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Monday, May 26

The Real Meaning of "Girl" by Beck

Just discovered Beck's fabulous "Girl" (I know, it takes me years to discover songs). I've seen a lot of controversy over whether this is a love song, or a serial killer's internal monologue, and a lot of theories in between. Here's what I think:
I saw her, yeah I saw her with her black tongue tied
Round the roses
Fist pounding on a vending machine
Toy diamond ring stuck on her finger
With a noose she can hang from the sun
And put it out with her dark sunglasses
The narrator sees a girl (noticably not a woman) pounding on a vending machine. She has a diamond ring on her finger, which he mocks, calling it a toy. Her marriage, it's clear, is something she's not mature enough to understand. He also feels she's either self-destructive of hopelessly naieve, and that although she wears dark sunglasses (cause she's that cool), she actually has a huge ego. Her ego's big enough that if she were to hang herself, she'd block the sun out. She's obviously into goth-type attitude/attire, as evidenced by her "black tongue tied" and "dark sunglasses." Judging from the tongue-tied, I'd guess she's a theater major or English major fond of spouting epithets that don't make her sound any smarter.
Walking crooked down the beach
She spits on the sand where their bones are bleaching
And I know I'm gonna steal her eye
As she walks down the beach in a crooked line, a line that most people walk straight (and thus representative of her winding, indecisive life), she spits. Again, not a nice image for an object of affection, but more importantly she doesn't even know what's she spits on. Alternately, she's too oblivious to notice the bones of the creatures on the beach, as she's so wrapped up in herself.
She doesn't even know what's wrong
And I know I'm gonna make her die
Take her where her soul belongs
And I know I'm gonna steal her eye
Nothing that I wouldn't try
So "gonna make her die" -- does that mean Beck wants to kill this poor girl?

I doubt it. It's more likely he's going to break her heart. He feels he's a real man, better to bring this girl into a real relationship than the stupid marriage she's locked into. He's been watching her all this time and plans to grab her attention ("steal her eye") and is quite determined to do it.
Hey, My...girl
Hey, My...girl
The refrain is the real crux of the song, and Beck knows it. On his own site he blurred the lyrics. Sure it sounds like sun-eyed girl. Or cyanide girl. Of course, both are right. Despite her goth attire, the girl is hopelessly naieve (sun-eyed). But she's also hopelessly self-destructive as a result of that toy diamond ring. So if someone's going to kill her foolish spirit, Beck's the one to do it...or at least imagining he could do it.
I saw her, yeah I saw her with her hands tied back
And her rags were burning
Crawling out from a landfilled life
Scrawling her name upon the ceiling
We move forward in time. Now see the girl again. Her hands are tied (literally, she doesn't know what to do now), her clothes are a mess. She's now desperate to prove she has value after the wreck of her marriage ("land-filled life"), as so many of us wish to "scrawl our names" -- but she's scrawling it on the ceiling, not the floor. If she's outside, this is a hopelessly futile gesture. If she's inside, it still denotes her naieve outlook of looking up instead of down at the landfill she just crawled out of. Always up and onwards!
Throw a coin in a fountain of dust
White noise, her ears are ringing
She's still taking stupid chances, maybe playing the lottery -- she throws bad money after good by tossing a coin in a fountain, but it's a dusty fountain (traditionally tossing a coin in a fountain is lucky). She's also not listening. She hears white noise instead of any actual advice. So who's next great hope for this hopeless girl? Beck, of course.
Got a ticket for a midnight hanging
Throw a bullet from a freight train leaving
And I know I'm gonna steal her eye
She doesn't even know what's wrong
And I know I'm gonna make her die
Take her where her soul belongs
And I know I'm gonna steal her eye
Nothing that I would not try
The ultimately irony here is that Beck probably caused the dissolution of her marriage. And now he's going to tell her he's breaking up with her too. He's got a ticket to tell her, and then get the hell out of there fast -- throwing a bullet from a train, which is both fast and lethal (to her hopes and dreams).

This is, in my opinion, a rather morose perspective on a relationship; an extremely jaded view on a relatoinship with an immature girl who's trying to be a grown-up but doesn't have the emotional maturity to handle it. And Beck is comforting himself, perhaps, by teaching her an important, painful life lesson that her marriage was never of any value in the first place.


posted by Michael Tresca at 11:32 PM

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  • You're way off on the fountain of dust part. She's spends her money most likely on cocaine or meth. That's why her ears are ringing. "White noise" is the drug. You analyzed this song way too deeply.

    By Blogger PAUL G, at Wednesday, January 08, 2014 4:48:00 PM  

  • You are way off.

    By Blogger PAUL G, at Wednesday, January 08, 2014 4:49:00 PM  

  • I think you're pretty darn close.

    The toy ring is a promise ring, a symbol of not a marriage but of the guy she's dating but not married to.

    "Where their bones are bleaching.." is sunbathers. She doesn't care who sees her spitting.

    The dusty fountain grants no wishes. Her luck's run out.

    White noise, her ears are ringing. I can answer this one from my own experience: people with tinnitus turn on white noise items (like a ceiling fan) in order to sleep. This line means she is deliberately hiding from reality and filling her thoughts with things other than what she needs to confront. (like ignoring advice)

    I think you're right on steal her eye and make her die (which can also refer to sex "le petit mort" in French, the little death).

    Throwing a bullet from a train refers to a small action that has big consequences, and I think the midnight hanging is him ending their relationship. But I could be grasping now. :)

    By Blogger Patricia, at Thursday, August 07, 2014 3:39:00 PM  

  • Wow..After reading all of this impressive commentary, I can't help but realize how lazy I've become with the fine details. At this age, I've learned to interpret things from a distance. Sometimes my rendering is on-point, and sometimes, it's sloppy as f*ck, but it's rarely in-between. Since Beck is a fascinating human being, I will gladly join this ongoing conjecture. Who is the leader of this fabulous mob anyway?

    By Blogger Suzanne Cunningham, at Sunday, January 15, 2017 9:54:00 PM  

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