In other words, today I will be sharing six songs that I used to like, or at worst feel neutral toward yet respect for their cultural value, yet I can’t listen to them anymore. I’m calling this phenomenon “shrinking off me” because it’s the opposite of “growing on me.” I can be very passionate about music and what specific events and people I associate with certain songs. Sometimes I hear a song once, and I know it’s going to be one of my all time favorite songs. Sometimes it takes a while for a song to grow on me; the first time I’ll hear it, it’s okay, but it takes a while for me to figure out that I love the song. Either that, or I’ll see it in a different way after time passes. And sometimes the opposite happens; sometimes I like a song, but then after time, for various reasons, I realize that I don’t like the song after all, or the meaning or association of the song changes in a way that makes me not want to listen to it anymore.
I didn’t have anything better to write about for this week, and one of the songs on this list came on this morning, so I thought I’d share. And there’s nothing special about six, nor is this an exhaustive list, nor is the list in any particular order. I just figured five is a nice round number, so I’d think of the first five such songs with interesting stories behind why they shrank off me, and write about those. I thought of a sixth before I actually sat down and took the time to write this. These are just my opinions and my experiences; I suspect many of my friends will disagree. If you like these songs, that’s fine. Good for you. I’m not going to judge you for it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these songs; I’ll even link to them in case some of you reading don’t know all the songs. I just can’t listen to them anymore.
Since Independence Day here in the USA is coming up in less than a week, I’ll start with…
1. Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA” (1984)
Any of you who are making playlists for July 4 celebrations, please do yourself a favor and leave this song off of it. At least listen to the lyrics first before you decide… the rest of the lyrics, not just the part that goes “I was born in the USA.” The song is not a celebration of the USA; it’s about a Vietnam veteran struggling to make his way and find meaning in his postwar life and lamenting what his country has become. Brutally honest, but not exactly what we’re celebrating on July 4. This is not a patriotic song in that sense.
This song reached its height in popularity during Ronald Reagan’s campaign for reelection. Reagan began quoting the song (only the chorus, of course) in campaign rallies and holding up Springsteen as an example of the hardworking conservative American values that he sought to associate with his candidacy. Someone on Reagan’s staff didn’t do their homework, or else they’d know the well-documented fact that Springsteen was a liberal Democrat who had been known to criticize Reagan and conservatism in comments made between songs at live performances, not to mention in song lyrics themselves. And I’m so tired of this song still being misunderstood 30 years later that I just choose not to listen to it.
Speaking of comments made between songs at live performances…
2. Pearl Jam, “Black” (1991)
This was a difficult song to stop listening to, honestly, because I’m still going to say it’s a beautiful song, in a dark way. It’s so sad and full of anguish, just like me sometimes. The reason I’m not listening to this anymore has nothing to do with the song or the lyrics itself; it’s more of a personal vendetta against Eddie Vedder. (I could have just as easily included Alive or Even Flow or any other Pearl Jam song on this list, I don’t listen to any of them anymore after this, but I chose Black because it’s my favorite of theirs.)
First, some background information that seems totally unrelated but isn’t: In 2008, the owner of the Seattle Supersonics basketball team (Eddie is from Seattle and Pearl Jam started in Seattle, remember) gave up after many failed attempts to get a new arena built in Seattle and moved the team out of state. They are now the Oklahoma City Thunder. In 2013, the owners of the Sacramento Kings (my home team) reached a deal to sell to a wealthy San Francisco businessman with Seattle roots who intended to move the team to Seattle. The owners never publicly announced that they were considering selling the team, and they made little if no attempt to find new owners who wanted to keep the team here. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a retired NBA player, used his connections to get an ownership group together willing to match the offer, keep the team in Sacramento, and build a new arena here, which ultimately led to the NBA owners voting 22-8 against moving the team to Seattle. As soon as that vote was in, the owners started talking to the group wanting to keep them here, and they sold relatively soon after.
Meanwhile, a group materialized getting petitions signed that would require a public vote for any sports facilities built partially or completely with public money. The rich guy who tried to move the Kings to Seattle secretly and illegally donated a buttload of money to this group. Some jerks just don’t know when to quit. After he was caught, he made a token hollow celebrity apology, but the group still used the signatures that his money funded. The petition was thrown out by the courts because the group didn’t follow proper procedures. I could write a whole lot more on these issues and my stand on them, but I’m straying from the point here, the point being why I don’t like Eddie Vedder right now.
At a concert in Oklahoma City, Eddie was saying something about their city stealing his team, then went on to say that “the people that really f***ed us over is Sacramento. F*** Sacramento. When you think about it, if you’ve ever been to Sacramento, they’re already kind of f***ed.” You want to talk about my home that way? Fine. I don’t need you. Don’t take it out on me that you’re just angry that you had one great song 23 years ago and haven’t done crap with your life since. I’m sorry your city is full of people who can’t get a plan together to keep their team, who have to resort to dirty politics when they don’t get their way.
