A Chat About 90s Music Videos: “My Own Worst Enemy” By Lit


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc5iTNVEOAg&w=584&h=390]
Brandon Scott Gorrell, Stephanie Georgopulos and I chat about music videos we grew up watching. This week: “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit.

[0:20] Steph: Okay so this is like, a weird way to start, but my best friend from high school got married earlier this year and they hired this awesome cover band who chose to play, of all songs, “My Own Worst Enemy” as the encore. At this point, everyone was a wasted, sweaty mess; but the opening riff completely reawakened all of the guests — myself especially — and we just segued into high-school, headbang RAGE mode. Which is, in my opinion, the coolest way to end a reception EVER. I keep thinking, “I need a cover band who can play Lit at my wedding.” Which shouldn’t be too difficult to find; I guess what I should work on first is finding a guy who could get as enthused about that as I am.

Jason: I suspect you would not have a problem finding the band or the man; this is comfortably in the top 10 most immediately recognizable/energizing opening riffs of the era. The other nine, in some order: “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Song 2,” “Bulls On Parade,” “Fatlip,” “Flagpole Sitta,” “Semi Charmed Life,” “All The Small Things,” “Give It Away,” and Alien Ant Farm’s rendition of “Smooth Criminal.”

[0:22] Jason: There was a recurring music video theme of wigs, fake mustaches and concepts involving a band of rockers having goofy fun in character. I think it probably has something to do with the process by which these bands were chosen for stardom. There was a king-making process that involved a bunch of goofballs with a handsome lead singer getting the Jerry Finn production treatment and thriving off of their charisma and the Finn-esque production value. These bands were made for TRL interviews — fun, approachable, edgy without being dangerous. Their job was to either steal tween eyeballs away from boy bands or catch the tweens who were trying to be too cool for boy bands.

Steph: I remember “Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters and possibly every Blink 182 video ever using that gimmick… but it wasn’t exclusive to music videos. This video in particular brought back fond memories of Kingpin (specifically the combover scene).

Brandon: Yeah but why the douchebag gimmick? I just googled Jerry Finn, his death was of sudden but natural causes — a massive brain hemorrhage followed by a massive heart attack. He not only produced early alterna-stars (The Offspring, Green Day) but Morrissey as well (00s, crappy Morrissey). Anyways, I’m still not really getting how this greaseball moustachioed motif emerged in 90s white person videos. There must be something to which it’s specifically tied…

[0:40] Steph: Is that a rattail beard I spy?

[0:44] Steph: So the bowling alley attire is basically 70s-inspired right, but what… what is the 90s attire about. Like, what is it.

Jason: I think that the bowling attire actually comes from the 50s. The fashion cycle is 20 years, right? So 50s, 70s, 90s totally makes sense (as does the return of 30s swing around this time). Although, I’m not sure these bands had any idea that’s what they are doing. I think the 20-year cycle essentially boils down to people fetishizing their parents.

Brandon: I guess? But it’s not like real-life 90s hipsters ever emulated 70s bowling alley attire, I don’t think. Like for example in ostensibly ‘cool’ videos now you see the fashion elite mimicking 80s, maybe early 90s, 60s-era Kennedys… I’m kind of making things up right now. My point is that you see people in videos today more or less mirroring street fashion. Which I don’t think was the case with this Lit video. And others like it.

Jason: It’s also worth pointing out that this video came out in ‘99 and so was at the tail end of the decade as well as being produced through “corporate” mechanisms. Whatever the impetus for this fashion (street-style, cycling nostalgia, etc.) when it appears here it is a calculated approximation of fashion made after it was an actual fashion reality. Those getting their fashion tips from Lit are about three of four degrees removed from the source, which can sometimes mean a few years removed as well.

Steph: Please never use “fetishizing” and “parents” in the same sentence again.

[0:52] Steph: Spider bowling ball is sweet.

[1:00] Brandon: This video seems to have no relation to the subject matter of the song.

Steph: Yeah, the bowling theme is really misguided. It’s one of those 90s tropes, I guess. Like this, “We’re totally edgy, but most of our fans are 15 so drunk driving in our video is probably a bad look” kind of thing. I mean, look at the Spice Girls. The oldest Spice Girl was my (current) age at their peak, and instead of partying and enjoying their rise to fame, Spice World (if I remember correctly) depicts them as prude 20-somethings getting totally wasted… on girl power. They just DON’T drink in that movie. First of all, you can’t get that high off of girl power — I’ve tried. Second of all, it’s completely unrealistic that of-age women that rich and famous are ordering Shirley Temples at dinner. Which I sort of appreciate, in comparison to the female celebrities 10-year-old girls have now, who are all, “Screw it, I’m gonna leak porn videos and smoke weed to ~stoke the creative flame~ because I’m REAL.”

