Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner on why she hates Papa Roach’s “Scars”
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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: As one half of Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner has enchanted listeners with her oh-so-heavy guitar and soulful vocals for three records now, including last year’s excellent, A.V. Club approved Civilian. Beyond being talented, she’s also just a pretty nice person, which is probably why we keep inviting her back to do Undercovers, like this take on Danzig’s “Mother” that was eventually made into a 7-inch. She has a solo project—Flock Of Dimes—going on the side now, but she’ll be onstage with Wye Oak as part of A.V. Fest on Sept. 15.
The hated: Papa Roach’s “Scars” (2005)
The A.V. Club: While most people might know “Last Resort,” “Scars” is actually Papa Roach’s most popular song.
Jenn Wasner: That’s one of the reasons I chose it, because honestly, it was between this or “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” But the reason I chose this one is because I felt like everyone’s heard “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” but probably a lot of people haven’t heard this song and I feel like everyone should have to hear this song at some point in their life.
AVC: It went to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.
JW: I had no idea. I guess I don’t really keep up—when the radio’s on in my car, it’s not on butt-rock stations, it’s on R&B or rap stations—so I was completely out of the loop on this one. Andy [Stack], my bandmate, was the first person to show the song to me, and it’s become something of a running joke with us.
It’s kind of tough, because although on one hand I feel pretty confident choosing it as my most hated song, I actually had like a little existential breakdown last night when I was thinking about, it because I realized that this song has probably brought me so much joy—because it’s so bad—that I also take this weird perverted pleasure in listening to it. So I’ve realized that it’s probably brought me as much joy, if not more so, than most of the songs that I actually love, which kind of freaked me out and got me in this weird spiral of, “Well, what does it really matter?” and, “What is taste? Why even make songs in the first place if the bad ones are as good as the good ones?” And then I was like, “Ah, fuck it, I’m probably just really stoned,” which was true. But it’s cool.
AVC: That’s how anything is nowadays. People might hate on Jersey Shore, but they know all the stars’ names.
JW: It’s totally interesting, because I was reading this book recently, one of the 33 1/3 series, about taste. Specifically, it’s about a guy who hates Celine Dion and tries to figure out what other people like about Celine Dion, and tries to step outside of his own identity and comfort level and figure out what could be appealing about something that he hates. I really enjoyed the book. I thought it was really interesting. It talks about how taste is largely social, or at least hypothesizes as much. And I thought about this song a lot when I was reading that book, because if it’s true that there were probably a lot of people out there who were genuinely touched by that song, then I’m a really big asshole for doing this. [Laughs.] Or maybe I’m just coming at it from a different perspective—maybe that’s a better way to look at it. But they’re out there—they have to be out there, people who have really taken something meaningful from this song in a completely non-ironic way. Whereas I can’t hear it without laughing hysterically.
AVC: If you Google the song “Scars,” you can find a site where listeners have commented on what it means to them, like, “This song explains why my boyfriend broke up with me,” and, “This song reminds me not to be too caring [toward] people,” and so on. You should check it out.
JW: Oh, wow. I’m going to. I think it might bum me out in exactly the way I was just talking about. I assumed as much, because songs don’t get popular unless they resonate with a lot of people. There are a lot of people out there who clearly have connections with the song in some way, which is fascinating.
We should start from the beginning, though. When I heard this song for the first time, it sounded like “Butt Rock Band Goes To Therapy And Picks Up A Few Therapy Buzz Phrases And Then Writes a Song.” It was also like “Singer Of Said Butt Rock Band Discovers What A Metaphor Is.”
I think the best quatrain in the whole thing is, [singing] “That you’re drowning in the water / So I offered you my hand / Compassion’s in my nature / Tonight is our last stand” “Compassion’s in my nature”—that line does not belong in any song, ever.
In this song, you’ve got, “Can’t help you fix yourself,” and all these kind of therapy catchphrases, and then you’ve also got the really heavy-handed metaphor thrown in there of, “I tear my heart open / I sew myself shut / My weakness is that I care too much / And my scars remind me that the past is real.” But when I get to the “You’re drowning in the water,” and then all of a sudden water is involved—that always gets me, that line. It’s hysterical. Even now, in the moment, I’m actually feeling really bad, picking this person’s song apart, because how could it not be completely genuine, when you read these lyrics?
AVC: Allegedly it’s about the singer, Jacoby Shaddix, intentionally hurting himself and ending up in the hospital. It’s supposed to tell the story of a horrible night in Vegas that changed his life or whatever. He’s said that this song saved his life.
JW: Wow. That’s crazy. That’s heavy. And also he refers to another person—“I can’t help you fix yourself.” So I kind of think it is about getting out of a broken relationship, a destructive relationship.
AVC: The video has that girl that drinks too much and burns the house down.
JW: I guess it’s just that they have this super heavy-handed metaphor that both breaks my heart and kind of brings me into hysterics every time I hear it. And also the video is a really funny use of that, too, because it turns out at the end, they’re actually performing in the ashes of the house that they once partied in or whatever.
