Scalzi Shakes His Cane At The Kids’ Music Today

The song in question: “Ass Back Home” by Gym Class Heroes:

It’s a song in the genre of “Musician pines for his woman back home while he’s out on the road, totally not partaking in groupies,” the most famous of which for my generation is Journey’s lighter-launcher “Faithfully.” The song itself is actually not bad, although it’s another example of Gym Class Heroes relying on a guest vocalist to lay down a tasty chorus to prop up GCH’s bland rap verses (previous example: “Stereo Hearts“). But what does bother me are the lyrics of the chorus, in which the unfortunately-named Neon Hitch sings:

I don’t know where you’re going/Or when you’re coming home/I left the the keys under the mat to our front door

The song and the video both establish that the two vocalists of the song are in some sort of long-term, co-habitating relationship; good for them. It also establishes that he’s on the road for a tour while she’s back at home. Fine.

But if all that’s the case, really? She’s doesn’t know where he’s going, or when he’s coming home? Did he not provide her with a tour schedule? Because, you know, when I go out on tour, I make sure my longtime companion, the lovely and effervescent Mrs. Scalzi, has the itinerary in her possession. But even if I or the Gym Class Heroes dude didn’t drop that knowledge on the respective loves of our lives, the fact is most entertainers who tour make that information public. If she didn’t know where he was going or when he was coming home, she could just go to the band web site and click into the tour area. Where’s he going? Athens, Georgia, on April 10! When’s he coming home? Probably May 4th or 5th, by the looks of things. Then he goes out again! Look, it’s all there.

(Not to mention, as the video shows them on the phone to each other, she could just ask, hey, what’s the next stop after this one? Admittedly, the lyrics note that sometimes he doesn’t know where is, or what day it is, but most modern phones have GPS and a calendar app, so that’s easily solved. There are a lot of options here for access to accurate information.)

Likewise: She leaves a key under the mat to their front door? Why? Doesn’t he have a key of his own? Does he not live there when he’s not on tour? The possessive plural nature of the pronoun in this sentence rather strongly suggests so. Can he not be trusted with his own key? Is he always losing them in hotel rooms? Do the key gnomes have a vendetta of long standing against this poor man? These seem doubtful. He’s driving home a motorcycle at the end of the video; clearly he didn’t lose the keys to that. I’m guessing the house key’s on the same ring.

Yes, I know. I’ve drastically overthought this. But come on. These are not lyrics filled with metaphor or allusion; they’re pretty straightforward declarative statements that individually parse perfectly well but which in context don’t make a damn bit of sense. Drives me nuts. I’m glad these two people in the song are in love, but clearly they need to a) work on their communication skills, b) learn to use the Internet to find things, c) go down to the end of the street and have a couple of spare keys made. None of this is hard.

I’m just saying.

(shakes cane)


62 Comments on “Scalzi Shakes His Cane At The Kids’ Music Today”

  1. There’s a comedian (Rob Paravonian) who does an entire skit about why you shouldn’t listen to the lyrics of Pop music. Best line in there referencing Sugar Rays Every Morning. “They took an episode of Cops and turned it into a hit song.”

  2. Damn. I thought you were going to rail against the title, which I think is charming. In fact, I refer to Mrs. T. like that, only I make sure to use the word “Dat” first. We may have lost our spelling exam over at the University of North Carolina journalism school, but we’re still down with proper grammar. ‘Heels represent!

  3. What you don’t understand is, the performer is in Roger Zelazny’s Amberverse and he can’t know how long it will take him to come back, because, walking in shadow can be unpredictable. Double points to him for getting his cell phone to work on the playing card system.

  4. And all this time I thought I was the only one who obsesses over the senselessness in so much popular culture. Fantastic.

  5. Reminds me of the song MTA, sung by the Kingston Trio. Every time I listen to it, once it gets to the line about his wife handing Charlie a sandwich, I want to yell, “hand him a gosh dang nickel you fool!” Sometimes using even harsher language.

    MTA was written 20 years before I was born, and even longer before the Gym Class Heroes were born. Of course, I realize nowhere in your entry did you suggest irrational pop lyrics were a new problem.

  6. Oh boy, now we can have a thread about all the stupid, nonsensical lyrics to songs. I’ll grab some popcorn and enjoy. Let’s hear ’em folks.

  7. A few years back there was a similar song (and I cannot for the life of me remember who recorded it or what it was called) that was about the toll a touring lifestyle could take on a relationship.

    The video, though, had a baseball player, and a military servicemember, and maybe a musician, also? It got a ton of airplay, because with the others (esp. the military family) in there it seemed a little deeper and more serious that if it were just a musician singing about the challenges of touring (which can too easily seem like whining about the price of success).

    So anyhow, I’m wondering if GCH thought the song would seem more broadly relevant (and therefore hit bigger) if the lyrics were less specific.