Jason: I actually have a Spice Girls question since we appear to be on the subject. To what extent did girls recognize them as sex symbols and did that have any relation to your concept of “girl power”?

Steph: The Spice Girls are interesting. I can only speak for myself here, but the Spice Girls were kind of like the pop music version of Sex and the City. I mean lyrically, they’re talking about dating and sex and men, but their personas were more about friendship, “girl power,” and ultimately, feminism (what wave, I don’t know, I went to Catholic college and they don’t teach you that shit there). I’m basing this entirely off of Spice World, which I watched while I was stoned recently, and it honestly made me feel like the Girls were much more than a gimmicky pop group. Womanhood was a huge part of their brand, and the overall message was one of unity and friendship. Men were secondary. Men were an accessory. And in some ways, this is true of Sex and the City — if it were just a show about sex, it wouldn’t have been so popular. It’s a show about being a woman and about friendship. Both the Spice Girls and SATC taught us (in an internet-scarce era) we can express our sexuality in different ways (Mel C. for example — not a conventional sex symbol. Ditto re: Miranda) while still fighting the same fight spurned by a common tie — that tie being our vaginas.

Brandon: I have a theory unrelated to the Spice Girls and Sex and the City. The song is about whatever the lead singer got into before drinking so much. He got drunk but can’t remember specifics. This video is what happened before he blacked out. They had too many cocktails at the bowling alley.

Steph: If I’d got that bombed at a bowling alley, I wouldn’t want to remember the specifics either.

[1:20] Brandon: I never understood how this whiney voice thing that I guess started with Blink 182 (?) got off the ground and appealed to mainstream “disaffected” suburban youth. I really can’t comprehend how exactly 90s high school alterna-jocks related to this kind of music, which ultimately seems whiny. This is very whiney music.

Steph: What’s alterna-jock? Like, skateboarders? I guess I would classify this music as pop-punk, right? All I know is that Enema of the State was one of six CDs to live in my boombox. Around the same time I was listening to a lot of Nirvana, Sublime. All different sounds, drastically different in my opinion, maybe they just offset each other? This is suicidal me, this is beach-stoned me, this is wow I’m actually enjoying myself for once while simultaneously feeling like I’m doomed and no one will ever love me. I didn’t mind the “whine,” is what I guess I’m saying… one of my favorite Blink songs is “Mutt,” — “She’s open waiting for more/ And I know he’s only looking to score/ and it is way too unhealthy/ often they’ve typically/ been starved for attention before.” So whiney, vocally, and lyrically, but also kind of poignant — lots of those bands were. When we got into the 2000s, well, that’s another story.

Brandon: Alterna-jock is a term that I made up just now, I think. It describes this one friend I had in high school who listened to whiny music that was considered punk and alternative but who was also very good looking and on the football team and stuff. He wasn’t exactly a jock because he bleached his hair and stuff, but he lifted weights and had lots of friends. And snowboarded.

Anyways, I could never get into alterna-jock music because it sounds so whiny to me. Every time I hear an alterna-jock song I imagine the lead singer of the band’s face about to cry. This song especially.

Jason: I think the linking factor here is the decade’s infatuation with West Coast culture, from the “easy-going” angst of Southern California and Las Vegas, to the depressive angst of the Pacific Northwest. Even where I grew up in Connecticut, people started to affect a West Coast accent and picked up on much of its slang. The movie Swingers had a lot to do with this too — the music, the style, the “cool.”

Steph: Good point, but let’s not bring up Swingers. The loss of young Vince Vaughn’s fine 90s ass kills me a little bit inside every time I think about it. #GoneTooSoon

[1:22] Jason: I’m pretty sure when I watched this video as a 14-year-old, I was really jealous of their ability to grow sweet sideburns, which was very much among the first social markers of puberty to be strived for. I remember talking to my sister after my first day of high school and lamenting “the older kids all have sideburns down to their knees.”

Brandon: I, too, strongly desired sideburns as a 14-year-old.

Steph: What? For real? Sideburns have really negative, pedophiliac conotations to me. I think I mostly went to high school with alterna-jocks. None of them had sideburns.

Brandon: To 90s you or present-you? I bet 90s you thought they were pretty hot. Don’t deny it.

Steph: Who was 90s me into… Shawn Hunter/Rider Strong of Boy Meets World. He might’ve had like… D-Class sideburns but they weren’t prolific or anything.

[1:34] Brandon: There’s a weird thing here. A cigarette is still burning and he doesn’t know why. Did he smoke a cigarette and take a drunk five-minute power nap and somehow immediately forget the past ~six hours? Is there someone else in the room he’s not telling us about, that was smoking a cigarette and is now maybe in the bathroom, or answering a page? There’s something missing here. I feel like this is one of those lyrics you take for granted but then when you think it out you’re like “Oh yeah. Makes no sense.” Lead singer guy tricked us and got away with it.

