I’m a writer and a music fan, so I often think of the lyrics to my favorite songs as short stories. A couple of the best elements are usually there—from isolation, desperation and validation to heartbreak, betrayal and revenge. Some songwriters create easy to follow narratives, while others make you tease the story out. Great songs can make us imagine exactly what the songwriter envisioned, but it’s more fun to create our own version of the story as we listen.
Lately I’ve been digging deeper with daily posts that re-imagine lyrics through the lens of short fiction. I can’t promise that I’ll keep up this pace, but I’m having fun for now. I call the series “Short Story in a Song:”
Grunge. If you lived through it, listening to the genre’s ubiquitous mega-hits might be a chore these days. Don’t get me wrong, songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Black Hole Sun” and “Even Flow” are as undeniably great as they are stylistically diverse. If anything, it’s a testament to their cultural significance and broad appeal that bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam remain in heavy rotation almost thirty years after Seattle blew up. But for every legendary grunge act there are hundreds of mostly forgotten peers from Seattle and elsewhere—bands like Tad, 7 Year Bitch, Gumball, and Overwhelming Colorfast. Somewhere in the middle is Mudhoney, a garage-soaked powerhouse that helped define the “Seattle Sound” and continues to record and tour three decades later. “Touch Me I’m Sick” is probably one of their best-known songs, and it would make a great short story.
Our narrator is alienated as a result of some kind of affliction. It might be physical, emotional or both, but whatever it is doesn’t keep him from expressing a strong desire for human interaction. Whether it’s real or imagined—a terminal disease, an STD, drug addiction or an anti-social state of mind—he believes himself to be contaminated by something contagious. The rot that infects his body and mind seeps into his actions and words, making him confrontational as he tries to lure a woman home to share in his misery. She seems reluctant, and who could blame her since it’s obvious that he’s the one most likely to die alone.
Read the full lyrics for Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick” right HERE.