I have a soft spot for Wheatus's "Teenage Dirtbag," mostly as a fun karaoke song that namedrops Iron Maiden and a boyfriend who's a dick. But I've always been surprised by its lasting endure — it's even by covered by One Direction, and the band re-recorded a translation in Irish Gaelic. Not bad for a song that never even charted in the US.
But apparently — as I learned after reading this Rolling Stone article — there's a lot more going on in that tune than realized. Singer/writer Brendan B. Brown genuinely considers it to be his sort of magnum opus, loosely inspired by a horrific murder in his hometown, and he himself has never grown tired of it. In fact, he's been in the process of meticulously re-recording the band's entire first album — including "Teenage Dirtbag," with (ideally) all of the exact little cellphone trills — to make-up for the fact that the master tracks went missing. This isn't just about revisiting a 20-year-old album to make it sound better; it's about recreating it to exacting perfection (which is perhaps even more impressive when you realize that the album was recorded in Brown's mother's basement).
Brown's re-recording project has cost him countless thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours spent obsessing over bass lines and synth sounds fans almost certainly never noticed in the first place. His quest has sent him scouring the internet for gear that most closely resembles what the band originally used to record the album. He describes this process as a "fucking pain in the ass."
"It's not exactly fun," he adds. "It's, like, forensic."
The end result is an impressive technical feat that no passive listener would ever distinguish from the original.
It's a short article, but it's surprisingly enjoying — even if you don't care for the song — as it paints an interesting portrait of an artist's obsession with his own work. It also inspired me to put together this 2-hour playlist of "Teenage Dirtbag" covers:
My only disappointment is in how many of these covers censor out the line about the boyfriend who's a dick and brings a gun to school. Maybe it made sense for Wheatus at the time, dropping the single around the one-year anniversary of the Columbine shooting. But I was surprised by the amount of awkward silence in these songs.
'Teenage Dirtbag' 2.0 [Jonathan Bernstein / Rolling Stone]