Or I guess, I’ve had mysterious days after where I couldn’t figure anything out from the night before. This line seems like a tough sell though.

Steph: It doesn’t make much sense… well, “a smoke alarm is going off and there’s a cigarette still burning” is the entire line… so maybe he blacked out and woke up what seemed like hours later but was really just a few minutes? What’s missing is Xanax, I think. Xanax can account for any suspicious time lapses, songwriters of the future.

Jason US treatment center admissions due to “primary tranquilizer” (including, but not limited to Xanax) drug use increased 79% from 1992 to 2002. So there.

[1:46] Brandon: Was this video inspired by The Big Lebowski?

Steph: This is a safe place right? I’ve never seen that movie.

Jason: This is a safe place right? I think every other Coen Brothers movie is better…

Steph: Burn After Reading is severely underrated. Also, since this is a safe place, I had to Google ‘Coen Brothers’ to choose my favorite to namedrop here. In the interest of full disclosure.

Brandon: I’ve never even heard of Burn After Reading

Jason: Since I seem to be making lists today, here is my ranking of Coen Brothers movies:

1) Miller’s Crossing
2) Blood Simple
3) Barton Fink
4) Fargo
5) No Country for Old Men
6) Raising Arizona
7) A Serious Man
8) The Man Who Wasn’t There
9) True Grit
10) Burn After Reading
11) The Hudsucker Proxy
12) The Big Lebowski
13) O Brother, Where Art Thou
14) Intolerable Cruelty
15) The Ladykillers

So, I guess not every other movie.

Brandon: Blood Simple was so boring dude. You’re just trying to sound refined. I also remember trying to watch Raising Arizona and then stopping because it was so boring. Best Coen Brothers movies:

1) Fargo
2) No Country For Old Men
3) True Grit
4) O Brother, Where Art Thou
5) The Big Lebowski

The other ones on your list, Jason, I haven’t seen or aren’t good enough to be placed on my list.

Just googled the Coen Brothers. Did you guys know they’re ages 54 and 57? Old.

Steph: I have seen two of those movies and I have a minor in film.

[2:03] Steph: I’m really not getting the correlation between getting so drunk that you park your car on the front lawn and an innocent night of bowling. Is it, “I bowl, therefore I hate myself”?

Jason: I’m pretty sure every time I’ve gone bowling I’ve ended up hating myself. And usually I get pretty drunk to try and deal with it, or “perfect my technique” as I call it.

Brandon: Was just about to suggest that we all go bowling but then realized that ironic bowling in Brooklyn is totally played out to the point of seeming depressing. Let’s never go bowling.

Steph: A guy took me unironic bowling on a date once, at Chelsea Piers. Did you know CP has a VIP bowling section? You get bottle service, and like… they have LCD screens right above the pins that play music videos, and it costs more to bowl back there so you’re pretty isolated. It’s just you, your date, and a bowling alley cocktail waitress. Jesus. I want to go unironic bowling again.

[2:08] Steph: It was. It was a rattail beard.

[2:12] Brandon: I forgot that this song was only like, three lines repeated ~four times.

Brandon: It’s two days after I wrote the above and I guess it’s like, ~eight lines repeated ~three times.

[2:19] Brandon: “The Worm” suddenly seems a motif of 90s alterna-jock music video production.

Steph: I feel like “The Worm” made an appearance in some Fat Boy Slim video…

Jason: I can probably name you all the guys I went to highschool with who could do “The Worm” — it was that big a deal at dances. I will spare the reader that list though.

[2:50] Brandon: Feel like I just understood the ethos of this video for a fraction of a moment as I saw the Cocktails sign and remembered suburban bowling alleys set behind huge parking lots and how they were one of the only places my mom would drop me off alone to meet my friends. That was one of the first places I swaggered, like anything remotely legitimate was going to happen at a bowling alley in a strip mall, lol. I can’t believe that happened.

Steph: How did you um… “swagger,” these seem like crucial details.

Jason: I also would like to hear about this “swagger.”

Brandon: You know, like… when you go into a place, and you’re a teenage idiot who knows nothing better than to dress like losers who for some reason you think are winners? And you think you’re one of the cool kids for doing so? When you’re actually just a dumbass mimicking a bigger dumbass? I don’t know if it affected my gait. It probably did.

[3:12] Steph: I’ve been to my fair share of bowling alley parties, but they often included like, bowling alley hot dogs, tater tots, and staring at the baby penis on the cover of Nevermind in the jukebox (I was in elementary school, just thought it was uh… provocative I guess).

[3:15] Brandon: If this song was produced and released today it would be called #YOLO.

Jason: Please tell me why.

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