Future Of The Left’s Andrew Falkous hates on Mr. Big’s monster ballad “To Be With You”
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In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Andrew Falkous, singer-guitarist for the gleefully hateful band Future Of The Left, and former frontman of the similarly cynical Mclusky. Falkous is responsible for such angry anthems as “Fuck This Band” and “Robocop 4—Fuck Off Robocop,” so he seemed a natural fit to discuss a particular song that makes his blood boil. (He had plenty to choose from.) Future Of The Left is in the midst of an American tour behind The Plot Against Common Sense.
The hated: Mr. Big, “To Be With You” (1991)
Andrew Falkous: There are so many songs to dislike or hate in this world, and as you’re probably aware, my character naturally lends itself to negativity. But I must admit to struggling with this one. I tried to think about songs I hate on an ideological level, and there are so many of them, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Then there are songs you hate because of the people you know who listen to them. For example, I hate The Smiths because of an ex-girlfriend, not because of how The Smiths sound. And then there are bands like Limp Bizkit, who popularized shorts onstage, which is an unforgiveable crime unless it’s a drummer. This song reminds me of two anecdotes, one from my youth and one from what you might refer to as my post-youth. And I feel terrible saying this, because it’s such an easy target, but it’s “I’m The One Who Wants To Be With You” by Mr. Big. [Actual title: “To Be With You”—ed.]
AVC: I can’t hear it in my mind, and I won’t ask you to sing it.
AF: You would have to have pictures of me doing obscene and unwelcome things with a series of farm animals before I would sing this song to you. If you can imagine “More Than Words” by Extreme, but played less for laughs, then you have “To Be With You” by Mr. Big.
AVC: Was it a hit?
AF: It exists at the edge of my consciousness. It’s a distant dream of a time when acoustic guitars existed to be played, and not smashed over the heads of well-wishers. Mr. Big was a group featuring—and I use that term loosely—Paul Gilbert, who is the kind of guitarist beloved of people who buy guitar magazines, your tippy-tappy, 7,000-note-a-second characters. They were just a big old American FM-radio kinda rock band, and this was their ballad. This was their let’s-get-high-school-girls-to-listen-to-us moment, as well as awkward high-school boys. It’s a song that should be in the dictionary next to the word insipid. It has no redeeming qualities. I’m struggling to explain to you why I hate it, because simply listening to the song is enough. It’s like trying to satirize the presidential elections. How do you do that, when the content is there in front of you? You don’t need to find an angle. It almost doesn’t need any comment to make it funny.
I remember I was 16 and at a party. Most of my friends were into Metallica, or Slayer, or Poison, and Mötley Crüe or whatever. That made me, in comparison, a student [a British pejorative roughly meaning “nerd”—ed.], because I liked that exciting Seattle sound that you might remember being popular with unwashed children at the time. I was at this party and I was quite excited to be there, firstly because I was 16 and hadn’t completely come to terms with how miserable I was, but also because there was a girl there I liked. And this guy, Kevin, who kind of modeled himself on how big a Pearl Jam fan he was, he put this song on. And I said, “I hate this song so much, it excites me,” so he put it on again. I might have smashed something. And then I thought, “It doesn’t matter what this night promises. It doesn’t matter how excited I am to be here.” The basic intrigue of the evening—whether sexual or basic alcohol—filled my heart with wonder, but I knew if he played that song again, I’d have to leave. And he did. And I went home. That’s how much I hate this song. I was willing to forgo a potential sexual liaison and drinks with my teenage friends in order to never hear this banal collection of fuck-fluff again. I think this song is basically about being with a girl who’s recovering from a broken heart. But I think that even by the age of 16, we should probably find such subjects passé.
I remember that the video—in an incredible moment of Hitchcock-ian glee—changes from black and white to color, as if to symbolize the realization or the lifting of the heartbreak. Which shows the very simple level that they operated on. I’d completely forgotten about this song, but we played this festival in Tilburg, Holland, a few years ago, immediately after an amazing show supporting The Jesus Lizard in Amsterdam. And if you’re familiar with The Jesus Lizard, you don’t need me to tell you what kind of night that was. And then we went to Tilburg and played a festival—I think it was called Incubate—and the show itself was miserable. It was about 11 people, and Dutch crowds aren’t known for their vivacity, and certainly not for their recourse to applaud if they like your fucking song. Basically, in my opinion, Dutch crowds are a 15-phase argument against the legalization of marijuana. If you want to see the death of the human spirit, just play a show in most places in Holland. With some exceptions: In Northern Holland there’s a place called Groningen, which really is like playing a Viking castle. It’s like stepping into an old dining hall. So we played this festival, and it became notable because Paul Gilbert—who was the guitar player in Mr. Big—was playing the far bigger venue just across the way from us.
