I’m not exactly sure what recently got me looking into this, but I must admit that I am dumbfounded.
And by dumbfounded, I mean I found dumb. Amazingly dumb. And let it be known that I’ve seen a lot of dumb, and this takes the dumbcake.
Remember Desperately Wanting by Better Than Ezra? If not, here’s the (horrible for 1996, or any time for that matter) video:
My initial thoughts on the song was that it was about a girl he loved in his youth that had a rough life. Don’t know why (I don’t feel like thinking for myself today). Just my assumption.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in this idea (via SongMeanings):
This song is about two friends who grew up together from a very young age. One becomes successful, the other had jokes for parents, goes through difficult times and becomes jaded. The more successful one (the one singing the song) is now desperately trying to get his friend to come to his/her senses and become the person she really is on the inside. He reminds him/her (in my mind its a her) what it was like when they were younger and had some fight left in them, because they were desperately searching for something. He asks her to face up to the people and the situations that broke her down, by kicking them in the face, and basically rejecting their right to do that to her. Show them they never really knew the real her, like her best friend did. The hope being that they both can return to the desperate search for the unknown, that they had both begun so many years ago. (via)
This song is haunting to me. It so beautifully describes the feelings of adolescent love with the chorus. I believe it is about a girl he loved who either suffered from mental illness, a drug problem or some kind of trauma.
The part about the house and the constant hostile references to “they,” presumably her family, seems to hint at some abuse. Later parts imply that her family is denying anything bad happened (as they might if they’d abused her.) She clearly overdosed and got her stomach pumped. Maybe a drug OD or a suicide attempt. It seems like she is now in treatment, either rehab or a psychiatric hospital. It sounds like she has been put on meds.
He claims “they” are saying “You were never quite right/Deserving all the chills” Tremors are a very common side effect of neuroleptics, maybe that’s what the chills is referring to? Either way, “they” say she was or is sick (“not quite right”)and maybe they say she’s making up past abuse. If she were just getting treatment for an addiction, I feel like he would not be so hostile toward “them,” but if they are denying things she told him happened, that would explain the anger.
I think he knows that “they” are telling her the worst is over, but he feels like it isn’t. “They” are just “kicking it over” and running, not facing the underlying issues.
It sounds almost silly, but maybe he feels like they are in a brainwashing, or reprogramming her. Hence, the “turn you on again” part.
I think the “kick them right in the face” part is both him telling her to escape their control, but maybe also to talk about what happened to her. It could allow her to “win the war” against “them” by exposing the truth.
Another reason it sounds like her parents are “they,” and maybe her abusers, is the “baby burst in the world” part. As in, with them as parents she was “never given a chance.” Now they are denying everything and asking “what went wrong.”
The letters part is clear enough, he is writing to her while she is in treatment. At first she was replying but now he isn’t getting responses, even though “they” claim she’s receiving his letters.
It seems like he’s not sure whether they have “brainwashed” her, and he wants her to come back to him, and he’ll protect her. That is, if she “cares to anymore.” (via)
Here comes the dumbcake:
Actually, this song is about something else entirely, something a little darker. Kevin Griffen was a Kappa Sigma at Louisiana State University (I’ve seen his composite pic at the house. Weeiiird…) and this song is about Kappa Sigma (or any fraternity, really, but specific to the LSU Kappa Sigs) pledgeship. I don’t want to spend an hour disecting the song line-by-line, but it all adds up in the end if you know certain aspects of Kappa Sig (especially Southern KS) pledgeship. For instance: “Pass the house, that you never call home” (pledges, seen as practically sub-human were (are) constantly reminded that the frat house is the ACTIVE’s house and NOT the pledges). The chorus (“I remember running through the wet grass…”) comes from a tradition of pledges, on their bid day, running from a certain central place to their respective houses. They wanted to join the fraternity so badly that they never tired, we’re always “desperately wanting.” You can read the rest of the lyrics with the ample stereotypes of hellish fraternity pledging (“filled you full of those pills”, “kick’em right in the face”, “make’em wish they weren’t born,” etc) and it pretty much spells itself out. The part about “the letters have dropped off” is a reference to another LSU tradition that I don’t fully understand (tho I have heard brothers from the chapter mention it), but the “letters” are clearly the Greek ones. Asking what went wrong when u never had it right.. is a reference to the fact that pledges are never right and, most fittingly, “finally figured ouy some things you’ll never know” refers to initiation and finally learning the Ritual, which, of course, no one outside of the fraternity will ever know. Much of the rest of the lyrics are symbolic references (“the door”, etc) to other pledging things. Damn, looks like i did take and hour. Oh well. OF COURSE you must recognize that I am slightly biased (as are all Kappa Sigs) in this reading of the song, but it has been reported that Kevin himself has admitted that the song is about just this. However, as Dennis Miller says: “That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.” Thanks for listening. (via)
What? That is some of the biggest grasping at straws I have ever heard!
That’s like saying Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks is about playing basketball (it’s about this) or Fun’s We Are Young being about the Fountain of Youth (as opposed to possible domestic abuse).
Even lead singer Kevin Griffin denied it:
“Jim Payne (touring keyboardist/guitarist) and I were in the Kappa Sigma fraternity at LSU,” said Griffin. “For some reason it got out that ‘Desperately Wanting’ was about being a pledge, but the reality is it had nothing to do with that. But all around the country, whenever we play it, guys in their [Kappa Sigma] shirts love it.”
In reality, a song can mean anything to anyone. Is it about fight or flight? Nature versus nurture? Analog against digital? Perhaps it’s an unhealthy combination of both above interpretations. The group formed while they were all attending LSU in 1988; in 1990, Joel Rundell, their lead guitarist, committed suicide. Perhaps the idea of pledging and losing a close friend converged into this piece, and we’re all left picking up the pieces.
Wow. That’s a lot of words.
Sorry about that… won’t happen again.
And that kind of ended on a downer.
Hey! At least we can all agree the title of the album, Friction, Baby, is about an infant made of sandpaper, right?
This song is very empowering for me, personally. Whatever the official story is doesnt matter to me, but the lyrics bring tears from my heart every time. I have a parent whos been emotionally abusive and controlling all my life. As a teen she had me pumped so full of psych meds I was a zombie. The lines “your house that you never called home” and “pumped you full of those pills” in particular sting me every time but the line that’s been so healing for me is “take back your life”. My best friend has a similar past and it tells her story as well. Great song.
That’s the beauty of music (and art in general)… everything is open to personal interpretation.
Thanks for commenting.
I hadn’t listened to this CD in 15 years but still a great CD. Wish I didn’t get old.
Desperately Wanting I am sure is about an old friend or girlfriend that went through drugs. Detox and fighting to stay off but getting handed them again by so called friends.
Very sad thinking back before the drugs.
“Take back your life and let me inside
We’ll find the door if you care to anymore.”
RE read it. Its about a friend he loved and was on drugs!
In an interview, Griffin said it is about camping with his friends when he was young and all the mischief they’d get into throughout the night.