Monday, April 7, 2014

Green Day's "Longview"

There is poetry in vulgarity, at least when it’s used poetically. What I mean is that there is metaphorical depth and nuance of meaning in the phrases and words we’ve come up with to insult each other, and that it is lack of attention on the part of the hearer, or lack of care on the part of the speaker, that is the real shame.

Green Day’s “Longview” is an excellent song, and it can be thought of as an exposition of the moniker “jerk off” -- as in, “That guy is such a jerk off.” Vulgar, yes, but a scathing indictment of character, and what that indictment means has hardly been put better than by Green Day.
Whether they're average and screwed up enough
to write a song that will last forever remains to be seen.[1]

It is characteristic of punk rock (and of pop-culture in general) that it poses problems, and not solutions. And it is especially characteristic of punk rock to declare, because no solution is apparent, something like, “Yeah! I’m miserable and things are crap! But whatever, I’m too cool to care!” This sentiment is one of the pleasures of the genre. So, the “narrator” of this song has all the qualities of a jerk off -- and is in denial, just like a jerk off -- but the presentation of the song obviously doesn’t treat this as an endorsement.

I’ll give you a brief overview of it here, and leave it to you to make a more thorough analysis as you listen to it over and over again, with the volume all the way up, seething with resentment in your bedroom.

Longview tells the story of a guy stuck in a self-perpetuating, cyclical, psychological trap. Each chorus begins with his mounting agitation and dissatisfaction with his own passivity; “I sit around and watch the tube, but nothing’s on;” “I sit around and watch the phone, but no one’s calling.” This leads to recognition that he’s trapped, and then immediately he acknowledges that he is the cause of it; “... in a house with unlocked doors and I’m f****** lazy;” “I locked the door to my own cell and lost the key.” Then the chorus reveals his habitual response to this intolerable state of affairs: masturbation.

But that doesn’t solve the problem. The next verse begins with him in the same trap (although a different aspect of it is revealed). In fact, the implication is clearly that his reflexive response to his misery perpetuates it. He bites his lip and closes his eyes at the culmination of his frustration and the fastest paced, most energetic part of the song, and this is followed immediately by the mellow, lethargic chorus. I think Freud would agree; the guy can’t peel himself off the velcro seat, he’s got no time for motivation, and no wonder: he is constantly sapping his libido.

This is all capped with the final line of the song, which, in context, has to be taken ironically: “Some say quit or I’ll go blind, but it’s just a myth.” (Although, aptly, the word myth is pronounced “myaaaahhh” and trails off apathetically.) It’s ironic because he is defending the habit which is clearly keeping him miserable by focusing on the kind of blindness an eye doctor could detect, when clearly he is blind: he can’t see anything worth doing.

There are other aspects of this song (the comments about his mother demanding he get a job, while clearly hating her own, are particularly interesting) but, it clearly gives us a much more powerful critique in the term “jerk off”. And it rolls off the tongue a lot better than: “You habitually turn in on yourself in search of selfish pleasure which makes you unable to properly judge the value of things or make productive use of your time. And you are also lonely.”

[1] I am indeed paraphrasing "Airheads."

© 2014 John Hiner III

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