Cults, Kardashians, and actors putting out records

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The twenty best Gin Blossoms songs


SPOILER: ‘Hey Jealousy’ is number one. I could have argued for one of the other singles, or been perverse and picked one of the many other killer songs in their catalogue, but that’s not what this is. In fact, if you don’t know the band past this song and that other one, you will probably cling to three or five new favourites here and begin to believe one of these should have actually been number one, and then email me about it. Don’t fret, this is part of the process. Soon this feeling – like many feelings – will fade and you will be left with cruel, cold analysis and boring old logic and you will see that Hey Jealousy is the best. It just is. And that’s not necessarily a statement restricted to Gin Blossoms songs, or even ’90s songs or (GASP) ‘one ht wonders’, or even Songs Where The Cops Chase You Around (But You Let Them). If you are new to this band, I sincerely hope you find a bunch of music you like.

Also, ‘New Miserable Experience’ and ‘Congratulations, I’m Sorry’ are two of the greatest album titles ever, so props on that. I don’t know how you can see a record with either of those titles and not want to immediately listen to it.

20. Idiot Summer

Firstly, great song title. Secondly, the two songs Gin Blossoms wrote exclusively for soundtracks were for ‘Wayne’s World 2’ and ‘Empire Records’ which is batting 1000 as far as I am concerned. This was for WWII (and yeah, I’m using that abbreviation) and is one of singer Robin Wilson’s finest songwriting outings. He combines this with a more mongrel-ly vocal delivery than on their album recordings, biting down brilliantly on a lot of the lines. A+ (All the songs on this list get an A+)

19. Whitewash

“This night never happened, if it’s alright with you” is a common reaction to the twin sins of lust and pints-at-schooners-prices, yet morning-after regret seems to be under-represented in the pantheon of pop. “I was nowhere near last night”, vocalist Robin Wilson argues, and it sounds so convincing you’ll begin to believe him.

18. Angels Tonight

I would like to know if they had heard Daryl Braithwaite’s ‘Rise’ prior to writing this, because all the musical parts seem to have been directly lifted from it. Hang on, which predates which? “I had a girl I thought was mine, but I wised up man, just in time” is a great line, although it’s nothing compared to, “as we collide as the lights go out, there’s someone else she thinks about” – which is fairly heartbreaking. This song should have been higher in the list.

17. Cheatin’

“You can’t call it cheatin’, if she reminds me of you” is perhaps the greatest terrible excuse ever, and the kind of people that either offer this up or accept it post-transgression deserve to find each other and live blissful, unaware lives together. That’s not an insult. The chorus is obviously meant as a joke, but the heartbroken country tune it is wrapped in is serious – and seriously great. (Okay, it’s not 100% serious)

16. My Car

Dripping with the type of nostalgia triggered by driving past your old school with only the company of the cool night air, and a pack of cigarettes. “Thinking back on things I’ve done, I can’t forget the stupid ones – it seems I do my best by accident” will be a familiar notion to anyone who ever feels autopiloted through life.

15. Mrs Rita

“Why do lovers come and go?” is a ridiculous thing to ask a palm reader, although it makes for an interesting song premise. The protagonist details years of “swimming in a bottle”, admits his “lover’s will is shaken” and details a new resolve to keep busy with “my books and with my tapes” – all in service of asking the horrendously under-qualifed Mrs. Rita if his girl is coming back. She probably isn’t.

14. Blue Eyes Bleeding

A mock-country tune with an insatiable shuffle, some nice harmonies and the joyous plead, “Are you coming home for Christmas, c’mon pretty please.”

13. As Long As It Matters

As close as the band ever got to Idol-worthy, Garth Brooks-flirting, AAA balladry, rescued from this fate by the tasteful harmonies, the slide into the chorus, and the fact that neither Santana nor Slash was ever in the lineup.