  8. Phil Royce:

    But this is my point: This isn’t Duran Duran singing “the union of the snake is on the rise,” whatever the hell that means. This is a song about two co-habitating people doing it wrong. That’s not “non-sensical,” it’s just “not making sense.”

    (I’m still overthinking it, clearly.)

  9. Remembered it !!! Fort Minor, Where’d You Go

    (Sorry, that was really bothering me.)

  10. Hey John,
    Are you feeling a bit,”What the hell is wrong with you kids?” today? First the Google glasses, now this. Of course, I’m feeling a bit like that too. I knew Gym Class Heroes were a band, but I’ve not ever listened to them. Until I hit play on the embed above. Not bad, or at least not as unforgivibly bad as some. But, I’m kind of stuck in the past musicwise, and am certainly not the best judge of some of these kids today.

  11. Just as mystery writers learn to write around changes in technology (and I’ve read a mystery in which the private eye had to disable the cell phone in order not to be traced) and politics (Russian villains are so retro), so songwriters need to bring that whole “road warrior” schtick into the 21st century, man.

    Oh, and thanks for the video for “Faithfully.”

  12. Ah yes, John, I see your point. No, you’re not overthinking it. There is a difference between non sensical and not making sense. I’ll have to see if I can come up with some examples, although things are kind of busy here at work, what with tax time and all that.

  13. In my teens I was a huge fan of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (before the world knew he was Will Smith), and I used to think if I ever got to meet him, I would ask him to explain a particular lyric that irritated the hell out of me.

    The track is “Let’s Get Busy, Baby.” The theme of the song is the Fresh Prince taking some guy to task for his inappropriate way of hitting on the female in the story. He explains, “That ain’t no way to talk to a lady,” etc. And then proceeds to hit on her in an equally bizarre (though perhaps slightly less disrespectful) way.

    The part that irks me is when he says, after describing her apparently unparalleled beauty, “I’m losin’ my mind, but it’s not lost yet. I’d pay a thousand dollars just to see your silhouette.”

    Really? That’s not clear evidence of a mind lost? You’d pay $1,000 to see less of her than you can see right now while she’s standing in front of you? Keep in mind that Will was not yet the gazillionaire mega star he has since become. I suppose this can be chalked up to the boasting men use to try to impress women, but i could never figure out how that was supposed to win her over.

    I, too, concede the point that I have overthought this, but still… (On a semi-unrelated note: why does Chrome insist that overthought is not one word?)

  14. So glad daughter is 11 and I can still ignore her Disney/Nick pop stuff. Once she discovers that she can get all this music sent to her radio, straight over the air, I’m doomed.

  15. Ron Mitchell:

    To be clear, the music of my youth was no better than the music of today, either in musical or lyrical quality; pop music tends to stick to a pretty consistent mean regardless of decade. I was just jokingly getting ahead of the obvious “old guy yutzes about today’s music” undertone. I’d rather listen to “Ass Back Home” than any three songs by 80s flash in the pan The Jets, I’d note.

  16. The hubby and I were watching CSI (on DVD) this week. In one episode, a man is a suspect in a serial murder case. His wife says he’s out camping. The cops (err, I mean CSI’s) ask her where, and when will he be back, and she says, “I don’t know, he just goes off for days at a time like that and never tells me where.” Our response was, “Really. Your husband goes off for 2 or 3 days at a time and doesn’t tell you where he’ll be or even how long he’ll be gone. Really.” So yeah, I getcha.

  17. I don’t mind them being on my lawn, I just wish they would push my mower around so I wouldn’t have too!

  18. I’ve always had hearing issues (inner ear infections as a child & finishing off with lotsa Marshall amps; RIP Mr. Marshall) so I can’t understand/clearly hear most lyrics… except the ones I have to sing and then yeah, reality be damned.

  19. @ TransDutch:

    I kinda figured she didn’t want Charlie back home for some reason, though it was nice of her not to just let him starve. Considering she always hands him a sandwich at Scollay Square Station … well, let’s just note that at the time the song was written, Scollay Square had a notorious reputation.

  20. I’m with you Scalzi. I usually just make up a bizarre backstory that makes all the stupidness fit together and then I can listen to the songs I like. Otherwise I get all OCD about it and start sounding far more insane than the lyrics when I rant to my friends about it.

  21. Oh I know John. Just messing with you a bit. We could probably have a long, possibly contentious discussion about pop cancer through the decades. A line like the one you mentioned can knock me right out of amy song/movie/tv show/book that I might be trying to enjoy.

