Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
From the first moment I heard “Teenage Dirtbag,” upon its release in 2000, it felt like it was everywhere. Hearing it rattle the walls as it emanated from the massive sound system at Virgin Megastore in Times Square (where I was working back then) would always trigger the same two contradictory thoughts: “not again,” followed rapidly by “…I love this “. Tune-wise, it seemed like the hyperactive and insecure younger sibling of Nada Surf’s 1996 sarcastic classic “Popular,” all catchy, candy-coated and gigantically chorus’d. But lyrically, well, that’s where the sonic kinship ended.
Even if you didn’t grow up on Long Island in the ’80s, if you are a true-crime aficionado of a certain age (a horrific classification but here we are), you are likely to be familiar with the case of Ricky Kasso, who murdered Gary Lauwers (both 17) in June of 1984. And if you did grow up there like Wheatus’s Brendan B.Brown (and myself), the whole story is firmly and forever embedded in your psyche, especially if you were a kid or teen at the time. It was both tragic and terrifying.
It wasn’t long before the press found a sensationalistic angle to latch onto regarding the crime and the scapegoating began. When Kasso was arrested for the murder, he was famously photographed wearing an AC/DC shirt replete with a bloody logo and a green cartoon devil. And that little detail, coupled with rumors of the crime being part of a satanic sacrifice ritual, provided all the ammunition needed for those in authority–i.e. parents, teachers and police–to go into irrational overdrive. As naively fantastical as sounds, from that point on, if you actively listened to metal, if you wore tees featuring the bands you loved like Iron Maiden or Black Sabbath, you were heretofore regarded as one of the devil’s loyal soldiers. While this mistrust of metalheads was patently ridiculous, an absurd piece of residual damage based on a single news photo, it really happened. And it was this very notion that led Brendan B. Brown to pen “Teenage Dirtbag”.