I’m a “do for yourself and don’t rely on anyone to do it for you” type. I’m a “smash a jar of pickles with a hammer rather than admit I couldn’t open it” type. I’m a “no longer keeps a tool kit in the kitchen for totally unrelated reasons” type. It’s important you know that about me before I proceed, because what I’m about to admit might make you think otherwise.
You see, I have wasted a decent portion of my life hanging in the alley behind tiny clubs wandering Guitar Centers, wearing v-necks and leaning into the bar on open mic nights in order to date a musician. I thought being a musician’s girlfriend would be the best way to reach one of my more achievable life goals (right above learn to tightrope walk and subsequently use said skill to escape moderate sized heist)–to serve as the inspiration for a song. I wanted a song to come on the radio (haha “radio”– sorry, that’s an old-fashioned word that means spotify playlist) and have to roll my eyes and give my best “so bored” look as I humble-brag “ugh, it’s that song about ME again.”
Now, I know every song is not a beautiful soul-gripping ode to a woman’s beauty, wisdom, wit and incomparable ability to be everything to everyone (although, if you’ve already started writing a song about me in that direction, do not let me interrupt your flow, you keep doing what you’re doing and see me later). Musicians also write about people they hate, but that possibility didn’t bother me. If a female-version of “You’re So Vain” were about me at least I’d know Carly Simon just couldn’t stop thinking about me. A lot of hate songs are just the musical equivalent of an 11:45 p.m. drunk text “hi.”
But there is another type of song: songs that you think are flattering, but turn out not to be. These songs are much worse than outright “I hate this person” odes because the insult is subtle. At first you’re pulled in, thinking someone had written a heartfelt homage to you, so your guard is down and the sucker punch hurts more. Here are the top five songs I thought I wanted to be about me, but ultimately do not.
1. “Help Me Rhonda” – The Beach Boys
Rhonda! This is great! Your name is in the title of the song! If I remember my Cosmo articles correctly, asking you for help is a sign that he really likes you! Now, what is it he needs?
“Help me get her out of my heart.”
Did you hear the brakes screech to a halt too? This song would be more flattering if it were “Help me make an Excel pie chart” or “Help me with my taxes, you seem bookish” but not as it stands. This singer is heartbroken, going from bar to bar to try and drink away the pain of another girl and on one of these benders he meets Rhonda. I guess she should be flattered he remembered her name at all. I can barely remember the names of people I see at major holidays who have blood relations to me, let alone someone I just met that I think looks bangable. I bet he used those name-memory tricks, like, “Okay, her name is Rhonda, and that rhymes with… Honda! My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hon! And she’s a nice piece of ass! THIS IS CEMENTED IN MY BRAIN NOW.”
Ultimately, Rhonda could be anyone. She is the everywoman in every bar serving as a distraction and nothing more. Don’t be surprised when he suddenly has an early work meeting and don’t sit by your phone, he’s not really going to “text you later,” Rhonda. She’s the girl that none of us want to be, not in real life and not in song. “Rhonda’s” just another word for someone else to use.
2. “Maggie May” – Rod Stewart
“Wake up Maggie I think I’ve got something to say to you. It’s late September and I really should be back at school. I know I keep you amused, but I feel I’m being used.”
Oh college kid, you’re starting to catch on to the fact that you just might be Maggie’s boy-toy, aren’t you? I see why Maggie picked you. You’re wide-eyed and idealistic and you worship her. You sing that she stole your heart, but be honest, she didn’t have to steal it, did she? You were practically begging her to take it. In fact, even when you say “Oh Maggie, I wish I’d never seen your face,” we all know it’s because you can’t handle how much you love her. Maggie listens to this song, smiling pityingly, because you’re her slave and you both know it. Say whatever you want, she knows how you feel. And how you feel is…
“The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.”
Let’s pause here.
I read this line aloud to a group of six women, all over the age of 30. If you are not a woman over the age of 30, maybe you missed it. But for these women it was like the moment in The Ring where the demon chick crawls out of the TV–audible gasps of horror. Rod’s next line “but that don’t worry me none, in my eyes you’re everything” is meaningless. Do you hear me? Meaningless. It’s too late. Everything, every last fawning, adoring moment in the entire rest of this ode is ruined. Every moment in this relationship, in fact, is now ruined. This is all Maggie is going to hear from now on out. Welcome to the world of passive-aggressive comments and dead-fish lights-out sex, college boy. You just took a woman’s worst fears and blindly, idiotically, sang them to the entire world. No eager-beaver sex-slave is worth living with the constant reminder that my anti-aging moisturizers are lying to me.