  22. You think they’re bad? The Postal Service chap communicates by hoping she’ll hear his song on the radio when she’s out on tour:
    “When you are out there on the road for
    Several weeks of shows and when you scan
    The radio, I hope this song will guide you home”

  23. Hang out with some run of the mill 20somethings. Yes, it appears they are that dumb.

  24. Surprised you don’t see (and dislike) the obvious sexual power imbalance in this one.

    The girl in the video has very little “hand” in their relationship. She is, after all, chasing a literal rock star. And a self-styled tattooed badboy, to boot. He has all the sexual power in their relationship, and has taken advantage of that to come and go as he pleases. Yes, he could tell her a schedule, but that’s not convenient for him, because he has other women, and beyond that lots of potential for one-night stands. He won’t tell her when he might show up because he might want to be screwing some other woman that night. She accepts this, albeit probably not consciously.

    In this light, we can see her use of “our” front door as a defense mechanism. It is really her front door — yes, he has his own place, and a key to it. But he has not bothered to carry her key, because (a) he has other women; is he gonna start carrying around 10 keys? and (b) why should he? He has the power in the relationship. If she wants him to visit, she can leave her key where he can get it. That’s what’s convenient for him. She accepts it.

    This also makes sense of the otherwise rather lewd line “Just get your ass back home”; why “ass” and not, say “self”? Because she keeps him interested via the one thing she has on him: sex. And she needs to remind him of that to have any chance.

  25. Completely agree re: pop music cancer idiocy.
    Side note: Many motorcyclist’s actually keep their motorcycle keys separately than house/car/whatever keyring for a couple reasons. 1) The other keys will scratch the triple clamp (or tank or whatever else the ignition is attached to). 2) If somehow the key falls out losing it only means no moto, not locked out.
    I keep my house keys in a zippered inner jacket pocket with my wallet, or in my bag on a clip.

  26. Overthinking song lyrics is my favorite sport.

    This might be why I’m not in excellent physical condition.

  27. he’s in a band on the Road makin’ music, if he’s any good then he must be (as per Bill Hicks) real high on drugs. That alone explains everything about the not knowing, keys and stuff.

  28. I remember hearing a song lyric that went “Give me your unconditional love, the kind of love I deserve.” I immediately remarked that if love is actually unconditional, it doesn’t matter whether you deserve it or not. Deserving it would be a condition!

    I got nothing but strange looks for this.

  29. @David Moody – I spend most of my days hanging out with run-of-the-mill 18-23-year-old people (I am just a couple years older than our host) – the kids are not dumb as a set, although occasional individuals certainly do fall into that classification. They do have different interests and goals, but that’s a feature, not a bug.

  30. I have to admit I wasn’t clear if the song topic is:
    “Get (yourself) back home” or
    “Get (sex) only at home”

    Presumably they meant both.

  31. Scalzi: “Yes, I know. I’ve drastically overthought this.”

    exhilarating, isn’t it?


    “I’m glad these two people in the song are in love, but clearly they need to…”

    Stop screwing around, get the Bieber posters out of the locker, and
    get their ass to Social Studies before Mr. Galrop flunks their asses?

    Yes, yes they do.

    “This isn’t Duran Duran singing “the union of the snake is on the rise,” whatever the hell that means.”

    Crap! I grew up on Duran Duran and I never knew that’s what they were saying.

    “This is a song about two co-habitating people doing it wrong. That’s not “non-sensical,” it’s just “not making sense.””


    The lyrics for “Someone Like You” by Adele:

    I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited. But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it. I’d hoped you’d see my face & that you’d be reminded, That for me, it isn’t over.

    Sort of makes one think of stalking and restraining orders….

    “(I’m still overthinking it, clearly.)”

    Bah, here’s a song that isn’t nonsensical dadaism, but clearly the person needs some instruction in basic game theory:

    If I go there’ll be trouble, if I stay it’ll be double.

    Really? There’s a question here?

    Either take 1x or 2x damage?

    I think the answer is 1x damage, i.e. go and accept the trouble.

  32. Too bad the female vocalist has that awful baby doll voice. She turned a forgettable pop rap song into a grating mess.

  33. Remember, John, you could be dealing with the “pompatus of love”. Compared with the Steve Miller lyrics GCH is Shakespeare.

  34. I don’t know… “Faithfully” has clowns in it.

    CLOWNS. *shudder* The fact that they’re metaphorical makes no difference.

  35. I always wondered about the lyrics to Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak:” “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, SOMEWHERE IN THIS TOWN.” Gee, I guess it would be at the jail.

  36. That was _mean_; and also very funny.

    For extra credit:
    Everybody loves my baby, but my baby loves nobody but me.

    Who is my baby?

  37. *snorts* Journey? Really?? Please. The best road song of my generation is Kiss’s “Beth”.

  38. @changterhune: This guy is someone Katy Perry dated before she was married to Russell Brand. Which gives insight into her type (weasel-hipped tattooed guys from who she can presumably borrow eyeliner in a pinch).

    Also, any guy who thinks “We put the us in trust” is funny clearly cannot be trusted with a key.