12. Til I Hear It From You

The band’s only song to feature in a Gen X-baiting film where the staff members of a suburban record store spontaneously burst into dance every five minutes. Co-written by pop genius Marshall Crenshaw for some reason. This was a massive hit for the band, although they chose not to include it on their album because Rex Manning day.

11. I Can’t Figure You Out

Just a great pop song, with a killer chorus and some good advice: never trust a guy with a nervous laugh. Not surprisingly, this is another song about struggling with alcohol by a band literally named after the capillaries that burst in one’s nose after excessive drinking.

10. Keli Richards

Named after a porn star main songwriter Doug Hopkins fell in fake-love with, and such a sugary sweet pop tune that the meaning could easily slip by. Keli Richards, c’mon!

9. 29

One of the most tender tracks in the band’s canon, and home to the forever line, “When my lies may seem less than clever is when I fall for it.” Props for writing a song with ‘wishing wells’ in the chorus without it being a) lame b) fiercely unpoetic or c) From Snow White.

8.  Lost Horizons

The opening track to their major label debut kicks you in the face/dick instantly, and takes about 1.3 seconds to convince you this album might be more than ‘Hey Jealousy and others.’ I once stole the second verse lyrics in a university creative writing class which forced us to read/sit through undergraduate poetry, just to see how the tutor reacted. He repeated the line, “I stood there, grateful for the lie” a few times (irony?) before adding, “I like that.” I reprised this theft a few years later at a bullshit slam poetry reading thing at the This Is Not Art festival – back when you could do such things.

7. Perfectly Still

Maybe the best straight-up chorus in the Gin Blossoms’ canon, with a steady, stripped back verse, and a pre-chorus that propels like a car being driven around a town while the cops chase it around.

6. Virginia

Actually, scratch that previous entry – this is the best chorus in the Gin-canon. Oddly enough, both these songs appear on ‘Congratulations, I’m Sorry’ which doesn’t feature their original – and best – songwriter Doug Hopkins.

5. Follow You Down

This song still gets blasted with almost-Hey-Jealousy-like frequency on stations that go ad, ad, ad, ad, Kings of Leon, RHCP, ad, ad, ad, and it’s easy to see (hear?) why. Basically, it’s a perfect mid-’90s power pop gem, with ringing guitars, a joyous chorus, and the line, “Let’s not do the wrong thing and I swear it might be fun.”

4. Allison Road

“I didn’t know I was lost at the time” is another one of those situations that should really occupy more space in the songwriting annals of history (located second row from the back, near the old VHS tapes of ‘The Late Show’). The benefit of hindsight is rarely of benefit at all, especially when it’s mainly a mixture of useless regret and the overconfidence to believe those days are over.

3. Found Out About You

A darkly-obsessed song: half stalker anthem, half lovelorn breakup song, and the last recorded instance of someone admitting on tape to listening to AM radio in the car. “Is there a line that I could write, sad enough to make you cry” is the last-ditch gasp of a guy who still believes he can poem his way back into a girl’s heart. (Spoiler: of course you can’t!)

2. Pieces Of The Night

On those rare days when you are sick of ‘Hey Jealousy’ (everyone has them, although it’s wise not to admit this), ‘Pieces Of The Night’ is the very best song in this band’s catalogue. It’s just so defeated and sad and hopeless, which is the over-riding appeal of the Gin Blossoms and their fucked up, weary, alcoholic world-view. Unfortunately, this was far from an affectation, with the song’s writer Doug Hopkins killing himself just as the band – which he had been fired from during the recording of the album for alcoholism – were starting to find success with the singles he penned.

1. Hey Jealousy

Every line of this song is a masterstroke. Top three? Sure thing. In reverse order? Here we go.

3) If I hadn’t blown the whole thing years ago, I might be here with you

2) Cause all I really want is to be with you, feeling like I matter too. (There’s always a caveat)

1) If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down (Setting realistic expectations)

It’s the best. Enjoy!

