It’s time for another Plugged In pop quiz. Whose hit song from 1987 began with this epic earworm: “Doot doot doot doo, doot da do doo/doot doot doo doo doot da doo do.”
Ah, yes, that would be Suzanne Vega’s hit “Tom’s Diner.” And now Fall Out Boy begins 2014’s “Centuries” the same way. Band frontman Patrick Stump said of the appropriation, “I feel like it was so ubiquitous when we were kids. I mean, that song was absolutely everywhere and it just kind of disappeared. I haven’t heard it in a minute. And I was like, That’s a shame. That was such an amazing song. I would love for that to get some kind of tip of the hat.”
Consider that hat officially tipped. Vega’s sing-songy “doot da do” repetition remains as catchy as ever in this high-energy electro-pop-punk take on living memorably—a theme that seeps through sporadically in the song’s words but more clearly in quotes from the band interpreting exactly what those lyrics intend to convey.
The track gets going with a rousing, Rocky-esque chorus (built on an anthemic piano riff and a huge, fuzzed-out bass line) that asserts, “Some legends are told/Some turn to dust or to gold/But you will remember me/Remember me, for centuries/ … We’ll go down in history/Remember me for centuries.”
Is it a foolish boast or an honestly expressed desire to change the world? Well, it’s actually really hard to tell. “Mummified my teenage dreams/No, it’s nothing wrong with me,” Stump soon sings. “The kids are all wrong, the story’s all off/Heavy metal broke my heart.” After that, he unloads ever darker, brooding thoughts that are even harder to parse with precision. “Come on, come on, let me in/Bruises on your thighs like my fingerprints/And this is supposed to match/The darkness that you felt/I never meant for you to fix yourself.”
Triumph and futility are again juxtaposed in the second verse. “And I can’t stop until the whole world knows my name,” Stump insists. “‘Cause I was only born inside my dreams.” Then, more grimness: “Until you die for me, as long as there’s a light, my shadow’s over you/’Cause I am the opposite of amnesia/And you’re a cherry blossom/You’re about to bloom/You look so pretty, but you’re gone so soon.”
Perhaps it’s that despairing sentiment about death’s inevitability that leads Stump to close out the bridge before the final chorus, “I could scream forever/We are the poisoned youth.”
By now it seems like we’re a long, long way away from “We’ll go down in history!” But talking in interviews about the song’s meaning, bassist Pete Wentz has repeatedly emphasized the more upbeat of the song’s two sharply contrasting themes. “The idea of the song is a David vs. Goliath story,” he told diymag.com. “When we were growing up, it was like, ‘We’ll never be U2 because we’re from the suburbs of Chicago and nothing happens here,’ but the idea now is to inspire that kid—you can be the person up on stage, and it’s only the power of your belief that is going to get you there.” In an interview with the U.K. music mag Kerrang! he added, “We wanted to write a song that empowered people who are a little weird.”
OK. I can dig deep enough to mine messages of empowerment amid disaffection from this song. But I can’t completely set aside the unmistakably darkness that colors it with something like nihilism and even despair. After all, if the track’s intended recipients really are “poisoned youth” who are “pretty” but fated to be “gone so soon,” how will they ever hope to secure any kind of history-making legacy?
So I’m less certain than the band is that their purported “David and Goliath” meme here is what fans will take away from the decidedly mixed messages on “Centuries.”
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.