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  DEAR "CRUSH" I HEART U 4EVA.  
   
   
 

It's just a little crush (crush)
Not like I faint every time we touch
It's just some little thing (crush)
Not like everything I do depends on you

In 1998 a Jennifer Paige song called "Crush" became the most-requested song at KISS FM in Los Angeles. You may remember it for its breathy chorus and a backbeat that came prerecorded on your first Casio synthesizer. You almost certainly don't remember it for its banal lyrics and simple message. It is, however, the lyrics to "Crush" that

 
 

recently led me on an obsessive quest for understanding that eventually found me calling on a Grammy-winning songwriter to explain why I never got laid in high school.

(You can here a snippet of the song here, at Amazon.com, because it was the only place we could find it legally. Yeah, we suck.)

Like "The Lady and the Tiger," "Crush" acts as a Rorschach test that exposes one's feelings about love, rejection and playing hard-to-get. You have, of course,

 

   
 

encountered this kind of thing before. We've all had that conversation where somebody asks for a panel discussion on what her on-again/off-again boyfriend is doing this time, or a semiotic deconstruction of their most recent email or IM. In these situations, it always is the case that as you go around the room and everyone's giving their opinions, more than half the time, people are doing that painfully obvious projection thing where they impose their own issues on the story at hand (this also happens, if you'll remember, in 11th grade literature class with those kids who were constantly recasting Hamlet, Madame Bovary and Wuthering Heights in terms of their own romantic difficulties). These conversations almost always leave the poor lover even more confused and anxious than before, since now he has had everyone else's doubts and insecurities piled on top of his.

A similar phenomenon occurs in the interpretation of "Crush," a song that was once in the global top 10 and has inevitably fallen into the special kind of obscurity reserved for late 90's hits that did not attain the classic timelessness of "She Likes Me for Me" and "Flavor of the Week." I recently got in an increasingly heated debate about this song and whether its singer was really explaining to the guy in question that she just had a crush on him and that he shouldn't take it so seriously, or whether she was actually madly in love with him and was just covering for it by minimizing her obsession.

It's hard to say with "Crush." All triumphant post-breakup songs have an element of self-deception that can come out depending on who's singing the song. When a group of 50-something divorcees drunkenly wail out "I Will Survive," it's hard not to wonder whether Gloria Gaynor was way ahead of the irony curve. In fact, "Since U Been Gone," the Kelly Clarkson "hit," acquires a similar sense of shouting at the wind when Ted Leo's cover of it mixes in Karen O's plaintive chorus from 'Maps." Compare this with the Kidz Bop cover that obliterates any and all traces of regretful nuance. It is the rare song that actually encompasses that post-breakup feeling of both self-pity and rage. So even though Paige doesn't conclude her assertions as to the breeziness of her crush with "no matter what my friends say," it is the duty of the romantic to give things a deeper look.

The kind of people who feel this way are the same kind of people who think that Brian Krakow would have gotten a shot at Angela Chase if My So-Called Life has lasted another season. This is, in my opinion, one of the reasons our generation had such a fondness for the show, especially those who saw it for the first time before its MTV reruns. Since no one knows how it would have ended up, those of us who wanted to see Brian supplant Catalano in Angela's affections can continue in our delusions without having to actually witness the kind of cringingly mismatched relationship that followed Dawson and Joey finally getting busy.

It is, of course, this kind of thinking (coupled with a particularly mournful Dismemberment Plan cover of "Crush") that led to me taking the position that our Jennifer was really crazy in love with her eponymous crush and was merely covering for it by declaring her casual indifference. My friend, however, was equally convinced that Jennifer was just explaining to an overeager paramour not to get too excited. After arguing with each other all night, we decided we

 
 

needed some other opinions.

I, naturally, called the girls with well-thumbed copies of "He's Not That Into You" who get their dating advice from When Harry Met Sally and Vanessa Williams' "Saved the Best for Last." She called the girls who watch "Sex in the City" and have perfected the art of the silent morning-after disentanglement. After receiving equally split results, we were still at a draw. So I did what any internet-stalker worth his google fu would do: I figured out who wrote the song.

It turns out that "Crush" was written by a named Andy Goldmark. He has written numerous other hits for such artists as Elton John and Mariah Carey, which is kind of disappointing. I called the songwriter at his home in Encino, Calif. to get his opinion on the subject. We both agreed that whatever he said would be the 'right' interpretation, first semester comp lit discussions of whether a 'right' interpretation actually exists be damned.

To our surprise, however, when presented with the two alternative positions, he actually responded with a third and yet undiscussed option: It's about a girl with a classic case of approach/avoidance at work. Come hither/now go away. She admits she's game but nips it in the bud by saying she won't commit. It's both her thrill and her naivete. That simple.

Now, the moral to this story is, of course, that there was apparently a totally unique interpretation that neither of us had considered. And this isn't Pale Fire we're talking about here; this is a throwaway pop song. Is it really possible that there are so many different ways to look at three minutes of pop music? Could "Gold Digger" really be about metallurgy?

There are two lessons to take away from all this. The first is that one should be very wary of men writing songs from a woman's perspective. Don't forget that a team of men working around the clock in Sweden wrote most of Britney's hits. I'm not entirely sure that we want little girls modeling themselves after a man's idea of what a woman's psychic monologue is. It's bad enough that an entire generation of girls has to grow up listening to Dashboard Confessional songs writing off their entire gender as castrating, heart-breaking harpies.

The second lesson is that maybe it's better not to know. It's more fun to argue about what Scarlett Johansson whispered into Bill Murray's ear than it is to have it all explained to you. If we have to deal with strict constructionists on the Supreme Court, maybe it's time to be more activist in our interpretations of everything else. I like to think Angela and Brian got together. I like to think Spike and Angel walked away from the season finale. And I like to think that 'Crush' is about a girl who's head-over-heels in love. And I don't care what Arlen Specter or anyone says about it.