BONUS – Back Of A Car

One of the best – if not the best Big Star covers (sorry Elliott, sorry Wilco, sorry You Am I, sorry Lemonheads).

On Ivan Milat, ‘Runaway Train’ and stranger danger in the ’90s

state forest

Christmas, 1993. I received, among other gifts, a Super Nintendo game called ‘Tecmo Super NBA Basketball’ which I preferred to the more flashy ‘NBA Jam’ due to its realistic 5-on-5 play, respect for gravity, and the hilarious injuries you could dole out to opposing players. My favourite was a hyper-extension, which sounded hilariously brutal to my brother and I for some funny reason – and our goal soon shifted from winning games to unleashing hyper-extension after hyper-extension without prejudice, even though we had no idea what a hyper-extension was. Around the same time, a series of decaying bodies were being discovered in a state forest three hours down the coast from us, and news of a then-unknown serial killer swamped newspapers and evening TV bulletins for months on end. I had just turned eleven at the time and was beginning to emerge from the Fraggle-filled cocoon of early childhood into a world filled with serial killers who offered lifts and ended lives with cruel arbitration. Stranger danger was – not surprisingly – at its peak at the time, and my worried mother soon implemented a secret word which we were to request if anyone other than her or my father ever attempted to pick us up from school. Our secret word was ‘ANT’, an acronym plucked from the first initial of mine and my two school-aged siblings’ names. I only got to ask for this secret code word once, to which my grandfather told me to stop wasting time and get in the car, and then lectured me about how McDonalds was “low-grade dog food” when I suggested a drive-through detour.

There was a popular Soul Asylum song at the time called ‘Runaway Train’, which wasn’t at all about runaways but thematically matched enough for the Missing Persons Unit to wedge photos of young runaways-at-large into the video clip with names, ages, and ‘last seen’ dates, like an updated milk carton, or a particularly morose basketball card. (This was localised by state and country, I later learned – although when you are young, the world stops at the outskirts of your town.) As the weeks went by, and the papers kept thudding onto our wooden veranda (and sometimes on the window sill)  various kids from this video – whose names, faces and ages I had by now obsessively learned – would appear on front pages and in shallow rainforest graves, and would be dutifully edited out of the clip by the following Saturday, as a fresh “runaway” hit the starting lineup. I’m only now thinking about the fact that making these edits was somebody’s job. Each day for months I rolled out of bed, thundered down the steps, grabbed the cling-wrapped newspaper from the veranda, ripped it open (which was, and still is, stupidly hard to achieve) and read gruesome updates that would blow apart my blossoming brain, as my sugar cereal sat soggily in front of me.

At the time, my mother worked late shifts at a nursing home and would often get 11pm cabs home, which filled me with a thumping sense of anxiety, what with my daily intake of strange-car-related murders, the sudden need for secret code-words, and a killer still on the loose. My best friend at the time told me someone tried to snatch her brother out the front of our school which didn’t help things either, despite being almost certainly untrue. Each evening my mother worked late I lay terrified in bed, silently mourning and knowing – as I did for certain each time – that she was indisputably dead and in pieces in some shallow, foresty grave. And so, each evening for months on end, I worried, and grieved, and slowly dragged my small self past the point of pain to the inevitable acceptance of this loss: plotting my life without a mother, an orphan Annie with an even more feminine bob, stoically hiding from school-friends the pain one feels when their mum falls victim to an evil serial killer… until around 11:15pm, when I would hear her key in the door and breathe freely, silently vowing to make a million dollars in the next week as a child actor or child inventor or some such thing so she would never need to leave the house again and we would be safe, indoors, forever.

