Today in TV land, I was asked a number of direct and incisive questions on the spot, in order to test how good my reflexes were on camera. It was fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate) for those behind the monitors that one of those pertained to a story which I have been preparing to tell to a screen audience for years. When primed for their most embarassing moment, I imagine lots of people regale their audience with tales of falling down the stairs, peeing their pants, losing their virginity in the most unlikely of circumstances or walking into a glass door (NB: I have done many of these things, also.) But mine, true to form, is music related. When I was 13, there used to be a Channel [V] live studio in an entertainment precinct that also housed a cinema, called Fox Studios. One day when walking out of some crap film, I hear guitars cranking and rushed over to behold Wheatus, the band that nobody cared about but me for one split second, preparing to do a rendition of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ live. I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d always wanted to be involved in rock n’ roll (and yes, I now truly appreciate how terrible that sounds) and there was a Real Live Band in front of me. Of course, that is probably what clouded my vision and my hearing, so that when Brendan B. Brown, that hero of triple alliteration, asked for all the girls to come up and sing the Middle 8, I naturally jumped on stage with them. Somewhere deep in the archives of music TV land, there is footage of me singing ‘I’ve got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby…’ in a voice that would be considered falsetto – except it was my natural range at the time – entirely surrounded by teenage girls. I say ‘vaults’ now, because at the time, Channel [V] aired this version for like a year every time the song was requested.
So why are Wheatus so embarassing? Is it because when they got dropped from Columbia Records soon after their first and only real hit that they decided to take the high road and release an album that used spoonerisms (‘Suck Fony’) to jab at theur old label? Is it because they combined DJ scratching, acoustic guitars, whining and general nerdiness in a way that made them seem like the ugly, maligned cousin of both Sugar Ray and Crazytown at once? Or is it perhaps because this song became the defining moment in the soundtrack to a movie that was actually called Loser, which starred Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari only a year after the former had been caught sticking his you-know-what into you-know-who’s-pie? I’m not sure, but ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ is actually so delightfully cringeworthy that when I went to look for it in my music library the other day, I discovered that I’d actually deleted it. To put this in perspective, I still have two Limp Bizkit albums and a number of songs by P.O.D.
It perhaps because of this very nature of being complete outcasts that Wheatus managed to write an anthem for unlucky kids that unlucky kids actually went out and bought in droves. Not since Offspring’s ‘Self-Esteem’, which, to be fair, had far more balls, had an anthem of self-loathing garnered so much critical respect. And even though they were dweebs, the band managed to get themselves censored twice in one line; the first for calling the singer’s love interest a ‘dick’, and the second for mentioning that he ‘brings a gun to school’, which, given the Columbine shootings only a year prior, was a serious no-fly zone. Was B.B. Brown trying way too hard to be the next Rivers Cuomo? Probably. But unlike Weezer’s sometime’s obfuscated powerchord yearnings, Wheatus were all about being straight-up. Brendan made no bones about being an epic loser, the whitest kid alive in a school full of jocks and cool black kids or probably the only Iron Maiden fan who wore a bucket hat. And he got his come-uppance, because not only did he manage to nab Suvari as the love interest in his clip, but the falsetto ridiculousness of the middle became the defining moment of the entire goddamn song. Ask anyone about it and the first thing they’ll sing back at you is ‘Come with me Friday, don’t say maybe…’ It’s a victory for the underdog, the guy who, like me at 13 (and probably still now) was the lamest guy in the room with the heart of gold. So well done, Wheatus, even though you managed to make a dick of me before I even knew how to use mine, you’re still occupying a certain portion of my mind. Dirtbags, we salute you.
Wheatus – ‘Teenage Dirtbag’