Now, just let me be up front about this matter. I’m a political left liberal with a liberal arts degree from a Big Ten university. Nobody is more on board than me with this ethos of art’s lack of obligation of moral proclivity. But this song… uh… is a little bit creepy. There, I said it. And it’s “creepy” in every way an entity can be “creepy” — both overly forward with women and also demonstrative of horror themes (these two components interweaving brilliantly in the song and almost blending with each other, too, in ambiguity, as it were).
And to be honest, you’ll never believe me, but I grew up in the ’90s, my favorite bands in ’94 being Hootie & the Blowfish, the Cranberries and Blues Traveler, then giving way to Everclear, Third Eye Blind and maybe Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz a couple years later. The first time I heard “Possum Kingdom,” the very actual first time, was in 2012 working in the kitchen in this pub, listening to our South Bend rock radio station. I didn’t think much of it — it was another crazy song that sounded sort of like Candlebox and sort of like Buckcherry, who around this time was contemporaneously pounding the sophisticated adage of “You’re a crazy bit** / But you fu** so good I’m on top of it” into our skulls. And then there was this crazy dude being like “Do you wanna die?” over and over. I was like oh yeah. He just said do you wanna die a bunch of times. We must be listening to The Bear. There was also this fat dude who would try to attack me outside work when I rode my bike… I had to scurry away from him… it was like being in a human video game like Paperboy, so being inside wasn’t too crazy usually. But the full bottles of Franzia after that job sure tasted good.
But it was only recently that I found out this song was actually ’90s and maybe that’s the thing — it’s too weird and crazy to be ’90s, really. Make no mistake. The ’90s, particularly the part we’re into following Cobain’s suicide, were a time of the world scrambling from things like unprecedented murder rates and AIDS spikes and were looking for musical comfort food. And I’m talking about Counting Crows’ “Round Here.” And I’m talking about Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There.” And I’m talking about that whole Hootie record that I still hold as classic although various parties seem to want to try to tear into Darius Rucker every time he farts out of turn, I’ve noticed.
Actually, even though there’s a video for the “Possum Kingdom” that happens to be really pretty decent (and also which assuages the viewer of any doubt that the song were specifically about murder), the song is conspicuously absent from all the 120 Minutes compilations, 120 Minutes having roughly billed itself as the compiler of alternative’s “darker” or “edgier” side, or more eccentric — talkin’ Radiohead, They Might Be Giants, stuff like that.
But “Possum Kingdom” must have been a victory on rock radio because the Toadies album, Rubberneck, went platinum less than two years after its August ’94 release. And the rest of the album from what I’ve heard is complete dog sh**. I mean I could kind of see playing it as a Spanish Inquisition style punishment for someone who’d just decapitated a gerbil — it’s about that bad — the opener is this grotesquely simplistic “instrumental” on which the inclusion of even a synthesizer were apparently too daunting of a feat on this “abstract” and “ethereal” track that’s about as abstract and ethereal as The Bloodhound Gang. I think the next track had some dude forcefully repeating some meaningless sh** on the mic in exclamatory tone. To be honest I don’t even think I got through the second tune. Vinyl Me, Please names it as one of the “10 Underappreciated and Overlooked 90s albums” and one of their citations of “demented” lyrics is “I stumbled in the hallway, (sic) outside your bedroom door”. Haha, is he being serious? Hey, I give him props for making out the words this bastard is singing, at least. It’s better than I can do. But these guys make Seven Mary Three look like Johnny in The Shining, in terms of lyrical scariness.
Tiny Mix Tapes, to their credit, at least has the good sense not to try to praise Rubberneck as a whole, and focuses solely on its boy wonder hit single “Possum Kingdom,” in “1994: The Toadies – ‘Possum Kingdom’” by Dan Smart, Smart proclaiming immediately that “I’m not, nor have I ever been, the least bit of an actual Toadies fan,” then focusing paragraph upon paragraph on the song itself, unpacking things like its meter unorthodoxy and the meanings of the words, insofar as you can do that. You really run into a problem, though, when you come across individuals like this Dan Smart and other cerebral online denizens when you observe them attempting to infuse this track with any actual meaning. This makes me think that the true meaning of the track is so scary, like there’s a “devil inside” all of us (shameless aside here: there’s a video doc on INXS’ late lead singer Michael Hutchence coming out soon, per NME).
For instance, after claiming to basically hate the Toadies (an opinion on which I’d side with him, incidentally), Smart then veers back toward praising the band: “‘Possum Kingdom’ is not only a complete, neat and tidy metonym for The (sic) Toadies and many other forgotten acts of that era, but it also has the kind of weird, era-transcending coolness and staying power that the Nirvana-dominated radio hits from back then, pervasive and influential as they seemed at the time, just don’t seem to hold a candle to now.” So he’s claiming not to be a Toadies fan and then explicating the importance of sustaining the Toadies’ legacy and notoriety. His reasoning dissolves on site. What’s even worse is that this sentence followed an endorsement of “the significance” of the song on “the 90s (sic) music scene and its impressionable inheritors” and then immediately scampers to argumentative crutches like “era-transcending” and “staying power,” which, though maybe valuable, would certainly serve to belittle the importance of one particular music scene attached to a SPECIFIC era. It’s just very confusing as to what he’s trying to say and equally egregiously, he doesn’t name any examples of what he considers “Nirvana-dominated radio hits.” It’s a complete straw man fallacy.