The police quickly zeroed in on Ivan Milat, who decided it would be a good idea to have a distinctive look, leave behind witnesses, and keep items belonging to his murder victims in his house, and he was tried and sentenced to life. Milat would spend the following decade feigning insanity, pleading his innocence, going on hunger strikes to protest his lack of a video game console (yup!), blaming and framing his brother, and swallowing razors. Being the most prolific and publicised murderer of the past hundred years, he was bounced around from jail to jail, and ended up, as if to reward my early, fear-riddled curiosity, in an old convict-era jail a few hundred metres down the hill from my high school. During my very first day there, our year adviser had warned us that when walking around at night near the school, we should put one hand in a pocket and clutch our keys in a fist, with the sharp, jagged part protruding between the first two knuckles (something I still do the in sketchier areas of the universe) in order to be ready. Ready. He dropped this knowledge as casually as one might explain the ‘I’ before ‘E’ rule (which shouldn’t be a rule, by the way), and his negligent, windswept demeanour coupled with this casual fight advice set my new school up as an urban jungle, where danger lurked behind every Toy World or Time Zone. We had a special morning assembly the day Milat was moved to the jail, as parental and student unrest was justifiably high – when inmates break from prison, they often head to nearby schools or malls, where their hostage situation and therefore bargaining position is much stronger. Not to worry though, there was a solid plan, our principal assured us: a new “Jailbreak Bell”, which was just the normal bell, blasted continuously. It was alarmingly similar to the “Bomb Threat Bell”, but held even longer. If the bell sounded continuously for longer than two minutes (with haste obviously not too much of an issue when dealing with escaped serial killers heading towards a school filled with thousands of kids) we should then implement The Plan. The principal calmly explained: upon the inevitable jailbreak, each classroom teacher would calmly lock the door and draw the blinds, after which students were to calmly place their chairs on top of their desks and calmly crawl underneath. Calm. Impenetrable.

In the end, Ivan Milat never broke out of jail, I never learned what a hyper-extension was, and my fear of hopping into strange cars subsided around the time that strange cars became the only ticket to ride anywhere past the outskirts of our town, but I often think of our 24-hour news cycle these days, and of anxious, unequipped young brains being hit with an avalanche of suicide bombers, food allergies, mosquitoes and rivers carrying diseases, cops who shoot kids, and all the ugly worst of it – while being given no historical or statistical context in which to place this information; freely dealt out to them between cat videos and Carpool Karaoke on phones that live in their pockets. It makes me long for a world where news was delivered on paper in the morning and television at night. At least then, parents could hide the more gruesome pages, and switch the evening news to ‘Home and Away’, the tales from a blissful seaside town where all the kids were orphans, people regularly perished before they hit 30, and drownings, septicemia, car-crashes, and bushfires were at least dealt out evenly, and scored with dramatic music. Those were the days…


On Ivan Milat, ‘Runaway Train’ and stranger danger in the ’90s

Grease Isn’t The Family Friendly Film You Remember

The Dark Days Of Disney: Slavery, Propaganda, Animal Cruelty, And More

Say Hello To Your Friends

Love vs. Lust

Unravelling The Mystery Of Jesus Christ The Saviour: How Hillsong Toppled Nick Cave

Nobody Mentioned There’d Be Women Dunking At The Olympics

Compact Discs Are For Lovers

Remembering Shane Parrish, 18 Years On From His Untimely Death

Hillsong and the resurrection of Justin Bieber

Don’t Blame The Beatles: Famous musicians in the mix with Charles Manson: #1 – Dennis Wilson

Don’t Blame The Beatles: Famous musicians in the mix with Charles Manson: #2 – The Mamas and the Papas

Don’t Blame The Beatles: Famous musicians in the mix with Charles Manson: #3 – Neil Young

A Horrible U.S. Child Beauty Pageant Is Coming To Melbourne Next Month

MJ, Tupac, Hendrix and Buckley: Stop Messing With Every Dead Artist’s Legacy

Why Did A Major Label Just Pay $1.5 Million For A 15-Year-Old White Rapper?




