was the guitarist for Gin Blossoms and wrote “You can trust me not to DRINK”…. however, he had a serious alcoholism issue, was kicked out of the band for this problem, and blew his head off right around the same time the band saw success with this song.

  5. By: Joshua Shelton Posted: 08/24/2015

    On HUGE mistake here. You have obviously never listened to Blind Melon. At least not a song besides No Rain. There was NO BAND like them in that era of any popular stature (I don’t know of any period, ever). Absolutely nothing like any of the o her amds listed here.

    Otherwise…good points. Yes it’s a “good” song for an era of horribly written nonsense songs (from a songcraft perspective).

  6. By: Rhodes Posted: 12/03/2015

    Well aren’t you so cunning and clever, you sardonic little fuck? Your overview is simply transcendent; however, I doubt you’ve ever written a Billboard hit and it is clearly evident that you haven’t done your research. It’s a pity. Shall I commiserate with you? The lyrical content means very little to the structural integrity of the song itself. You see, old chap, the lyrics are but a means to an end, if you will, their purpose being to foster a melody. Some bands, such as R.E.M., Nirvana, and even Radiohead (and if you don’t appreciate any of these bands there is no hope for your taste in music – I even threw Nirvana in there for you just in case you didn’t know the other two) have used scratch lyrics that are completely inane and are used only because they go well together. While I will concede that their sound is a bit jangly and is very pop driven (I am personally burnt out on this song and have been for many years), I cannot discount the fact that “Hey Jealousy” has a conspicuously emphatic melody that fluctuates in a way that none of their other material does. Ebb and Flow. As for the first verse repeating, perhaps it was meant as a resolution. Perhaps it was a lazy. It was probably just an effortless way to resolve the melody, I mean the guy wasn’t McCartney. The author of this song was a man named Doug Hopkins, and as you seem to think it was penned by a so-called “wussy” (a scholarly analysis), maybe you should go read his story. Here’s a snippet for you: He smashed his gold record, checked into rehab for alcoholism, and during the consultation snuck out and bought a .38 caliber pistol. Then what happened? It takes spine to eat a bullet, son. If you don’t believe me then try it sometime. These are plangent lyrics with a sugary pop melody. The words are not necessarily sincere within the context of the fictitious encounter, but rather a stratagem devised by a slippery drunkard. He needs a place to sleep it off, and will probably forget all of this by morning. He is just trying to wheedle a favor out of her and maybe he is taking advantage of her whimsical or larky nature. As for “Jealousy”, who knows? We may never know, being that the songwriter is deceased. Maybe it is a common name (like Chelsea) and he was calling to her in slurred speech. Maybe it was meant as reproof or indicating a character flaw. Maybe she was trying to reconcile with him and he broke her trust and went out drinking with another girl then, being the brazen-faced lush that he is, he insolently shows up at her house at an ungodly hour babbling but thinking he was being smooth while he was basically begging her to let him in and she slammed the door in his face so he calls after her either, Chelasiee!”, or shouting back that she was just jealous. Also, perhaps the third verse was repeated to represent that he was so drunk he had forgotten he had said it in the first pace and after he rambles on he repeats his initial request unaware that he had opened with it. Either way, it is insincere bullshit he is saying, like he says, “you can trust me not to drink”, when he’s clearly wasted. And he resolves the verse by saying (somewhat sarcastically), “if you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down”, while both of them know he is incorrigible and, therefore, won’t ever really change. With all this in mind, why don’t you mull it over and reassess your views in a somewhat, albeit affectedly informed manner and then write an unbiased diatribe as I have just done. I never listen to the Gin Blossoms. (by the way, gin blossoms is a slang term for rosacea which they apparently got from seeing a picture of W.C. Fields in the book, *Hollywood Babylon). NOBODY LIKES AN IGNORANT FUCK, ESPECIALLY NOT A PRETENTIOUS IGNORANT FUCK THAT PORTRAYS PERSONAL OPINIONS AND SPECULATIONS AS IF THEY WERE CREDIBLE EVIDENCE. good day, chum

  7. By: Willreagan Posted: 12/03/2015

    Rhodes, I love that you would accuse this post of having anything that purports to be “credible evidence.”

  8. By: Tammy Byrd Posted: 01/14/2019

    Just taking up for people who suffer from rosacea. Gin blossoms actually refers to the red dots and lines that mark the faces of heavy drinkers.

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