Once upon a time, there was a decade called the '80s.
Now, if you look at that 10-year-stretch of music history from start to finish, there's a massive amount of diversity packed into it. But by the time 1989 rolled into 1990, one of the decade's enduringly infamous contributions to culture was the cementing of a certain kind of rock cliché, that of the rock star as a spandex-wearing demigod with legions of nubile nymphs ready to throw themselves, naked, at his feet.
It's a cliché Tom Cruise recently embodied to the hyperbolic, sexed-up hilt in the film version of Rock of Ages. And it's the reason, the cognoscenti's collective wisdom would suggest, why grunge would shortly expunge the '80s shallow, sensual, indulgent vision of rock (and life) from the cultural consciousness for a very long time.
But Green Day's not grunge, you say. And these guys are certainly not from the '80s. So what does all this have to do with them and their latest hit, "Oh Love"?
Quite a lot, actually.
I'll get to the song itself in a minute. But it's the video that's the key here. In it, the band performs for a small group of appreciative-yet-stylishly bored model-like groupies lounging on leather couches. None of them are wearing much, and many of them are wearing much less by the time the song wraps up five minutes or so later. As Billy Joe Armstrong belts out his power ballad lyrics, these ladies cavort (apart and with one another) in lingerie, with several of them stripping pieces of it off for the camera along the way.
Explicit nudity is (just barely) blurred as the camera zooms in on all of these women's mostly bared body parts as they caress themselves and one another. The sentiment? That an old-fashioned '80s-era rock orgy will commence in earnest as soon as the song ends and the cameras stop rolling.
If the video is intended as some kind of ironic, self-aware nod to '80s excess taken to '10s levels of hedonistic debauchery, well, its makers failed miserably. Nope, it's just a bunch of rock gods deigning to play as a bunch of groupies get naked. It makes, say, Warrant's cheesy video for its double entendre-drenched hit "Cherry Pie" look downright PG by comparison. But it nevertheless brings videos exactly like that one from 1990 to mind.
The fact that the guys in Green Day are all 40 or nearly so and that these women are about half that age amps up the yuck factor that much more. And I haven't even told you yet that two of the band's three members are married.
Now for the song.
"Oh Love" is a slight thing, lyrically speaking. It's yet another yearning shout-out to the glory of love and freedom, as Green Day defines those terms.
"Oh love, oh love," Armstrong begins, "Won't you rain on me tonight/Oh life, oh life, please don't pass me by." Those almost prayer-like sentiments are about as positive as things ever get here, and even in them some fans will find sexual suggestiveness. Green Day soon says that living life means keeping your foot on the accelerator even when warning lights appear: "Don't stop, don't stop/Don't stop when the red lights flash/O ride, free ride/Won't you take me close to you?"
In these words, and in the chorus that follows, Green Day embraces yet another age-old rock cliché: the romanticized idea that meaning is found as we recklessly throw caution to the wind. "Far away, far away/Waste away tonight/I'm wearing my heart on a noose," we hear, "Far away, far away/Waste away tonight/Tonight my heart's on the loose."
Neil Young, followed by Def Leppard and then, finally, Kurt Cobain (in his suicide note) put it this way: "It's better to burn out than to fade away."
One last lyrical couplet from "Oh Love" encapsulates my sentiments about this hedonistic song and it's steamy, seamy video: "Old story, same old story/Won't you see the light of day?"