Smart provides the opinion that “Possum Kingdom” has an “era-transcending coolness and staying power” and with this I actually absolutely agree. Specifically, for me, it’s how Todd Lewis juxtaposes all this murderous mayhem with what’s almost a plangent cry of “sweet angel” that seems to almost rip my heart out. The guitar riff and phrasing are good enough — again they reminded me of a Candlebox type deal. but Smart then moves to this irksome instance of insulting Beck and Nirvana: “So very unlike your Cobains and your Beck Hansens… the words to this song do NOT consist of torn-up strips of tortured private journal fragments pasted randomly together to make spontaneous meaning arise differently in the mind of each listener.” Now, this, while on one count being insulting opportunism toward creating an artificial appeal on the part of his subject matter, journalistically speaking, is also just a bold-faced lie: there’s absolutely nothing “tortured private journal” about “With the lights out / It’s less dangerous / Here we are now / Entertain us” and certainly not “Kill the headlights / And put it in neutral / Stock car flamin’ / With the loser in the cruise control”. In both cases Smart is discrediting some rhyme scheme skill as well as intimidating knack for memorable lyrical imagism. But I get it. Next week he’ll be writing about Nirvana, so Beck and the Toadies all of a sudden just suck. I think I’m catching on to these Tiny Mix Tapes tenets of journalism, slowly but surely.
But I mean the arguments dissolve on site. Nobody seems to know what to say about this song as a way of infusing in it any actual MEANING, like I allude to earlier. The dude on this other site was just like a COMPLETE dweeby loner with nothing to say beyond the ephemeral, embryonic and impressionistic ramblings of one dude idly listening to a song.
“Possum Kingdom” is a great song. That much is evidenced by the fact that you still hear it copiously today. And it’s a great conversation starter. Dan Smart of Tiny Mix Tapes seemed to sort of half suggest that it’s about committing necrophilia and the acts associated there with, but it’s like he doesn’t have the balls to come out and SAY it (also it wouldn’t make sense given that the song’s protagonist is ASKING the subject if she wants to die during what would seem to be the plot’s main events). We get that. And we get the Vinyl Me, Please dude making countless pointless mentions of how the song “may or may not be about vampires” (I for one didn’t hear any mention of fangs so would tend to discard said idea).
Vinyl Me, Please champions an atrocious album and on terms precarious at best. The Tiny Mix Tapes dude can’t help but take pot shots at every convenient alt-rock star of the day, in a desperate attempt to ascribe to his argument meaning and allure. There is no Rolling Stone review of Rubberneck, at least that I were able to find. The rule remains the same: all of these two-bit, fly-by-night alt-rock “experts” hold up like wet greeting cards when attempting to say what it is they LIKE about the song. What stands as strong, after all these years, through all music’s trends, permutations of listening methods, images of superstars and surrounding politics and culture, is this weird beast of a song itself, which seems suited for our day even more in that today artist’s can, at least theoretically, put out sole “singles” unattached to extraneous full-length LP’s, and make it on that, or at least win their ways into our hearts. And I think that’s what the Toadies have done. And that’s part of what’s bothering me, too, of course.
Addenda: My Own Self-Righteous Rob Sheffield-Style ’90s Top 50
1 Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
2 Nirvana – “Lithium”
3 Pearl Jam – “Do the Evolution”
4 Primitive Radio Gods – “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”
5 Spacehog – “In the Meantime”
6 2pac – “Hail Mary”
7 Blur – “Song 2”
8 Weezer – “Undone (The Sweater Song)”
9 Missy Elliott – “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
10 Oasis – “Champagne Supernova”
11 Alice in Chains – “Over Now”
12 The Breeders – “Cannonball”
13 Eminem – “My Name is”
14 Pearl Jam – “Wishlist”
15 The Verve – “Lucky Man”
16 Notorious B.I.G. – “Gimme the Loot”
17 Hootie & the Blowfish – “Only Wanna Be with You”
18 Michael Jackson – “Black or White”
19 Master P – “Make ‘Em Say Ugh” feat. Silkk the Shocker, Mystikal, Fiend & Mia-X
20 Madonna – “Ray of Light”
21 Toadies – “Possum Kingdom”
22 Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz – “Déjà vu (Uptown Baby)”
23 Beastie Boys – “So What’cha Want”
24 Fatboy Slim – “Praise You”
25 Soundgarden – “Spoonman”
26 The Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”
27 Wu-Tang Clan – “Triumph” feat. Cappadonna
28 Green Day – “Brain Stew”
29 Ginuwine – “Pony”
30 Lenny Kravitz – “It Ain’t over ‘til it’s over”
31 Fastball – “Fire Escape”
32 Nirvana – “In Bloom”
33 Len – “Steal My Sunshine”
34 Des’ree – “You Gotta Be”
35 Jay-Z – “Big Pimpin’” feat. UGK
36 Supergrass – “Alright”
37 Nas – “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” feat. Lauryn Hill
38 Merrill Bainbridge – “Mouth”
39 Soul Asylum – “Black Gold”
40 Pavement – “We Are Underused”
41 Blackstreet – “No Diggity” feat. Dr. Dre
42 A Tribe Called Quest – “Scenario”
43 Green Day – “When I Come around”
44 Brand Nubian – “Slow down”
45 En Vogue – “Don’t Let Go (Love)”
46 The Cranberries – “Dreams”
47 Candlebox – “Far behind”
48 Dave Matthews Band – “Ants Marching”
49 TLC – “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg”
50 Robyn – “Show Me Love”