So we pulled up in our van and we were sitting outside, waiting to be allowed in to soundcheck. And this woman walked up, and she looked like Kim Kardashian’s mud-strewn aunt or something. Somehow, and we didn’t discourage this, she believed we were Paul Gilbert’s backing band. The term “groupie” can be used in a couple of different ways. We’re not really the kind of band who engage with the classic sexually active groupie, but it can just mean somebody who’s a hanger-on, who wants to bask in the unlikely light of a band. But this woman was your classic case. Like Paul Gilbert himself—and I use this term respectfully—way past her prime. But that didn’t stop us from assuring her that she and her friends would be put on the guest list for the Paul Gilbert show that night, and we made arrangements to meet her later for dinner as well. Needless to say, we didn’t fulfill those arrangements. And it was probably one very disappointed and very orange Paul Gilbert groupie who was forced to pay to get in and see that horrendous display of hammer-ons and a man with a hat on onstage. At the end of this story, I’m not sure if I hate “To Be With You” as much as now I see that the person I was when I was a child is the person I am when I’m an adult. So really, this story has taken me on a journey. I like to think of it as Lord Of The Rings with less Elvish poetry.
AVC: Did you go back and listen to the song before this conversation?
AF: I didn’t, and I’m never going to listen to it. It may even be a figment of my imagination, like the legend of Prester John. I’ve been reading a lot recently about Genghis Khan, and whilst Genghis Khan was moving against the Muslim states—that was in what, the 12th or 13th century?—that was the same time the Crusades were happening. And there became a legend in the West that in the East, there was a Christian king that was moving against Islam, and that Christian king was called Prester John. So maybe to me, Paul Gilbert is Prester John, but instead of flanking Islam, he’s flanking my memories of soft-rock ballads. And instead of destroying the holy lands, he’s destroying my cynicism.
AVC: Now that we’ve established that this might be an imaginary song, do you recall any of the lyrics?
AF: I’m sure this work of art would be online. Okay, I’ve got the lyrics in front of me: “I’m the one who wants to be with you / Deep inside I hope you feel it too / Waited on a line of greens and blues…” Is that a reference to The Matrix, maybe? The pills they take to decide whether to engage with the hippie bullshit truth or not? “Just to be the next to be with you.” It’s quite a nice empowering message if you’re 4 years old and you’ve just been stung by a wasp.
AVC: I just Googled “line of greens and blues interpretation,” and I found an article called “11 Answers To The Biggest Mysteries In Songs And Lyrics.”
AF: Oh my God. That is exciting. I’m actually excited.
AVC: “The prevailing theory…”
AF: There’s a theory!
AVC: “The prevailing theory is that greens represent jealousy and blues represent depression. Basically, when the guy from Mr. Big watched a bunch of other dudes run a train on the girl of his dreams, he alternated between envy and fury.” Does that theory make the song any better in your mind?
AF: It makes it 4.7 percent better for me. Looking at the lyrics now, there’s a lot of “you” in this song. And my God, the stanzas look so beautiful. “You can make my life worthwhile.” He never really changes his tenses, this guy. He’s adhering to quite a traditional narrative structure, and that’s the nicest thing I’m going to say.
AVC: Another person online posted, “I actually wrote to the singer, and he said it has to do with mood rings, waiting for her to change her mood.” Deep.
AF: If it got any deeper, I think it would be beyond human understanding. Maybe one day, Josh, we will all evolve to the point where we can fully understand “I’m The One Who Wants To Be With You.” Or maybe it’s just a futile dream, maybe there is nothing to understand. Maybe it’s just constructed for the sheer love of language. Or maybe it was constructed for the sheer love of money. Like I said, it’s like a watered-down version of “More Than Words.” Do give it a listen.
AVC: I realize now, looking at the lyrics, that I do know this song. I may have just blocked it out.
AF: In the same way you’d block out the news of a really traumatic train crash which had taken some of your relatives.