Oh man, I don’t know if I’m mean enough for this. Now I just feel bad for these people. I feel really sad. [Laughs.]
AVC: It’s possible to legitimately not like a song. You can be a nice person but say, “Yeah, I’m just not that into your song.” If someone said to Wye Oak, “Sorry, I don’t like your band very much,” you wouldn’t take it personally, right?
JW: No, and actually I’m a huge proponent of people not taking something as subjective as taste personally. I think a lot of people make that mistake of thinking of it as a personal attack, but it’s simply just a matter of taste. And there’s absolutely nothing in the world that’s universally liked. If that’s what you’re striving for, then a) it’s impossible to begin with, and b) you’re probably going to end up somewhere in the milquetoast, bland region right in the middle.
So, you know, it’s cool to not like things, but I guess now that I’m sitting here staring at this guy’s lyrics, because it’s so heartfelt and like you said, it was a life-saving song, for some reason I feel like I’m having a hard time picking it apart the way that I do when I’m just laughing at it when I hear it.
AVC: It’s respectable that you’ve put thought into this, though. You’re not just like, “Well, Papa Roach—fuck them.”
JW: That’s why I was saying I kind of had a little bit of a breakdown with it, because last night I was thinking about it and also having read that book that I was talking about, I was just like, “Man, you know, this song means something to a lot of people. Who am I to say that this song is the worst song of all time?” And I guess that’s not what the feature is… the song is most hated song. It doesn’t mean that it is objectively bad, or that I’m trying to say that it is objectively bad. Disclaimer, everybody!
AVC: Why didn’t you pick “Thank God I’m A Country Boy”?
JW: Oh God, that song is fucking irritating as shit, that’s why. It’s the most fucking irritating song I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It never changes, goes on forever. I listened to it a couple days ago, just to try and decide whether I was going to use that song or this song, and I couldn’t actually get through it. I looked down and I was like, “This must be, like, a six-minute song,” and it’s three minutes long. But it never changes. The melody is just relentless and irritating. Also, the Baltimore Orioles—my hometown baseball franchise—inexplicably use the song for the seventh-inning stretch, which always struck me as totally insane, because Baltimore City couldn’t be a farther universe from the universe that that song describes. It’s bizarre. And it’s always pissed me off because, not only is it irritating, but it also makes no sense.
AVC: John Denver isn’t from Baltimore, is he?
JW: No, not at all. There’s really no reason.
AVC: Well, they do “Sweet Caroline” in Boston and Neil Diamond’s certainly not from there.
JW: That’s true. But that song is, I would say, less annoying—although it is irritating—than “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” makes me seriously want to kill somebody. Seems like a nice guy, John Denver. Sweet, sweet guy. Cutie pie. R.I.P. But, Jesus Christ, that song.
AVC: Well, hopefully you won’t run into Papa Roach somewhere.
JW: Yeah, I mean, I don’t anticipate it, but that’s the thing. I don’t want to shit all over this guy’s emotional breakthrough, you know? But I will say that he needed a little bit of work on his use of metaphor, because… wow. Also, musically—we’re focusing on lyrics here—but musically, I think the thing that really, really just grates on me is when the drums kick in during the verses, and it’s just this fucking horrible semi-swung beat that is just so… something about it makes my blood boil. But I guess it manifests itself in laughter. You can tell it was one of those moments when they were like, “Oh, shit, let’s do this,” and it was like, “Yeah, good idea, bro,” and it is just wretched.
AVC: You’re allowed to not like something as long as you have a valid argument.
JW: “Drowning in the water,” man. That’s like… if my argument can be distilled down into one thing, just focus on those four lines: “You’re drowning in the water / So I offered you my hand / Compassion’s in my nature / Tonight is our last stand.” “Compassion’s in my nature” comes out of nowhere!
AVC: “Tonight is our last stand” doesn’t work, either.
JW: Yeah, it just seems like it’s injected into it because it rhymes. Also, the breakdown—we didn’t even talk about the breakdown at the end! Just when you think it’s going to be over, it goes into when he screams, “Go fix yourself.” [Sings over-earnestly] “I can’t help you fix yourself / But at least I can say I tried.” Oh God, it’s so good. And honestly, I’m absolutely a proponent of people who are troubled trying to kind of broaden their emotional horizons, and it seems like a lot of these phrases were introduced into the vocabulary of this person kind of late in the game. So, you know, I’m a fan of it. I’m a fan of it, but when I hear it in song form, I’m not entirely sure how to take it. I hate that shit, is what I’m trying to say. [Laughs.] I fucking hate that shit. [Wryly] But maybe it just hits too close to home, you know?
AVC: You care too much.
JW: Maybe my weakness is that I care too much, and that’s why I can’t talk that much shit about this song without feeling guilty. And now I’m going to feel guilty for the rest of the day. [Laughs.] Because my weakness is that I care too much. Ain’t it the truth!