With “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” the Spin Doctors kicked Superman while he was down

With “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” the Spin Doctors kicked Superman while he was down

The album may or may not be obsolete, but the fact remains: Listeners have long obsessed over individual songs. The Single File is The A.V. Club’s look at the deep cuts, detours, experiments, and anthems that make us reach for replay.

In the annals of Superman villains, few are more treacherous than Chris Barron.

Sometime around 1989, the dastardly Spin Doctors leader sat down and penned “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” which became the lead single from the band’s 1991 debut, Pocket Full Of Kryptonite. Both the song and the album title reference killing the Man Of Steel, and while that didn’t mean much at the turn of the decade, it was a hot topic in 1992, just as the New York City neo-hippie foursome was starting to gain popularity and sell some records.

In November of that year, DC Comics released Superman #75, the famous issue in which a rampaging Doomsday does the unthinkable and kills Superman, felling him with a mighty blow right in front of the Daily Planet building. The “Death Of Superman” plotline was a major news story, and as comics fans rushed to grab the issue—packaged in a black plastic bag with a bleeding “S” insignia on the front—the Last Son Of Krypton was suddenly more popular than he’d been in years.

Capitalizing on the phenomenon, ABC premiered Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman in September 1993, and for much of that year, as the Spin Doctors ruled the charts with their smash “Two Princes.” Readers devoured DC’s four Superman titles—each devoted to one of the individuals (a black steelworker, a punk teenager, a cyborg, and guy in Bono glasses) who return to Metropolis following Superman’s death and claim to be the hero reincarnated.

It may all seem like a coincidence, but as anyone who reads comics knows, there are no coincidences. The only possible explanation is that Barron and those diabolical Doctors of Spin knew Superman’s days were numbered, and as they gazed into their crystal ball, looking at images of the Justice League carrying his casket and the world weeping over the loss of its most righteous defender, they wrote a snarky little funk-rock song about offing the dude just to get with his lady.

“I think I’m going out of my brain / I got it so bad for little Miss Lois Lane,” Barron sings in the first verse. The song is told from the perspective of Jimmy Olsen, a character often referred to as “Superman’s Pal.” Olsen is a young photographer at the Daily Planet, and while he’s traditionally portrayed as a son-like figure to Lois and Clark Kent, Barron reimagines the relationship as an Oedipal dick joust between a squeaky-voiced ginger and the superhero he can’t possibly compete with.

“He’s leaping buildings in a single bound / I’m reading Shakespeare at my place downtown,” Barron-as-Olsen sings, playing the proverbial overlooked nerd and painting Superman as nothing but a dumb jock showing off. “Come on downtown and make love to me / I’m Jimmy Olsen, not a titan, you see.”

Barron wants badly to be the underdog, and throughout Pocket Full Of Kryptonite, he comes on like a lovably crunchy Anthony Michael Hall. The album’s third single was called “How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?)” (Sample lyric: “He only wants a pretty face by him.”) The fourth—the one that broke Spin Doctors—was “Two Princes,” essentially “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” shifted from the world of comic books to the realm of fairy tales. “I ain’t got no future or family tree,” Barron sings on that one. “But I know what a prince and lover ought to be.”

It sounds valiant and noble, but “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues”—a No. 34 hit on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart—reveals the sinister truth behind Barron’s intentions. “He’s faster than a bullet, stronger than a train,” he sings, drawing attention to superhuman abilities that have saved the world—and not unimportantly, Lois—many, many times. Barron’s Olsen doesn’t care that we’d all be saluting President Lex Luthor if not for Superman’s years of selfless heroism, and he’s prepared to put the planet in peril just to satisfy his petty romantic urges: “Come on downtown and stay with me tonight / I got a pocket full of kryptonite.”

Barron sings it with a sense of easy-breezy self-satisfaction, playing Olsen like a scruffy know-it-all who’s really proud of himself for having memorized a few of the Bard’s sonnets and maybe a monologue from Romeo And Juliet. His evil cohorts fall in right behind him, Mark White slapping his bass like it’s all a big lark and Eric Schenkman unpeeling bluesy riffs like one of those guys behind the counter at Guitar Center.

It’s a damn catchy song, and the album is better than anyone gives it credit for. But really, what kind of monster dreams of robbing mankind of its chief protector—the only guy with any shot of saving the masses from a killing machine like Doomsday—just to smooch on Lois? It takes a mad genius—a criminal mastermind disguised as a harmless beardo in a knit beanie. Barron must have seen the future, and this lusty jam was probably inspired not just by DC’s death gimmick, but also by Teri Hatcher, whose turn on Lois & Clark would ease many a young man’s transition into puberty.

And even if it was all luck, and Barron is actually a decent fellow who was just having some fun with a beloved fictional character, there’s something wrong about the song. Jim Croce had that line, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape”—and this was worse. In 1993, twirling to “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues” at a Spin Doctors concert was tantamount to dancing on the Man Of Steel’s grave—had he actually been dead and not recharging in a regeneration matrix in the Fortress Of Solitude. But that’s another story for another song.

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