Nice Song, or Nice Guy – the first in a series

A new, semi-weekly, semi-regular feature of the blog is going to be “Nice Song or Nice Guy™?” These are the songs of my youth, the songs I loved as a young man coming of age, the “sound track of my life.” But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that many of these songs are horribly sexist, full of whiney, entitled boys of the kind I despair for the women desperate enough to date them.
Not all of the songs, of course. Some have withstood the gradual eroding of the patriarchal landscape so that I can still listen to them without wincing or pretending they mean something else. But some songs are so much of the aural landscape of the time and so infused with the male-entitlement of the broader culture that the only way to listen to them is with a hipster-level degree of irony.
Which leaves the question: Nice Song? Or Nice Guy ™? First up, “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, 1981.

Jessie is a friend,
Yeah I know he’s been a good friend of mine
But lately something’s changed
It ain’t hard to define
Jessie’s got himself a girl
And I want to make her mine
Ok. Well, it starts off innocently enough for the first four lines and then we veer off into women=object and, more importantly, an object that the I of the song wants to possess.  I’m thinking we could stop right here, this song is about as Nice Guy™ as one could get. But, maybe I’m wrong?
And she’s watching him with those eyes
And she’s lovin’ him with that body, I just know it!
And he’s holding her in his arms late, late at night
You know, an argument could be made that he’s jealous of the girl and not envious of his friend. I’m just sayin’.
You know I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
Where can I find her, a woman like that?
Now we come to the crux of the problem with this song. Not that we didn’t know it by the very title, but now we’re deep into it. The POV character of the song doesn’t know who this girl is. He doesn’t see her as a person: “Those eyes” and “that body” and “a woman like that.” Like what, exactly? Is it too much to ask for something as prosaic as, oh I don’t know, A NAME!?!
I’ll play along with this charade
That doesn’t seem to be a reason to change
You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love but the point is probably moot
Dude. Srsly. You may lust her (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but love? Unless love here is in the same category as “I love pasta” or “I love Corvettes” I think that your definition of “love” may be part of the reason you can’t “get a girl like that.”
And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time
Wonderin’ what she don’t see in me
A personality? A concern for her as a human being? Just spitballing here.
I’ve been funny; I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be?
No. I mean, srsly, no. Really, you aspire to be a pick up artist?
Tell me why can’t I find a woman like that?
Because you’re a Nice Guy ™ and women can spot you a mile away! You’re an entitled asshole. You’re so self-centered that you can’t even be bothered to remember the name of your best friend’s girlfriend not even for HIS sake! Get your head out of your ass and start seeing women as people and you might find a “woman like that.”
You know I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
Where can I find her, a woman like that?
When I want to be generous, I think: ok. It’s a funny song. Rick Springfield has created an “I” character in this song that’s so obtuse, so entitled, such an asshole that Springfield is obviously making fun of him. The song is an ironic dig at the self-centered jerks that populate every bar and nightclub from coast to coast and from 1981 until today.
Springfield says that he does not remember the name of the girlfriend, and believes that the real woman who inspired the song has no idea that she was ‘Jessie’s Girl’….
Ok. Never mind.

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