Grease Isn’t The Family Friendly Film You Remember


Originally published on JUNKEE – November 15, 2013

Grease The Musical is currently playing in Sydney. This is the Millsy-as-Travolta, colourful sing-song-fest we’ve been bombarded with TV ads about, which make the ’50s seem like a haven of first dates, drive-in movies, bobby-socks, archaic slang, and spontaneous sing-alongs.

I went to see it last week and it’s fun, but not in the backhanded way you’d use that term to describe a friend’s sloppy punk band. It’s just really fun. Millsy proves himself to be a triple-threat (singing/acting/Paris), and the entire cast effortlessly encapsulates all there is to love about the world of Grease. Despite being firmly promoted as a family-fun journey to a simpler time, Grease actually offers up some of the worst life advice since those Thalidomide adverts in the late ’50s.

Firstly, a few things to note if you are planning to see the theatrical version. If you are one of those types that has the entire film memorised beat-by-beat, Rain Man-style, then watching Grease The Musical will feel akin to when Rain Man’s baseball cards get shuffled out of order and he freaks out. You’ll be thinking (yelling), “That scene doesn’t come this early!”, “They skipped the diner scene!”, “Those two are in the wrong order!”, “Sunny is meant to say that!”, “Rizzo doesn’t say that!”; it’s a hard row to hoe.

To make this rattling experience more brutal is the fact that all the words are slightly different, even though the sentiment and trajectory is exactly the same. Have you seen early episodes of the US version of The Office, where they thesaurus the script in order to provide a slight point of difference? It seems much like that, although it is also possible they are, in fact, performing a word-perfect version of the original 1972 Broadway version, and Travolta and Newton-John adlibbed it up on-set like a pair of Hollywood upstarts. (On the plus side, it took the theatre version and its different delivery for me to realise they’d used the term ‘foam domes’ early in the film to describe girls at Rydell High who stuff their bras. Foam domes!)

Despite these thudding, sudden changes (in truth they are extremely slight unless you imbibe the film regularly and religiously), the original moral core remains intact, and it remains as gloriously rotten as ever. The songs, the love story, the dancing, the fashion, and the rose-coloured glasses through which the entire film was shot have all made this one of the most beloved films of our time. Young kids perform the songs at school, generations watch it together, and it sits in either the ‘family’ or ‘musical’ section in video stores, the two more benign areas of the sex-and-gore bomb-field that is a family outing to a regular video store (people still do that, right?). Yet, Grease contains a lot of morally dubious ‘lessons’ behind its Pleasantville front, and it’s about time we dusted off that VHS copy, ordered a single malt while the video rewinds, order another while we angrily fast-forward through the piracy warnings and outmoded ‘previews’ — wait, was that Kindergarden Cop? — and revisit Rydell High.

The moral of the entire film is ‘You need to change who you fundamentally are, in order to achieve happiness and get what you want.’

There’s a touching scene that serves as the final turning point of the film where Sandy is sitting alone, watching the love of her teenage life being furiously celebrated for winning a dangerous car race. It is amidst this glory that Sandy finally realises how silly she has been to hold steady to the lessons and guidance her Australian parents bestowed upon her, and that the only things holding her happiness back are her lousy virginity, unwillingness to drink or smoke cigarettes, stifled dress-sense, and pesky moral code. And so she finds the tightest, leather outfit in the greater Rydell district, heat-shrinks it a little, and slides it on. I assume she borrowed the fuck-off heels from Rizzo. Then she presumably spends an hour or so smoking cigarette after cigarette, because the next one we see her puffing onscreen is too graceful considering her poor, spluttering previous attempt.

Meanwhile, Danny is firmly entrenched in the jock world (well, he is wearing the jacket) and seems to be convinced this sudden change will win Sandy over. He is putting in the effort; he even wore gym shorts at one stage. When his friends come over and tease the shit out of him for wearing a Letterman jacket, he clearly hates how he looks and what he’s allowed himself to compromise (although, he did just put on a jacket), but he knows it needs to be done to win the love of his (suspiciously-stubbled) teenage life. They meet at the post-graduate carnival that every school throws for their outgoing seniors, are both shocked and thrilled by each other’s complete transformations, and begin declaring their primal ‘wants’ in song-form. It’s “electrifying”, and it ends in everyone living happily ever after: repressed, ticking time-bombs.

