There have only been a few times where I looked at the title of a song and said, “This is going to be a good one.” Usually, song titles are pretty innocuous and if you were to give me a list of titles from a band’s latest album, I’d shrug. The song’s called “Stay?” Well, that could mean anything. But like I said, every once in a while, I see “Raining in Baltimore” or “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and pay a little more attention to what it might be about.
Such was the case with “Interstate Love Song.”
When Purple was released in early June 1994, I had been waiting in anticipation for a couple of weeks. “Big Empty” had been playing on the radio and in commercials for The Crow, and “Vasoline” had made its debut a week before. Couple that with the fact that Core was still in regular rotation in my CD player and I didn’t need anything else to be sold. I’m not sure if I bought the album the week it came out or if I picked it up a few weeks later. All I know is that one afternoon, I came home from the mall (probably Sam Goody) with copies of Purple and 10,000 Maniacs’ MTV Unplugged.
One of my friends, who was the self-appointed authority when it came to all things music, wasn’t too hot on the album because it wasn’t as heavy as Core; however, I actually preferred Purple, and my co-purchase of the 10,000 Maniacs album should have been a sign that I had different tastes (the number of times that girls I knew borrowed said 10,000 Maniacs CD should have also been a sign that I was on the right track). Purple wasn’t exactly a revelation in the way Dookie would become later that year, but in hindsight, it was a sign that the alternative music scene was lightening up a little. “Big Empty” was the “this is the same as Core” track; “Vasoline” was a little different but still had guitars and speed the way I thought guitars and speed should be in a song. But “Interstate Love Song?” I looked at the title and wanted to listen to it because it sounded like a great title, even if a love song–which was more suited to people like Jon Secada–did not fit the criteria for a “good” song among my friends and I. I mean, we listened to metal, not love songs.
Okay, my friends listened to metal and I was only listening to it so I could fit in.
Even so, that title drew me in. I wanted to know more. So after binging on “Big Empty” and “Vasoline,” I skipped ahead to track #4 and almost immediately, Purple’s status above Core as the better of the two albums, was established. The tune hooked me in, which is perfect because I couldn’t understand what the hell Scott Weiland was actually singing about anyway.
By the way, it’s heroin. He’s singing about heroin.
Okay, that’s not entirely true, although his heroin addiction–which was common among musicians of the early 1990s alternative scene–is something he’s cited in interviews as an inspiration. The song’s also about honesty, and touches upon how relationships are inherently complicated. Having not been in a relationship yet when I was sixteen, I didn’t know anything about this. But I understood, on some level, the song’s sense of longing and of hoping for something (albeit pessimistically).
“Interestate Love Song” would eventually receive the highest of honors when it came to my musical tastes–I put it on a mix tape for a girl. Granted, I had completely misinterpreted the song and had it mean something about long-distance relationships (I guess I took the title a bit too literally), but in that misinterpretation, the song wound up fulfilling the purpose of a mix tape anyway–it was repurposed by a listener. And that’s usually why it’s one of those songs that reminds me of being a teenager, with the contradiction between its tune and its meaning recalling the conflict between youth and burgeoning adulthood and the struggle between longing and ultimate fulfillment.