    Yon hubby’s favorite example of the not “non-sensical,” it’s just “not making sense” song is “Do you hear what I hear?” Every freakin’ Christmas for the last 20 years, I have heard him muttering about how the child shivering in the cold would much rather have soup and a blanket than silver and gold…

  39. Okay here’s a lyric from a popular song back when I was a kid – Johnny Horton singing “Sink the Bismarck”. The song says the Bismarck had “guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees”. That makes no sense. I was only a kid, but I knew that was wrong on at least a couple of levels.
    1. The shells can’t be bigger than the gun, and trees are bigger than steers.
    2. The guns of the Bismarck were considerably bigger than steers, and the shells were not as big as trees.
    I like the song, but that part of the lyrics throws me off every time I hear it.

  40. I dislike Katy Perry as a person, but she’s pretty to look at. Out of all the “pop starlets” in the past 10 years, I like her music the most. C’mon, “E.T.” Was a great song :D

    I generally prefer metal. Not only is the music more complex, but so are the lyrics. There is a Saving Abel song that literally translates to “I like blowjobs”. Metallica, Dream Theater, ect are at least lyrically subtle.

  41. I’m mostly bothered by the fact that she left the door keys under the mat. That is the most obvious possible place to “hide” a set of keys. Is she really that desperate to be robbed/raped/murdered?

  42. @TransDutch: every one of those sandwiches has a nickel in it. He never checks, just swallows it along with the liverwurst.

  43. Alicia Diaz@4/6 11:44 am

    That one actually works though. After all, one can buy soup and a blanket with the silver and gold and still have most of the silver and gold left to buy other stuff.

  44. Charlie Watts, a Rolling Stone who has worked with two men who’ve bagged women into the four figure range, has remained faithful to his wife of 47 years (confirmed by both Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman, neither of whom I want near any of my nieces).

    And he didn’t even have to write a song about it (though I’m sure it would ROCK if he did.)

    These guys are no Rolling Stones. For starters, even Mick told the women he cheated on where he was going and when he’d be home. And he had his own house keys.

    Now get off my lawn!

  45. “*snorts* Journey? Really?? Please. The best road song of my generation is Kiss’s “Beth”.”

    Yay! I was keeping a close eye on my way down the comments hoping to see Kiss get a mention. That isn’t even a road-song though — that’s more of a general “[career]-widow” song. They aren’t on tour, they’re in the practice studio trying to find “the sound.”

    Some of my favorite lyrics to overthink:

    * Poison, “Nothing But A Good Time” — I know what he means, but “If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say” can only logically be followed by “What the hell are you doing listening to me thinking? That’s rude! Can’t a person have his thoughts in private?” (Yes, yes, “If you could hear me think, this is what you’d hear” doesn’t rhyme, I know. But it’s what they mean.)

    * The Eagles, “Desperado” — Like the Thin Lizzy lyrics cited upthread, they lack a certain specificity: “Those things that are pleasin’ you / Will hurt you somehow.” Dude, when you get on your soapbox and moralize at someone about how you disapprove of their lifestyle, at least do them the respect of having all your argumentative ducks in order. I mean, have you thought this through? ‘Cause whenever I see the word “somehow” employed like this, whether in debate or in narrative, I tend to assume it’s a clue that the author doesn’t know either.

    * REO Speedwagon, “Take It On The Run” — So, you acknowledge it’s just rumors, and 4th-hand at best, and that they’re probably false, but you’re still going to use them as a springboard for lecturing your sweetie about why she shouldn’t cheat? Really? I suspect she’s going to call you her ex real soon.

    Oh, wait, the 2nd verse is about how you really do believe she’s cheating after all. What happened to “I don’t think it’s true, babe”? Eh?

    (See also: Eagles, “Already Gone”, which jumps straight from “heard some people talking” to “you’ll have to eat your lunch all by yourself” with nary a trip to “so I investigated for myself to see whether they were right, ’cause, like my buddy REO Speedwagon said, talk is cheap.” Apparently a lot of classic rock songs about being cheated on are actually just retelling Othello. At least they didn’t stop to commit murder before they walked out the door.)

    * Rick Springfield, “Jesse’s Girl” — The lyrics are just fine, actually. It’s just I’ve been accused of overthinking pop songs because one time, when it came on the radio, I started praising it for its use of the Unreliable Narrator. (“Yeah, I been funny, I been cool with the lines / Ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be?”)

  46. George, the main battery Bismarck gun barrels were 64.5 feet long. The shells were just over 47 inches around (15 inches in diameter).
    The song says the guns were big as steers and the shells were big as trees. It was more like the other way around.
    Trees in my yard are 36-48 inches around and are 60-70 feet tall (although they do not weigh 122 tons, as do the Bismarck guns). Steers can weigh as much as 800 kilos, although they are more than 47 inches in diameter.

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