Teen pregnancy is a drag… on the guy

When you are, say, pre-13 or 14, you completely miss the entire pregnancy thread in Grease. It’s woven fairly heavily throughout the final half of the film and quite explicitly stated (albeit hidden behind clouds of ‘50s slang), but it also disappears quite quickly, like a lot of pregnancy scares do. Basically, Kenickie and Rizzo are getting hot and heavy in Kenickie’s new “ultramatic” ride, and Rizzo is clearly all about what is happening. It’s a major piece of machinery, after all (more on that later). The car gets rammed and Kenickie’s condom breaks — a condom he’d been carrying on his person since the 8th grade. They figure “fuck it”, continue having sex anyway because “I don’t want to die a virgin” (not the soundest reasoning, but quite realistic), and science happens.

Anyway, Rizzo discovers she is late, confides in that blabbermouth one Marty, and of course, news of it shoots through the drive-in faster than Danny Zuko in a T-bird racing Thunder Road for pink-slips. Kenickie hears the news, immediately flips, and confronts Rizzo. She tells him not to worry, and that it isn’t his, and the relief rushes through him faster than Danny Zuko in a T-bird racing Thunder Road for pink-slips. Obviously, although Rizzo is a bit of a stop-out chick, as evidenced in her touching stop-out chick anthem ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’, she is mostly all talk, and Kenickie soon realises it may just be his future-child, at which point he bumbles an offer of help, which could be read as “Let’s solve this problem together, honey.” At the end of the film when she realises it was just a scare, Kenickie doesn’t, for one second, hide his complete joy at this situation, literally lifting her off the ground, yelling, cheering, and quickly spreading the news that Rizzo isn’t about to ruin his T-birdin’ life anymore.

A teenage girl’s virginity is a thing to be mocked

“Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity,” begins the song Rizzo sings to openly mock Sandy in front of her new friend group. Rizzo is the popular girl in the popular group and all the other girls gleefully join in on the fun, so this scene wasn’t written to further Rizzo’s complex system of bullying and self-consciousness — it was simply to display the fact that Sandy doesn’t belong in the cool group because of such primness as coughing from a cigarette, not being able to guzzle cheap wine from a bottle like a train-hopper, and, worst of all, being a virgin.

The fact that Rizzo, moments later, literally climbs down a drainpipe to go and have sex shouldn’t be read into too heavily (she even suggests a threesome with Kenickie and Danny. Re-watch it, she really does). Elsewhere in the film, Putzie (blonde guy in the cool gang) and Eugene (nerd, secret breakout character) are both mocked for their perceived virginity, which makes this less about gender and more about complete horribleness, which is better, I suppose?

A car is a “real pussy wagon” in which a young guy will “be gettin’ lots of tit” (singular)

The ‘Greased Lightning’ scene is troubling mostly because your younger sister, older brother, and everyone in-between has sang this song in churches, school halls, and bedrooms. But once you take a closer look at the scene, you’ll release the entire thing is one big dick joke.

The car acts as a thinly veiled phallic symbol: during the song, the characters procure cling wrap from somewhere and wrap the car in it, and fluffy dice are shot into the sky as a subtle “get your rocks off” gesture. And the lyrics themselves make no bones about being about boning: “You know that ain’t no shit, we’ll be getting lots of tit”; “You know that I ain’t braggin’, she’s a real pussy-wagon”; “With new pistons, plugs and shocks, I can get off my rocks”; and “the chicks’ll cream” are all tossed off (yup) as if your mum and your younger sister aren’t sitting next to you watching a film that sat next to To Grandmother’s House We Go at the video store.