3. “Cecelia” – Simon & Garfunkel
I’m going to start at the chorus, because that’s the part that’s probably already stuck in your head.
“Oh Cecelia, you’re breakin’ my heart. You’re shakin’ my confidence daily. Oh Cecilia, I’m down on my knees, I’m begging you please to come home.”
Ok Simon and Garfunkel, we get it, you’re really into Cecilia. You’re suffering because of her. Maybe that should be enough for me to be happy this song isn’t about me, but I’m simply not that mature.
My problem with this ode to Cecilia comes in the verses:
“Makin’ love in the afternoon to Cecilia up in my bedroom. I get up to wash my face when I come back to bed someone’s taken my place.”
Wow. In his own bed. That’s cold, Cecilia. He’s washing his face, what is that, four minutes maximum? Who did you even find in four minutes? Pretty much the only options are his roommate or a particularly porno-savvy FedEx delivery guy.
Well, it sounds like you really wanted to get rid of this guy and you found the meanest possible way to do so. At least that relationship’s over with… Oh, wait, the song keeps going?
“Jubilation, she loves me again. I fall on the floor and I’m laughing.”
Really, you went back to him? Well… I guess he has money or no, I can’t do it. I’m sorry. You cheated on this guy IN his bed and then he’s excited to take you back, he’s actually ROFL about getting your cruel cheating ass back in that same sullied bed. Cecilia is a bitch. But also, she’s dating a pathetic loser with no self-esteem. I’m glad those two have found each other, but I don’t even want to have dinner with them, let alone be one of them.
4. “Jolene” – Dolly Parton
Jolene is an incomparable beauty who could have any man she wants, but she hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s simply beautiful and Dolly’s husband knows her and “talks about [her] in his sleep.” Of course for all we know, he’s actually dreaming about trying to line up a photo of Namath in Pisa and yelling out “Joe, lean!”
My concerns with Jolene start when Dolly says:
“I had to have this talk with you, my happiness depends on you and whatever you decide to do.”
I won’t dwell on the fact that poor Jolene has a song with the cardinal music lyric sin where two lines rhyme the same word with itself, but that is egregious. The problem is that Dolly is actually calling Jolene out, to her face. This would be an uncomfortable conversation to have with any worried wife, let alone a multi-millionaire country legend who probably knows her way around a biker bar if she needed to solicit any Tonya Harding-style favors.
And let’s face it, Dolly’s happiness doesn’t actually depend, as she claims, on Jolene. Jolene might stop encouraging any of the husband’s attention, but that doesn’t mean she can promise he’ll stop giving it. Dolly’s happiness depends on the people in her relationship, herself and her husband, and if she’s able to be confrontational before she even knows if anything’s going on, I’d really hate to find out what she might do if her suspicions increased. As much as I’d like to hear that my “smile is like a breath of spring,” I’m ok with my regular old teeth-whitening-commercial-before-picture smile if it means the “jealous wives cornering me for a talk” parts of my life is significantly reduced.
5. “Norwegian Wood” – The Beatles
If you’re going to have a song written about you, you’d be pretty lucky to get a song as beautiful as Norwegian Wood. Somewhere out there, a girl had to grit her teeth and fake a smile as Michael Bolton serenaded her with “Said I Loved You But I Lied.” So, one in the plus column for inspiring a stand-alone good song, and a half a dozen more pluses for inspiring The Beatles.
This song is pretty straightforward. It’s a guy singing about a girl he knew, whose home he stayed in one night. It’s not a love song, but it’s almost something better, because he wants her and she gives him nothing. She has all the power.
“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me. She showed me her room, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.”
So they drank and talked all night. She probably shouldn’t have left him alone in her place the next day, but she did say she had to work and anyway he was so into her he slept in the bathtub so he seems ok, except, wait, how does this song end?
“And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown. So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood.”
Wait a second… what? You lit a fire? Using Norwegian Wood?! But her room is made out of Norwegian wood and OH MY GOD YOU BURNED DOWN HER PLACE, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, DUDE?! I’M SORRY SHE DIDN’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH YOU BUT THIS IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR.
Well, I guess that’s one way to remove the “passive” from passive-aggressively whining about being friend-zoned. But no, when it comes down to it, I’ll skip having a Beatle write me a gorgeous song if it means I never have to prove that my parents were right: I should have had renters’ insurance and never let boys over because they will ruin my life.