By the way, If any of you are like me, you’re going to want to get really technical here and remind me that I don’t actually live in Sacramento. I don’t think such things really go through the minds of those who give pissed-off profanity-laced rants before crowds of thousands. “F*** Sacramento. But the suburbs aren’t so bad, and neither are the pockets of unincorporated neighborhoods that the city never annexed.” Yeah, I don’t think Eddie sees it that way. And I could just as easily go on with what I really think about Seattle, but I’m not going to stoop to that level. I’ll just go enjoy walking outside without a raincoat instead.
3. Bill Batstone and Andy Crouch, “To Every Generation” (1996, but see note)
I’m not sure exactly to whom to credit this song. The above link is performed by the band at Intervarsity’s Urbana 1996 conference, which is where I learned the song. After Urbana, it quickly spread to evangelical church worship services and local chapters of Intervarsity and other college and youth ministries. In my research for this article, though, it appears that this song, as I knew it in the ’90s, is actually the chorus of an earlier song (by Batstone) combined with a new verse (by Crouch). Batstone’s original had different verses.
Anyway, back on topic… before any of you accuse me of blasphemy for including a Christian worship song on this list, hear me out. One reason I don’t like this song anymore is because of how it was so overplayed, and so repetitive. The lyrics are very true and uplifting, but I just got sick of singing the same thing over and over again every week. Worship, and Christianity in general, shouldn’t be about repeating the same things over and over again. That’s how one’s beliefs and faith degenerate from something meaningful from the heart into a mindless, meaningless ritual. There is another reason, though. The Church With The Problems, which I have mentioned in previous posts, took its name from a line from this song, and for a while I associated this song with that church. I wanted to get away from that and not think of them, to put that behind me. That was a while ago, I’m over all that, but I’m still sick of this song from it being so overplayed.
4. Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “Zoot Suit Riot” (1997)
Yeah, you know this song, the song with which most people on the outside associated the resurgent popularity of swing dancing in the late ’90s. Back then, I was in college, and some of my friends, the same ones with whom I sang “To Every Generation” again and again and again and again at church, got really into swing dancing. I wanted nothing to do with it; I thought they were crazy and obsessed. A few months later, in June of 1998, I got invited to go swing dancing by some cute girls, and that was all it took. I went off and on for a year and a half, quit because most of my friends didn’t go anymore and the crowd was kind of cliquish and unfriendly, started again in 2007, and have been going ever since. And this was the song that they played every week that got everyone excited, because it was the swing song that you actually could hear on the radio.
The reason I don’t like this song anymore is a combination of the Born in the USA effect and the hipster effect. No one seems to know what the song was about (specifically the mistreatment of Mexican-Americans by American military personnel, and the military personnel’s wives/girlfriends cheating on them with said Mexicans). It’s dirty and inappropriate… it’s not the cute dancing song that some thought it was (and not to mention the band’s name being pretty inappropriate as well). And, it was, to quote the stereotypical hipster, too mainstream. This is the song that people who knew nothing about swing dancing associated with swing dancing. There were so many better songs out there to dance to.
Despite the fact that I refuse to dance to Zoot Suit Riot, however, I’m perfectly open to dancing to this song:
Interestingly enough, I never knew this until I started writing this article, but the lead singer of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies is named Steve Perry. He is no relation to the other Steve Perry, who was the lead singer of…
5. Journey, “Faithfully” (1983)
I spent the later months of 2011 in a long distance relationship. One time, I was spending a three day weekend visiting her. It was an eight hour drive, and when I left, I shared this song on my Facebook. One of my friends, who knew where I was going for the weekend and why I shared that song, said it made him cry.
We broke up on New Year’s Eve 2011-12, and it was not exactly a good breakup, by which I mean I never saw her again, and our only communication after that was a text the next day regarding giving some stuff back that I had borrowed. So why can I still not listen to this song? There are plenty of other things that remind me of her even more directly that I didn’t cut out of my life when we broke up. Maybe because this one is actually about a long distance relationship (in a way). Maybe because of my friend’s reaction. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just weird. I still love Journey, they still have plenty of great songs, but I just can’t listen to this one.
6. John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
Wait a minute. “Imagine?” How can anyone not like that song? Isn’t it about peace and love and unity and all that good stuff? And Mr. Lennon died tragically at a fairly young age! What kind of heartless jerk are you that you don’t like that song?
Unity, yeah, great, but no, “Imagine” is not about peace and love. It’s about atheism and communism. Again, listen to the lyrics. I do not believe that atheism and communism are the ways to achieve unity. We didn’t win the Cold War just so a new generation can rediscover this song and use it as a touchy-feely rallying cry after every national tragedy. Seriously, though, I’m not saying America is perfect, but I would much rather live here than in a communist dictatorship with “no possessions” and “no religion” to turn to for hope and meaning.
Will I never listen to these songs again? I don’t know. Maybe. I can think of several examples of songs I didn’t like for over a decade, then suddenly something happened to change the way I saw them. Maybe that will be another post.